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30 Year of Linux: The Penguin that Won the Race

By Michael Delzer, analyst, Gigaom

The impact of open source operating systems over the last 30 years

For the first 10 years Linux was more of a science project and the support was fragmented and the functionality was not there for enterprise grade workloads. In the 1990's the stability of the top three Unix systems and the vertical scalability left little room in enterprise data centers for an open source science project.

The emergence of the LAMP stack and groups like Red Hat and Canonical (Ubuntu) providing support for the entire stack and not just the OS where patching was coordinated and tested was a game changer. We now had a low entry cost to get a server grade OS that was stable and fast.

The only thing that slowed it down was the threat of legal action by the SCO Group that tried to claim ownership of Linux.  With companies like HP offering indemnification allowed use of Linux to move forward. This was helped by the lagging performance of Sun's SPARC, IBM' Power, and HP's PA RISC CPUs compared to the x86 CPUs. Once the AMD 64 instruction set was adopted by Intel the x86 CPUs with Linux were economically viable as replacements for legacy Unix systems. This shift away from legacy CPU designs grew with multi-core multi-thread x86 CPUs.

The price advantage of an x86 CPU and Linux changed demand and major software companies were now developing their software on Linux first, that change empowered more adoption by risk averse buyers as patches would ship on Linux before they would be released on legacy CPU and Unix versions.

Today most companies have replaced their HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX legacy Unix systems with Linux. Linux was also able to stave off Microsoft in the server market by being focused on a command line interface and better performance with a lower security footprint to attack. Linux has changed the view of the world on Open Source software being able to be more powerful than closed source ecosystems. Below additional analysts from Gigaom share their insights on the significance of this anniversary:

Jon Collins, analyst, Gigaom: 

"It's funny to think back on Linux in 1991. I recall the deliberate renumbering of kernel versions, which jumped from 0.12 to 0.95 as a deliberate statement of, ‘We need to work on 1.0 now.' At the time, UNIX systems from HP, Sun Microsystems, IBM and others dominated, with the expensive SCO being the only real option for x86-based platforms - so the growth of a non-proprietary UNIX derivative was perhaps inevitable (though there's no reason why that would be Linux - BSD UNIX and others were also prevalent). Still, I can remember how it captured the imaginations of geeks around the globe, not least the Parisian Minix user group I was in, when Linux was at 0.98/0.99 - I was running Sun Solaris systems at the time and I'd installed Linux on a 486DX PC at home. A very small footnote claim to fame is my name in the French Linux manual of those, simpler times! As the years passed, first Linux became the OS of choice for corporate engineers working on their own projects, and then it started to appear in set-top boxes and other low cost electronics. The now-dominance of the x86 architecture has to play a big part in the growth of Linux, but it nonetheless took a life of its own, to be the de facto force we see today."

Chris Grundemann, analyst, Gigaom: 
"As people around the world celebrate and discuss 30 years of Linux this year, the focus, rightly so, is on supercomputers and Martian helicopters and many other very developer-centric stories. Against this backdrop I want to highlight the role Linux plays in the underlying network infrastructure. That's right, routers and switches and firewalls and other appliances; the connective tissue of our internet enabled economy. First, I have to admit that I missed most of the first decade of Linux. But I did build my first ISP on CentOS bridging routers built on IPTables with a bunch of Pearl and Shell scripts about 20 years ago, at the turn of the century. And I do use a Linux desktop all day every day (currently Mint Cinnamon if you're curious). So, I feel qualified to point out that almost every network and security device available today runs a Linux kernel. Even Juniper Networks Junos OS, originally built on FreeBSD has now shifted to a native Linux kernel with Junos OS Evolve. And this is true whether the appliance is physical or virtual. All those virtual network functions (VNFs) run on Linux too! Plus, the open networking revolution currently underway is driving even more access to that Linux kernel and the power (and security) of an open Linux platform through the disaggregation of hardware and software. So, as you celebrate Tux turning 30 this year, remember it's turtles - I mean Linux - all the way down the infrastructure stack."



Michael Delzer is an analyst at Gigaom and a global leader with extensive and varied experience in technology. He spent 15 years as American Airlines' Chief Infrastructure Architecture Engineer, and delivers competitive advantages to companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 corporations by leveraging market insights and accurate trend projections. He excels in identifying technology trends and providing holistic solutions, which results in passionate support of vision objectives by business stakeholders and IT staff. Michael has received a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects. Michael has deep industry experience and wide-ranging knowledge of what's needed to build IT solutions that optimize for value and speed while enabling innovation. He has been building and operating data centers for over 20 years, and completed audits in over 1,000 data centers in North America and Europe. He currently advises startups in green data center technologies.

Published Thursday, August 26, 2021 9:35 AM by David Marshall
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