But Wait, There's More
Red Hat Releases Fedora Core 4 Linux
Commercial Linux distributor Red Hat announced its latest development release, Fedora Core 4, just after we went to press last week. The announcement comes just as Red Hat is working out a way to set the Fedora development process free, which is an open source community dominated by Red Hat coders, and put it into a foundation controlled by that development community and not the company itself. (See Freed Fedora Foundation Might Get Participation Boost from last week's issue for more.)
This is the first implementation of Fedora that is distributing on the PowerPC processors from IBM and Freescale Semiconductor in addition to 32-bit X86 and 64-bit X64 platforms. Red Hat says Fedora Core 4 can run on Apple Power-based Macs and Xserves as well as on IBM's pSeries Unix/Linux boxes, but it will also probably run on Power-based iSeries midrange servers as well.
There are a number of new features in Fedora Core 4, namely initial support for the Xen virtual partition hypervisor and management software and an early release version of the OpenOffice 2.0 office automation suite. The latest Fedora also has the new Gnome 2.1 and KDE 3.4 graphical user interfaces, the Eclipse 3.1 application development tool, Red Hat's own Global File System, and a new PDF and Postscript file viewer called Evince from the Gnome project. You can get Fedora Core 4 at www.fedora.redhat.com/download.
Terra Soft Reaffirms Its Commitment to PowerPC for Linux
While not a large player in the commercial Linux distro game, Terra Soft Solutions was noteworthy in being an early and enthusiastic supporter of Linux on the PowerPC and Power processors with its Yellow Dog Linux distribution. To many, Apple's move a few weeks ago to transition from PowerPC to Intel Pentium and Xeon processors spelled doom for the PowerPC in the desktop and entry server spaces. But Terra Soft's chief executive officer, Kai Staats, released a statement to the Linux community that said Terra Soft was sticking with Power and it would not be transitioning its Linux releases to X64 as Apple is doing.
Staats said Terra Soft remained in "good standing" with Apple, and its announcement did not in any way affect Terra Soft's ability to sell Linux for Macs and Xserves. Moreover, Staats hinted that initiatives were in the works to broaden the apple of the Power architecture and therefore the use of Linux on that architecture. He went further to say that Apple's moves would only make the Y-HPC edition of Yellow Dog Linux for high performance computing all that more appealing to Xserve customers. (Exactly how this makes sense is not obvious.) Terra Soft sells preconfigured Apple Mac and Xserve and IBM JS20 blade servers with its Linux.
Server Maker Rackable Rakes in Nearly $70 Million in IPO
Server maker Rackable Systems, which is an expert in dense computing for Linux and Windows environments, went public last week, and the company raised nearly $70 million in its initial public offering. The initial shares were priced a little lower than expected, at $12 a share, which means the company raised about $15 million less than it had hoped to when Rackable announced it was going public in February of this year.
Rackable has made substantial investments in remote systems management, in DC power supplies, and in other power-saving optimizations, and counts Microsoft and Yahoo as its core customers. In fact, these two companies accounted for about 60 percent of the company's sales in 2004. As we go to press, Rackable's shares peaked at around $14 and have dropped back down to around $13. Rackable used a little more than $23 million of the $69.75 million it raised to pay off its initial investors and founders.
Rackable had sales of $109.7 million in 2004 and posted a net loss of $55.4 million. Sales were $7.2 million in 2002, and exploded to $52.9 million in 2003. If the company can grow at least 50 percent in 2005, it should be at the break even point and on its way to turning a profit. Cumulative losses for Rackable since 2002 amount to $115.8 million. Breaking into the server business is an expensive proposition, but Rackable has some nifty technology and some big customers. Now, it just needs to go more mainstream.
Gentoo Linux Founder Hired By Microsoft
In April 2004, Daniel Robbins, the creator of the Gentoo Linux distribution and its notable Portage system for keeping that Linux distro updated, decided he didn't want to do Gentoo any more. So he set up the Gentoo Foundation a year ago to start shepherding the project, and that process is now complete. According to the foundation, Robbins has taken a job with Microsoft, which as you can imagine caused much spouting and flaming out there in cyberspace.
The job Robbins has taken is to help Microsoft understand open source. This is clearly a company that wants to understand open source--but it is hard to believe it wants to adopt the practice. But, Microsoft is also a practical company, and it needs a hard-headed open source advocate to make Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer hear truths that they may not want to hear, and if Microsoft thinks open source is inevitable--as it decided the Internet was in 1995 after Netscape went public--you can bet it wants some smart people to help it figure out how to make money with open source. Who knows what Microsoft is really up to--Robbins probably is not entirely sure, either. But Microsoft needs something like Portage for its software--particularly if it does opt to go open source with some of its products.
Still, you can't help but laugh at posts like this one, which appeared on Slashdot: "In a related story, Anakin Skywalker is serving as an aid to Senator Palpatine to help him understand the Jedi council."
Virtualization Software Maker SWsoft Gets Finding from VCs
While VMware's GSX Server and ESX Server, the open source Xen project, and Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 get most of the press for their virtualization software for X64 and X86 platforms, there is another game in town: SWsoft's Virtuozzo hypervisor and partitioning software. While Virtuozzo has been used by service providers that need to partition servers into a very large number of machines and manage them, it has not taken off in the same way in the corporate computing arena.
