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When it comes to security and scalability, technology really does matter.

Open-source products, such as Linux, MySQL, the Apache Web server and the Perl programming language, have long spawned passionate debates about their various technological pros and cons compared with their counterparts in Windows, Unix and proprietary software environments. But for CIOs, the inevitable weighing of technology advantages today centers primarily on two issues: security and scalability.

Unquestionably, commercial Linux software has yet to suffer the same crippling impact of worms, viruses and denial-of-service attacks endured by the Windows camp; there have yet to be high-profile equivalents of viruses like Blaster and SoBig in the Linux world. But is that because Linux is, by virtue of its code or the open-source development process, inherently more secure than other operating systems? Or is it simply because Linux's smaller market share makes it a less inviting target for attacks?

AMR's Lundstrom (who also doubles as his firm's chief technology officer) believes that Linux's security edge is based in its technology. "Yes, it's true that Linux is not a status symbol for hackers, but the truth is that the software is designed differently," he points out. "It's modular by design, and knowledgeable people can segment it to support only the features they need, such as instant messaging."

But while the source of Linux's supposed security advantage over other operating systems continues to be a subject of debate, there's been little doubt about the historic scalability limitations of Linux. Most agree that Linux's strength has been in low-end Intel-based server environments, often topping out at 4- or 8-processor server configurations used for Web servers and simple file/print servers. That has limited the software's appeal to tactical situations, rather than the mission-critical data-center requirements needed to support up to 64-processor servers used for number-crunching applications such as energy exploration or sophisticated financial modeling.

However, the tide is turning there, too. The new version of the Linux kernel, called 2.6, promises support for 16-way servers, and high-end server maker Silicon Graphics Inc. earlier this year unveiled 64-way Linux support on its new servers.

"Scale used to be an issue of concern, but that's no longer the case," says Bill Claybrook, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston. "SGI has 64-way Itanium running Linux, and IBM and H-P both are running not only 8-way versions, but often 16-way. How many applications out there really need to go beyond 16-way today?"

Rob Meyer, director of Internet services at Anaconda Sports Inc., a Lake Katrine, N.Y.-based wholesaler and retailer of sporting goods, says he went with a Linux system recommended by his local reseller because he was confident it would grow with his needs. "We were looking for a better, more robust back-end system for database integration than the Windows system we had," he says. "Linux allowed us to scale our back-end system to 4 terabytes, compared with the previous 2-gigabyte Windows system we had."

Another technology issue to consider: How diverse is your architecture? CIOs and analysts agree that IT organizations used to heterogeneous environments will have a much easier time with Linux than those based primarily on a single platform. That's because CIOs in multiplatform environments already have wrestled with key issues such as connectivity, application integration and multivendor security. "If you're principally or overwhelmingly a Windows shop, it will be a more difficult transition for you," Lundstrom says. "If you're already a diverse organization, with things like Unix, Lotus Notes and terminal emulation, you can make the transition to Linux a lot easier."

Ask Your Staff:

  • Have you tested Linux's performance on our larger servers to see if it scales adequately?

    Ask Your Software Vendors:

  • How many security patches have you issued for Linux versions of your software in the past six months?

    Tell Your Executives:

  • Linux is solid technology, but that doesn't make it absolutely impenetrable to security attacks.

  • This article was originally published on 12-01-2003
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