What to Expect in Linux’s 21st Year

Three key moves for Linux this year will impact enterprise IT.

By Alan Clark, Director, Industry Initiatives, Emerging Standards and Open Source, SUSE

In 2011, Linux celebrated its 20th birthday powering the fastest supercomputers, running businesses, assisting soldiers in battle, and producing Oscar-winning movies among many other uses. After spending this year celebrating its present, what about its future? Twenty-one is an age of legally bestowed maturity in the U.S., but a new phase of maturity is in store for Linux as well.

Three key moves for Linux this year will impact enterprise IT.

Move #1: There will be a new wave of enterprise-class Linux innovation

Linux already powers more devices and underlying technology than the average tech user is aware of, but there is still a large battleground for Linux to be fought in the enterprise. Part of Linux’s 20th anniversary was the introduction of the 3.0 kernel on July 22, marking the first time the kernel created a new major version number since 1996. With this new development milestone comes a new landscape for enterprise innovation.

Several key features in the kernel will extend Linux’s enterprise reach. Compatibility with the Xen hypervisor allows users to extend their realm of virtualization choices and technologies. This allows enterprises to expand their options beyond proprietary hypervisors when migrating to virtual environments, an increasing IT priority. Additionally, the new kernel includes Btrfs (pronounced “Butter FS”) file system that allows selected files to be automatically copied and scaled. Btrfs enables a Linux implementation to grow more easily and securely, allowing enterprises to translate their IT investments to a scale that better benefits their business.

Move #2: There will be a shortage of Linux and open source knowledge within enterprises

A consistent, increased demand for Linux comes with its growing pains as well. One such pain is the lack of knowledge within enterprises to meet the rising influx of open source-based projects.

Several converging factors have created the stage for this demand. For example, 2011 was a big year for both mobile and social development -- and the “cool factor” those technologies have created allows a talent shortage to develop across IT development. Furthermore, the pipeline of recent grads needs supplemental training, as many American IT programs do not have a large portion of Linux currently in their curricula.

As the demand increases, organizations will take steps to acquire and maintain top open source development talent -- to the point where larger enterprises may make acquisitions in the open source space for the development knowledge alone.

Enterprise IT should be aware of this discrepancy by stockpiling their knowledge of Linux and open source-related programming. It not only helps with future implementations, but it makes the staff more versatile and valuable in order to handle a large variety of IT environments.

Move #3: Momentum in the community from both enterprises and individuals will continue

During the last several years, there’s been a stream of financial and community contribution from large tech vendors within the Linux community. This consolidation continued in 2011, and Microsoft – once known as the archenemy of Linux -- was one of the top five corporate contributors to the Linux 3.0 kernel. Large companies now know that open source can be beneficial to their business, and we expect additional large enterprises to follow suit next year.

That said, individual participation will continue to grow due to the sustained interest in Linux overall. There are many reasons for developers to join the open source community, but one driving figure continues to be the opportunity for professional development. Open source gives developers a way to learn from their peers and identify their interests within IT – think of it as a global, social apprenticeship program with unmatched knowledge and expertise.

Enterprise IT continues to benefit from a strong community. As Linux and open source knowledge continues to grow, these impacts will be felt within enterprises to boost their flexibility, reliability and choice within their departments.

Conclusion

Linux has come a long way in 20 years – and the groundwork this year was laid for a big year in 2012. Although gains will be made in innovation and participation, this creates higher demand for Linux-related skills and expertise.

As an enterprise, it’s important to know about the open source community’s activity due to the shared innovation and knowledge from a large, passionate, and diverse group of developers. Even if a company doesn’t use Linux or open source software, the community and business impact continues to grow. Maybe 2012 will be the year open source impacts your business. If it does, the knowledge of the market’s future will hopefully provide some value to your IT department.

Alan Clark is the director of director of industry initiatives, emerging standards, and open source at SUSE, where he focuses on the technologies, initiatives, and standards that affect the Linux community. A software veteran of 20 years, Alan chairs the openSUSE project, serves as a director for the Linux Foundation, and participates in several industry forum steering committees, technical committees and work groups, and other open source projects. You can contact the author at aclark@suse.com
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