doing TODAY and not getting caught in the HYPE of tomorrow

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Back from the Future

Back from the Future

We could no longer afford the big-iron alternatives of the day that were traditionally first on the shopping list. There was a perception that if we were to be deploying server-side solutions, then we needed reliability and performance that weren't typically on offer from the PCs of the day. This was back in the days when a "workstation" was more than just a high-end PC (although if you looked at specifications of what the workstation actually was, you'd probably be chortling right now).

Linux was viewed as this "hobbyist" thing that only true hard-core geeks played with. No serious business was done with it. Fast forward five years, and how different the world looks now. The very same big-iron companies we blindly followed, with their promise of unbridled power and uptime, are now heralding Linux as the second coming.

So what changed? What happened between then and now?

Economics is, of course, a main driving force in this change of heart. Big iron costs big bucks, and with the general economic downturn companies could no longer afford to keep up-to-date with the continual cycle of upgrading their hardware. An alternative had to be sought. In addition, developing countries such as India, Asia, and Africa never had the big budgets in the first place - they were always left with the "seconds" of the western world, never really getting a chance to catch up, let alone leapfrog ahead.

Yet, the desktop PCs that we happily threw out every year had more than enough processing power inside them. Sure, they struggled to make Microsoft Windows usable, but as a raw processing power goes they were powerful. Linux managed to harness this power and bring it back into vogue. Linux was the trampoline that bounced the PCs from the dumpster back into the server room.

Your typical 2-3 year-old PC that you wouldn't dream of running with anything more demanding than Windows 95/98 would, with Linux installed, happily sit there and keep up with your office e-mail, act as an Internet gateway/firewall, and even provide some file sharing capabilitiesSall out of the box, without the need to install or purchase any additional software. It was an offering that was simply irresponsible to ignore.

Naturally, at first the big irons of the world tried to ignore it, citing such reasons as scalability and redundancy. But if your office only had 50 users then such dreams of running eBay were just that: dreams. The whole notion of what a server is was completely turned on its head.

Linux, with its simple message of "it just works," was proving that PCs weren't the old unreliable machines that we were led to believe they were. In fact, they were performing such an admirable job, as Jonathan Schwartz at Sun commented recently, that "uptime was measured in years."

There's no denying that Linux has brought us back from the future and saved the business community millions in terms of computing hardware. But Linux has matured along the way. Moving to Linux no longer means you're entrusting the company's IT strategy to a summer student who happened to throw together a Red Hat/Debian server from some old PCs he found in the cupboard.

Quite the opposite. Approach the likes of IBM, HP, and Sun and ask about their Linux offerings and you'll be surprised at the prices they quote back at you - not only within your budget, but with support. Linux has been ready for the corporate world for some time now, but like those colossal oil tankers that take a week to change direction, the corporate world is finally beginning to take notice.

The journey has just begun; we are just getting warmed up!

More Stories By Alan Williamson

Alan Williamson is widely recognized as an early expert on Cloud Computing, he is Co-Founder of aw2.0 Ltd, a software company specializing in deploying software solutions within Cloud networks. Alan is a Sun Java Champion and creator of OpenBlueDragon (an open source Java CFML runtime engine). With many books, articles and speaking engagements under his belt, Alan likes to talk passionately about what can be done TODAY and not get caught up in the marketing hype of TOMORROW. Follow his blog, or e-mail him at cloud(at)

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