Linux And Its Impact On Modern IT Infrastructure

by Wrik Sen    Oct 12, 2016


Linux came into existence 25 years ago, but since then, it has been on the path of evolution, and has crept into the modern IT infrastructure like little else. What started as a rebellion movement of sorts, has now become the backbone of enterprise grade computing for sometime now, and been behind the success stories of more than a few enterprises.

To gauge the historical link of Linux with enterprise servers, Senior Solutions Architect at Red Hat Martin Percival’s words come to mind, who said “Linux was regarded as an alternative to proprietary Unix. But RHEL switched it to becoming an alternative to Windows Server.” However, when the 90’s came around, computing was to be turned on it’s head, when the consumer segment, more so with PCs, began to take off, even with the famous separation of Microsoft and IBM. While Windows 3.x became a sort of industry standard, IBM’s own OS/OS 2 didn’t create so much of an impression. 

The technology space moved, when a 21-year old Finnish student named Linus Torvalds, was working on creating an operating system which could take advantage of some of the features of that time like the 80386 processor-powered 32-bit instruction and paged memory. With the PC success story coming in, the use of operating systems increased but need for driver software for the wide range of hardware available was always a challenge.

The challenge of the propitiatory Microsoft NT Server and Linux, was to create a support framework for all this software. However, the presence of Red Hat and SuSE had more Linux distributions come in, but it had pitfalls, including management of an expensive setup. All that began to change later as Linux became more open source, enterprises had the opportunity to customize and create their editions of the Linux, thus bringing down the cost base, and had a large number of businesses jump in. Since, then, the curve of Linux evolution has come a long distance, and continues to shake the world of enterprise computing. 

Live updates and upgrades

In what might have been almost impossible or rather cumbersome on proprietary softwares like Unix, getting a live update on the OS, is something common in Linux. According to an analyst at Forrester, Richard Fichera, this is one feature which took Linux to mainstream enterprise computing more than anything else. Also called ‘Hot patching’, it allowed a great deal of maintainability, which were generally restricted to mainframe systems, atleast at the kernel level.

In fact Fichera in a blog post mentioned, “It is almost certain that a future release of the 4.x kernel will contain production-ready hot patch as a standard feature, placing the burden on the Unix providers to prove they can keep up with Linux.” He had also pointed out that Oracle’s Solaris, IBM’s Aix and HPE’s UX, have all never really been successful of building this mechanism in their versions of the Unix OS. 

What also makes the scenario for Linux interesting, is that in Germany, the city of Munich had made public proclamation of the fact that their computers would be running Linux, instead of Windows (having some similar hot-patching capabilities), including those on the servers and even desktops. This is something which will actually create a big space of improvement for Linux which dictates terms on cloud, but desktops and servers are just about a bit of a distance away.

Canonical’s CEO, Jane Silber, whose organization supports Ubuntu, one of the most well known and widely used free Linux distributions in the world, said “While the cloud runs almost entirely on Linux, we think the desktop remains an important focus for Linux innovation, too.” The question automatically comes to mind, what does this mean for nations like India, which are waiting for a technology explosion to happen, when it comes to IT infrastructure and management, both at the government and enterprise levels?

Easier enterprise accessibility

Making something more accessible, at really a fraction of the cost, and also at mentionable ease, beckons the effort of multiple entities. That’s exactly the case for Linux. With the help of SuSE, Red Hat, OpenStack, GNU Foundation, Apache Software Foundation, and multiple others, Linux is something which has in the past, and continues to become a part, or even the mainstay of enterprise computing. The licensing frameworks from GNU Foundation and Apache Foundation need special mention here, as their efforts turned the game around for enterprises to take to Linux, in such a big way. 

Jonathan Bryce, the President of OpenStack has said, “OpenStack has followed a similar path to Linux and we learnt from Linux.” To decipher this, it means that during the early 90s from the time of Linux birth, to the late 1990s, it was still a very technically oriented OS platform, and commercialization only came into picture from 1999 onwards.

This change in the commercialized approach of Linux, gave it the push it needed for enterprise computing, and it even started replacing Windows from then on in; where Windows Servers went down, or didn’t have the computing power for Windows editions, Linux came to the rescue.

Dave Rosenberg, the Senior-President at Linux Foundation narrated, “Whenever there was a dead or dying Windows box, we used to put Linux on it. Our web servers were pretty low-powered machines, but they had 100% uptime on Linux. The Windows NT server would fall over within four hours.”

In this entire process, Linux has proven a very vital point; that open-source could very well be root of many innovations like entire cloud frameworks being maintained in state-of-the-art infrastructure, which is currently the norm, and also manage personal computing as much ease. For those that may not have enough cash lying around, Linux has proved to be the alternative they can bank for what they want, and how they want things to happen for them.