Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What would Cisco do?

The biggest problem with Linux server operating systems, whether its Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell's SuSE, or appliance new comers such as rPath Linux, is that they are all cut from the same cloth. There is no real innovation here. Sure, Red Hat occasionally will throw us a bone with things like GFS, or some cool innovative features in the kernel. There are very few operating systems willing to dance outside the safety of the status quo.

The problem is with the school of thought. The school of thought across all the developers and great folks that work at these companies is the same. There is nothing new there. If you look at rPath, you have Erik Troan, he was one of the original authors of RPM, the Red Hat Package Manager. Billy Marshall, CEO of rPath, he is ex-Red Hat too. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SuSE, both RPM based, as is Mandriva. Even Ubuntu and Debian, while not RPM based, still have developers that essentially came from the same community with the same concepts that we've all seen Open Source grow up with.

What about Virtualization I hear you say? Virtualization is new. Yes it is, but what do our friends do? They bring package management and the very same line of thinking into Virtualization. It all comes down to one thing, its safe. The big companies like Red Hat and Novell, simply can't change over night. They are heavily invested in RPM, they have third party software vendors, certifications, and in essence, changing from package management, would be an admission that they were wrong. Why do startups follow this Lemming-like path? Well it makes it easier for customers to jump ship.

On the other side of the fence, you have companies like Cisco. Wait, what has Cisco got to do with Linux distributions? Whether you like it or not, Cisco is trusted with a major chunk of the Internet and corporate networks. Corporations are funny, they won't typically turn their business over to just anyone.

The Cisco 7200 series router is the workhorse for many businesses. Just like their other router and switching products, the 7200 runs IOS, their Internetworking Operating System. They use package management right -- NOT! IOS is shipped as a firmware image, a self contained system. When you upgrade from one version of IOS to another, you are completely replacing the system and rebooting. That IOS is specifically tested not only to work as a system, but to work on the very hardware that it runs on.

Look at all the businesses that provide critical wired or wireless infrastructure - Cisco, Nortel, Aruba Networks, Foundry, F5, Redback, Motorola etc. Look at your wireless router at home, it too provides a firmware image - self contained and tested.

This is the proven, time tested method for Enterprise networking, so why doesn't someone apply this to servers? Plain and simple -- school of thought. The folks behind the Linux distributions don't come from these backgrounds, and the few that may do, simply stick with the status quo.

That is of course with one exception -- AppOS, developed by Spliced Networks. For the past 5 years, Spliced Networks has applied the very same principles that make Cisco routers -- mission critical / enterprise ready to the Linux server. With AppOS 4.0, we'll make that very same solution available, de-coupled from the hardware!

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