This may change, now that SWsoft has pocketed $12.4 million in first-round venture capital from Insight Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, and Intel Capital. SWsoft is headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, and has 500 employees located in the United States, Japan, and Europe. To date, some 100,000 servers have been virtualized with its Virtuozzo product, which initially ran on Linux but which was ported to Windows last year.
In addition to the funding, SWsoft and Intel said they had inked an agreement to do cooperative marketing and development, particularly on the future Virtualization Technology due in Intel's Itanium chips later this year and in Pentium and Xeon chips early next year. Intel also needs someone to step up to the plate and support virtualization on the Itanium processor, and it will be interesting to see if this is why Intel is pumping money into SWsoft.
Wyse Brings Thin Computing to Developing Nations
Although we often refer to the Internet as the World Wide Web, there are many places the Web has not reached. One such place is rural India. This region is by and large a clean slate when it comes to modern communications. But change is under way. And in the midst of this is Wyse Technology and its network-centric, thin client approach to computing.
Not that Wyse is single-handedly bringing technology and opportunity to the other side of the digital divide. Two other companies are playing major roles. Comat, an India-based IT business solutions company that serves government, healthcare and legal support services, is a key component, as is ICICI Bank, one of India's largest financial institutions.
As you might imagine, there are big challenges and many obstacles.
In the past, these types of endeavors have taken a technology-only or technology-first approach. The goal of this project takes a variation of that strategy. To improve access for rural citizens, the emphasis will be on services--not just technology--and that will improve the chances that citizens will actually develop and strengthen their economic position, educational status, and access to healthcare. John Kish, president and CEO of Wyse, describes this as a pilot deployment of rural services and "a blueprint for populations in developing nations everywhere." Even though this expansive project is still in the early stages, Kish says, the rural citizens of India will gain reliable access to government, as well as private sector services, including public records, social services, and banking. Prior to this undertaking, these services were almost non-existent.
Wyse is there because of the proven benefits of thin-client architecture. Those benefits include remote management and a central server, which removes IT support from the client side. Also of great importance is the thin client itself is a device with no fan, no hard drive, and essentially no moving parts that can withstand high temperatures, high moisture, and dusty conditions.
"The difference is you are enabling information access and access to a variety of services, but you are not putting the burden of support and maintenance and reliability on the desktop," says Ali Fenn, vice president of business development for Wyse.
For the pilot programs, communications are being delivered wirelessly over GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). This is possible because the pilots are within an hour of Bangalore, one of India's larger cities and one of the centers of IT offshoring and application development, in fact. "The connectivity is definitely a challenge," Fenn says. "The plan will eventually use satellite connectivity for more remote locations because there is no consistent infrastructure at this time. Thin clients at local stations will act as servers, and the content behind the delivered services will be cached locally so that if connectivity is lost many of the services, not all, will be accessible."
Over the next 12 months, more than 5,000 of these business centers will be rolled out into the rural areas. Ultimately there will be tens of thousands of them across India. Wyse has ongoing discussions for similar projects in two other developing countries.
The first four pilot projects are being funded by the consortium members: Wyse, Comat, and ICICI. Additional funding as the project is being rolled out will be provided by International Finance Corporation and the World Bank. Over time the services will require a fee, which will then provide a return on investment. The business of running these services will be run by Comat.
HP Virtualizes the mySAP Suite to Make It Malleable
The mySAP ERP software suite may be one of the most popular application software packages in the world, but no one would ever say it is easy to implement and easily changed once it is running. That's why Hewlett-Packard has created the Virtualized Infrastructure Solutions for mySAP, which props up mySAP onto virtualized servers and storage such that companies can give different SAP modules the processing capacity they need without having to plan for maximum capacity on all modules at the same time.
According to Ron Eller, HP's vice president and general manager of enterprise solutions, half of SAP's customer base is running on one form of HP iron or another, so making SAP easier to use and more efficient is a natural thing for HP to do. Moreover, because of the complexities of the SAP suite, SAP customers were a little hesitant to deploy virtualization technologies, which is why HP has created a formal product set specifically for HP-UX, Linux, and Windows platforms running on HP gear. SAP is also aware its customers have been slow to adopt virtualization, and so it has created something called the Adaptive Computing Controller in its NetWeaver middleware that can dial physical and virtual server resources up and down for SAP applications. The VIS for mySAP offering is, as you might expect, heavily dependent on the HP-UX Unix platform and the virtualization environment it has when running on HP 9000 and Integrity servers. There is some degree of virtualization with Linux platforms, and none for Windows. However, customers wishing to deploy Windows-based SAP suites can make use of the Rapid Deployment Pack software that ships with ProLiant servers to create and quickly deploy new servers to run SAP modules. This is not the same thing as being virtualized, of course, but HP does not control Windows--Microsoft does--and until Microsoft's virtualization support is akin to that on HP-UX and can talk to SAP's Adaptive Computing Controller inside NetWeaver, there is not much HP can do to better support Windows. The offering not only allows a mix of operating systems in n-tier deployments, but also different SAP release levels.
In the reference example for the VIS for mySAP solution, the University of Madgeburg in Germany runs one of the largest data centers in Germany and also provides SAP training on those systems as well as IT support for some 40,000 students. On the SAP training side, any student can load any SAP module and begin playing with it at any time, which means the workload could be very large on the HP-UX servers is essentially unpredictable. The university cannot afford to plan for peak capacity, but by virtualizing the SAP environment it has been able to cut IT costs by 30 to 40 percent and use up its excess capacity to support the students running SAP training.