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Storage Represents Linux's Next Challenge

Linux is continuing its seemingly inexorable march from the network periphery to providing file, print, and workgroup services on into the heart of the IT infrastructure at many companies. That was the main message trumpeted at the recent LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in Boston. At a press conference following his keynote address, Jack Messman, CEO of Novell, the provider of SUSE Linux, argued that Linux was almost ready to take its place as an enterprise platform. "Linux is now mainstream," Messman said. "The questions have changed from 'is it safe?' and 'who will support it?' to 'how can I use it to improve my business?'" he said.

The keyword, however, is "almost." According to Messman, Linux still has to be "hardened" to make it ready for mission-critical applications. He laid out six areas that needed to be addressed, with improved storage management topping the list. In fact, Novell's first offering in what it's calling its data center initiative is a deal to resell and support PolyServe Matrix Server, a symmetric cluster file system for managing servers and storage.

Because the Linux 2.6 kernel allows for clustering and virtualization, the Linux OS needs additional features that enable it to be aware of where data is, should one server fail over to another. The agreement with PolyServe lets Novell provide this capability to its Linux customers. "It shouldn't matter where the data is physically stored," says Markus Rex, vice president and general manager of Novell's SUSE Linux division. "Virtual storage goes nicely with virtual machines."

The deal with PolyServe represents only one of Novell's efforts in the storage area. The company is also working on including an Internet SCSI (iSCSI) storage-networking capability with the SUSE Linux distribution. "The goal is to provide iSCSI capability out of the box," Rex says. He explains the OEM deal with PolyServe by noting that Novell discovered that adding clustering, backup, and storage management to the Linux OS was more complex than simply including an iSCSI initiator. "We look to find the easiest route to any solution."

The Novell announcements put Linux-related storage issues at the top of the LinuxWorld agenda, where they stayed throughout the conference. As the Linux footprint has expanded, a twofold challenge has emerged. First, how can administrators more effectively manage storage that's associated with applications running under Linux? Second, what kinds of Linux-based storage solutions are available? At LinuxWorld, answers for both of these challenges were in the spotlight.

The question about incorporating Linux-based operations into the overall storage infrastructure is perhaps the more surprising of the two. Although many application vendors, Oracle among them, provide replication and backup functionality in their applications, to a large degree, centralized, systemwide backup and storage in the Linux community appears to be haphazard. "Ninety percent of Linux machines have no backup," says Michael Takamoto, director of product marketing at OpenCountry, a provider of Linux systems management tools. "Our largest competitor is guys writing shell scripts."

According to Takamoto, both experienced Linux administrators and appropriate administration tools are in short supply. Moreover, he says, the licensing schemes for many of the most widely used backup tools don't fit well with the way Linux is deployed. Linux, says Takamoto, often runs on farms of inexpensive servers, which can drive up licensing costs for backup software under traditional licensing schemes. In fact, says Takamoto, many OpenCountry customers use the company's products to consolidate Linux data onto one or a few servers and then use an enterprise backup tool on the consolidated data.

Improving storage management tools is only half the story, however. As Linux becomes a more widely used application platform, administrators are increasingly seeking backup and storage-management applications that run on Linux. The availability and use of Linux-based storage tools is growing rapidly. For example, Arkeia, which is well known in the Windows backup arena, also offers backup solutions that run on Linux. "Over 100,000 enterprises are using our 'light' version," which can back up two clients, says John De Vito, Arkeia marketing manager. De Vito says that Arkeia has 4000 enterprise clients.

Indeed, the floodgates seem to be opening for Linux-related storage solutions. Among other notable developments at LinuxWorld, Syncsort announced a disk-to-disk backup solution for Novell Open Enterprise Server, which combines Novell's NetWare and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. And Radiant Data demonstrated its PeerFS replication technology, which enhances protection and speeds recovery of critical data.

In the final analysis, the focus on storage solutions at LinuxWorld signals one of the last milestones in the acceptance of Linux in the enterprise. For Linux to support mission-critical applications, it must ensure that data is safe and secure. The good news is that tools to achieve those goals are rapidly coming into the mainstream.

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