Dell Takes More Steps into Linux
Dell Plots Its Roadmap
Dell, a long-time member of the Wintel camp, has started taking more steps into Linux, often hand-in-hand with various software partners. Outside of splashier deals with the likes of Red Hat, Oracle, and SAP in North America, Dell' has more quietly started selling SUSE Linux and Red Flag distributions on other continents. Meanwhile, Dell's been working with developers of all sizes on several Linux projects.
This week, Dell and SAP rolled out a new services program, in which the two companies will help big enterprises to outfit their Dell servers with SAP software. A few weeks ago, Dell and Oracle announced plans to package Dell servers with Oracle databases.
Dell is also running a couple of Linux-specific Web sites: a public site at http://www.dell.com/linux, and a developer's site, called Dell Linux Community Web, at http://linux.dell.com .
Yet in contrast to some larger OEMs, which have embraced Linux faster and even more fully, Dell has traditionally viewed itself as a hardware specialist, many analysts say.
"Dell hasn't been seen in the same category as IBM, HP, SGI, or Sun, which have all put in lots of effort to help move Linux ahead," says Dan Kusnetsky, an analyst at IDC. Over time, though, Dell seems to have started seeing more value in moving toward "soups-to-nuts" Linux solutions, according to Kusnetsky.
When Dell does move into a new area, it's always with a business reason in mind, Kustnetsky says. Generally, Dell is attracted to "large volume markets." Now, though, Dell is working with partners to pursue two- and four-processor Linux servers, a "small but very significant market."
True to form, Dell CEO Michael Dell used the forum of this week's Dell/SAP announcement to point out some of the high-growth areas for his company, at the moment: enterprise services and Windows- and Linux-based servers.
During a press conference, Dell contended that enterprises are "tired of being locked into proprietary servers."
"Unix will continue to lost market share," he predicted, pointing to charts claiming lower TCO for two- and four-way Intel-based systems than for RISC-based servers from IBM and HP.
In making announcements at Linux shows and other industry events, Dell tends to share the stage with its large ISV partners.
"Dell and SAP share a vision. We see the enterprise rapidly evolving to this type of (server) world," the Dell CEO said at this week's press event.
Dell's tone was reminiscent of remarks at another press conference, held about a year ago, in which Dell and Oracle rolled out Linux- and Windows-based server clusters.
At the earier press event, Dell contended that the Oracle clusters would "edge out proprietary niche systems." He also credited Linux as "the fastest-growing operating system."
Dell, Oracle and Red Hat caught mutual attention way back during LinuxWorld 2002 by launching a set of professional services for Linux. Also that year, Oracle joined Dell and Red Hat's One Source Alliance.
At this point, though, Dell is moving a bit beyond its long-time alliance with Red Hat to sell SUSE Linux in Europe and the Red Flag distribution in China -- parts of the world where Red Hat is not distributed, anyway.
A Dell spokesperson attributed Dell's sales of the non-Red Hat distributions to customer demand for those products in those particular parts of the world.
But Dell is working with smaller Linux ISVs, too, a spokesperson contended. Geared to users of all distributions, not just Red Hat, the Dell Linux Community Site includes sections on Linux projects; RAID and storage; hardware monitoring; distributions; and desktops and laptops.
In one forum on the site, people can get advice from other users about installing Linux on laptops.
"Dell also has a way of satisfying customers who are interested in loading Linux on other alternative OS on their Dell systems," according to the spokesperson. On Dell's "n Series" machines, "the hard drive is blank, allowing customers to install the OS of their choice."
"Dell has been depending on developers to help do the work needed to support its hardware on Linux distributions. Largely, this has succeeded," observed IDC's Kusnetsky.
Dell's current projects with other developers include Devlabel, for dynamically creating symbolic links to disk/partition names; Efibootmgr, a Linux user-space application for modifying the Intel Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) Boot Manager.; Dynamic Kernel Module Support (DKMS); and Bios Enhanced Disk Drive Services (EDD) 3.0.
However, unlike HP, for instance, Dell doesn't look likely to start supporting Linux desktops through its professional services programs any time soon.
"In 2002, Linux's share of the desktop market was only about 8 percent. The 2003 number isn't likely to be much higher than that. This isn't a large enough market for Dell to pay that much attention to," according to Kusnetsky.
Dell is still pursuing the Linux market on the enterprise side only, the Dell spokesperson acknowledged.