Unix, Linux, Cloud, Big Data: What are Chameleons adapting to next?

By : |November 10, 2015 0
Obits for Unix have been written and re-written in the last few years, and Open Source challengers have been emerging, fading and re-appearing on those very pages. Are lock-ins, Cloud, virtualization and new platforms finally writing something in stone? We check with SUSE

Pratima H

INDIA: There are many ways to accomplish a Prison Break and often, the ones that lead one out appear to be utterly outrageous or too simple at the first thought.

Crawling around huge walls seldom gets inmates out, but think of water outlets, kitchen inventories, fire drills, AC ducts and you might be weighing in better exit options. Or at least options worth the thrill and the anecdote.

Open source alternatives have been trying to cobble up as THE answer to proprietary prisons for CIOs for quite some quarters now. This exit option has gradually made its place in the tech world as a formidable adversary in the longest tale of OS combat.

No matter where and when this would end, the historical battle started first in Bell Labs with the birth of Unix, and traipsing through POSIX, DEC, BSD, this got cemented into a new war when Mr. Torvalds from the University of Helsinki offered this knight called Linux for the battalion of alternative server operating systems.

Since then swords have crossed many armors over the last decade and Solaris, Red Hat, Canonical, and SUSE are names that have added more ammo to this OS-off.

Image courtesy Paul Gooddy at freedigitalphotos

SUSE here has witnessed quite a topsy-turvy ride and scenery change from its Pre-Novell days to new canopies like IBM, Microfocus, Attachmate etc. From sliding into oblivion after a very fiery start, to popping on the radar again recently with a new verve and script; this time SUSE seems to take the UNIX war to a new corner altogether.

It has ample reasons to do that given some new contours that server landscape has taken.

Look at how Unix and Linux are becoming closely-juxta-posed names in server charts and CIO chats alike.

2013: Linux server demand saw an uplift due to cloud infrastructure deployments, showing a hardware revenue rise of 14.4 per cent year over year to $4.1 billion in 4Q13, making Linux servers grab 28.5 per cent of all server revenue, as per IDC. At the same time, Unix servers faced a revenue decline of -20.2 per cent year over year to $1.9 billion.

2014: The fourth quarter of 2014, showed hyperscale data center deployments as well as service provider installations driving the x86-based server market upward. Gartner had reported a nine per cent revenue gain for x86 servers when Unix server shipments dipped 18.7 per cent, with revenue down by 9.7 per cent.

The market is fast leaning towards new boxes, and everything from x86 servers, hyperscale infrastructure, integrated systems, and OEM hardware is indicating a shift from conventional server consumption.

The sword never left swinging over Unix’s head, so to say. It was 2013 when IDC augured Unix server revenue decline to reach $8.7 billion in 2017, the same time when Gartner also observed Unix market share slipping from 16 per cent in 2012 to nine per cent by 2017. Form factors like Blades, Cloud environments and modern workloads have also given a new twist to brownfield server territories.

The blade (oops) of this sword is getting sharpened with new reasons every quarter. Unix terrain already has cost issues and expensive lifecycles, so competition from Linux and Microsoft is only adding more edge here. Today, less expensive, less-maintenance-heavy and more efficient hardware with more powerful processor cores, options with better price-performance ratios are an easy distraction and apps that can run on a number of servers have only helped to accelerate the shift.

Think of new waves and we see that the clouds over RISC platform vis a vis x86-processor based ones are as strong as the clouds that are revving up new data centre consolidation, architecture designs, virtualization adoption, fabric-based computing and new workloads.

The world has moved on to words like hyperscale, commodity hardware, HANA and data centre standardization. Workloads around business applications, online processing transaction systems, data warehousing and analytics are seemingly moving fast to environments with x86 servers fuelled by Linux.

The holy grail of mission-critical apps, verticals with heavy-installed-base; low-latency-high-reliability lineage of Unix couples with snags of x86 support in several areas, have however helped Unix salvage a lot of its ground. Many factors like security, scale, bare muscle, or high-speed backplanes for controlled response times in SLA critical environments have kept Unix away from coffins despite all hearse.

So what will it be? A war that keeps going on and on with troops swaying from one side to another every now and then? How much blood is SUSE eyeing here and why would this come from production servers or Cloud installations or Open huddles and not from the usual suppositions? Are CXO’s really switching to Linux? Are open source shopping carts at enterprises really beyond piecemeal headlines? Why does open source matter all the more for modern world’s Neanderthals? And exactly why would an open pipe like Linux give more wiggle room for CIOs escaping out of proprietary prisons?

Rajarshi Bhattacharyya, Country Head at SUSE takes up the saddle from here.

It sounds beefy. But really, is open source adoption for enterprises anywhere beyond the ideological drum-roll against proprietary incumbents?

Yes, because now you can slowly begin to imagine a life beyond the jail where there was no freedom of movement and maintenance was a regular nightmare. With platforms like Unix, you are bound to a single vendor and even if initially those guys give you attractive pricing, you slowly find yourself behind bars. There are many who are going for hardware refreshes and they are opting for Windows or Linux.

Even with security as a danger zone?

I disagree with anyone who says Windows etc is more vulnerable with Heartbleed incidents etc. But yes it has maintenance issues and more admin overheads than Linux. Enterprises are looking at reliability and beyond yesteryear walls. A stock exchange or a financial institution under RBI would never go for something unless it is reliable.

What’s there for enterprises with Linux which was not there so far?

