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Outblaze Kindles Own Linux Flame

Blazing Their Own Linux Trail

  • February 10, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

You've heard the scenario before: company X gets wind of this thing called Linux. Does a little research, gets some data together, and then takes the plunge and does a trial Linux deployment.

If the company is big enough, they may send out a little press announcement, or maybe their Linux vendor will. A little press about a Linux deployment still makes the headlines, after all.

If the company is really big enough, you can bet that there'll be press about the deployment. Recent examples include such diverse organizations as Atari, Czech Post, and the Mississippi State Police. Usually there's a really big Linux or open source vendor pushing the announcement as well: Red Hat, IBM, and Oracle are particularly good at this kind of thing.

Big deployments are the bread and butter of the marketing world, but they are not the only way a Linux deployment can happen. In fact, several successful deployments can happen without all the hoopla and big migration announcements. Sometimes Linux is the best solution right from the start.

Such is the case with Outblaze, a Hong Kong-based e-mail and messaging provider that started with Linux and will very likely never use anything else.

Outblaze considers itself a mid-size company, but they certainly manage a significant percentage of the world's messaging traffic. With customers that include Lycos.com and Mail.com, Outblaze is responsible for over 35 million e-mail accounts and up to 200 million messages per day, which makes up nearly five percent of the world's e-mail traffic.

The company got its start in 1998, and like many start-ups, did not have a lot of money begin with. At the time, according to Managing Architect Yusef Goolamabbas, their platform options were extremely limited due to that lack of funds.

"In the US," Goolamabbas explained, "you could go with Solaris on SPARC. But in Hong Kong, that option was simply too expensive."

So, instead of going with a proprietary foreign solution, Outblaze opted use Linux. In 1998, however, there were few commercial Linux distros out there and virtually none in Asia. Linux, Goolamabbas said, was strictly a roll-your-own proposition. This, then, is what Outblaze opted to do--compiling their own Linux on x86 platforms.

Initially, this was a struggling effort, since some of the drivers needed were not yet available. "Somehow," Goolamabbas said, "it all came up."

In those early days, Goolamabbas would have to take a very interactive stance to get the updates he needed. For instance, his NFS needs were often met by the NFS maintainer himself sending him the patch he needed. Nowadays, of course, Outblaze can pull what they need from the Bitkeeper kernels. But that interaction with the community is still there.

Rather than move to a commercial distribution with its inherent support and update models, Outblaze has firmly stayed with a community support technique.

"Support fees are fairly high for commercial distros," explained Stefano Bensi, Managing Director, Outblaze USA and Europe. With Outblaze's huge server farm, the company could not afford the support fees offered by commercial Linux entities, even with their current success.

It certainly does not hurt that Outblaze's success with working with the community has been very high. The company maintains very close contacts with the open source community to help maintain its support levels.

Critics might argue that Outblaze is unusual for a Linux shop, since it very likely has a large stable of Linux gurus in house. In actuality, the IT department for Outblaze is rather small. Bensi indicated that while Outblaze's model of deployment and support might be unusual in the burgeoning commercial Linux arena, it does not have to be.

"The place where we are today," he said, "other companies can do in-house."

Is Outblaze going to stay with Linux for good? Very likely. While the company does deploy a handful of OpenBSD boxes for firewalls, Linux is now a critical part of the company's business model.

"The rate of change is much faster with open source," Goolamabbas said. "Not using open source negates your competitive advantage."

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