You can run it across so many architectures – RISC, Mainframes, x86, Commodity hardware etc. There is more bargaining power for customers. The choice of hardware increases drastically. Even SMBs are now considering Linux options for ERPs like SAP. Also now full system rollbacks are way more user friendly.


There are many Indian clients who have used SUSE to increase their efficiency and productivity. Like Air India which required a resilient, scalable, low-maintenance platform to support critical messaging and calendaring services for more than 10,000 employees. By selecting SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System z to run its Lotus Domino environment, the airline gained a responsive platform for corporate communications that can be managed with just two dedicated staff. The stability of the SUSE operating system keeps maintenance tasks to a minimum and helps ensure high quality of service.

Another example is of Café Coffee Day and now Amalgamated Bean Coffee Trading Company ¬Limited (Café Coffee Day) is using SUSE Linux ¬Enterprise Server Priority Support for SAP Applications to ensure the highest possible levels of protection for its ERP environment. Look at Greenply where by migrating its mission-critical ERP solution from IBM AIX and IBM DB2 to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications and SAP HANA, Greenply reduced its IT costs, improved flexibility and dramatically increased performance.

Mahindra Retail too picked SUSE Linux Enterprise Server running on HP blade servers as the platform for its SAP ERP environment. The operating system combines high availability with low total cost of ownership, giving¬ Mahindra Retail a solid foundation for its quickly growing business.

Rajarshi B Country_Head SUSE

Rajarshi B, SUSE

So Linux can dance well with Scale?

Yes. Think of SAP SE here. Building on its strong strategic partnership with SUSE, SAP SE is extending its renowned enterprise software platform into the cloud, making it more easily accessible to both new and existing customers. SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications gives the global software company a stable, secure and highly flexible platform for building, testing, deploying and managing its solutions, helping it maintain rapid growth in its cloud offerings.

Would you consider Red Hat or Canonical as rivals or folks who have done good groundwork for Linux adoption?

The more the merrier – I would say. Competition brings out the best in you. I see a lot of value in good competition and it does keep one on one’s toes.

What about the strategy of allowing look-alikes for test and development servers? Is Red Hat’s stance on production servers good with CentOS around?

I see the issue in a different light. For any enterprise Linux, there is a community version where we take inputs from all across the span and filter it to make it enterprise-ready. CentOS is community-side and Red Hat is enterprise-inside one. The same test and development server outcome has to be reflected in production environments also. Both have to be in same clusters so that surprises or I/O snags are avoided. That is essential to avert outages on production server level. It’s always better to have both at similar set-ups unless an enterprise has got fantastic Linux skills inside.

Talking of skills, would you reckon skill supply or ecosystem deficit to be strong spoilers for Linux too in future? Specially as Unix also struggled with them massively?

Interestingly, that’s where SUSE is pre-emptive. We have tools like SUSE Studio where one can create applications from scratch and shift workloads around easily. We give clever tools for cloud or other servers as a user wants.

Is Cloud the promising Greenfield that you are eyeing. We have seen SUSE up its ante in CSP (Cloud Service Provider) market. What’s the exact overall strategy?

When it comes to reliability, availability and scalability; we are at par with other OS options. Primarily mission-critical loads have been the forte for SUSE. You can see names in Top 500 supercomputing list running instances on SUSE. Ours is an intensive footprint and we offer substantially higher capabilities like 4 CPU than a 2 CPU market. When Heartbleed happened, SUSE was not affected which speaks volumes about our engineering. We know that patches cannot afford to take downtime, specially with 2TBs of data. We know that GUI is important.

Why should a CIO not be anxious when thinking of a jump?

In a data centre of today and tomorrow, there would be room for both Windows and Linux at different places. One has to consider optimization, future sense, performance etc seriously. It can no more of a decision based on whims and fancies. Being a fan of a certain OS and now cause problems and roll-backs.

But is the scenario not more muddled than before. Every next big proprietary name is now backing (or piggy-backing) some open community or another?

Yes, the big ones are looking at Linux as a way to go because that’s the clear market trend. Use of mobility is another big trend. Everyone wants apps for mobility interface and that would be a big big catalyst for moving Linux forward. Today Cobol (it’s not dead by the way since 94 per cent of world’s footprint still runs on Cobol platforms) is also using Linux.

What will push Linux more strongly ahead?

Big Data is clearly the next big thing for Linux. Storage market is moving in an entirely new direction and is fast moving from third-tier to second-tier with software trends. SUSE’s Ceph is going fiercely towards this shift and we see so many customers interested in beta already. Compared to traditional sandboxes that cost a bomb for ten to 15 years, this new tier will create a new market based on new requirements. More and more midmarket companies recognize the value of software-defined storage as a remedy for their exploding storage costs, so we are excited with our series of SDS appliances based on SUSE Enterprise Storage 2

Would commodity hardware be good news for Linux guys?

There is a Samsung, an Apple and an OEM player for a mobile customer. But some go towards quality and that seals the leader. If open hardware can cover that part and fix quality checks and it can be a good trend. But that’s not so easy. The way I had to vouch for Linux in 2011 was way different than today as quality has taken a big leap. We are witnessing and will see uptake of Linux only because of quality and reliability firming up, and that cannot be ignored.

What about Virtual Linux with VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure), specially as Citrix or VMware are betting heavily here?

It is hard to predict what will happen in four or five years. Enterprises are actually embracing BYOD despite all the caution and hesitation before. We have become Neanderthals again and our backs are bending with every next evolution of digital age. You never know what will surprise you next.

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