The Linux locomotive is chugging into the station, and it's time for VARs to climb aboard. That's the word from Alex Sims, manager of optical storage and support services for Perceptics Corp. of Knoxville, TN, and Mike Barcus, VP of sales and marketing for Tracer Technologies, Inc. of Gaithersburg, MD.
Linux: An Alternative To Microsoft?
"Customers are increasingly interested in finding an alternative to Microsoft," said Sims. "Not that Microsoft is going to be entirely displaced, but Linux will offer a strong alternative. Over the years, the industry has shown that there are different fits for different environments. Windows NT fits in certain areas, as does UNIX. The same will hold true for Linux. It will find its niche, and — judging from the recent success of the VA Linux IPO — there's already significant interest in the Linux operating system."
Sims refers to the December 9, 1999, IPO of VA Linux. The stock, which hit the market at $30 per share, skyrocketed to $300 per share before closing at 239¼. How will VARs catch the Linux train? Quite simply, VARs need to develop the expertise to support Linux applications. "The VARs need to hold it all together," said Sims, "because Linux is not yet as mature as UNIX or AIT. Therefore, it's going to take more effort on the part of the VAR to make sure everything works properly. You don't want customers banging their heads against the wall as they attempt to make an application fit into a Linux environment."
Sims said the current Linux situation reminds him of the situation with Microsoft just a few years ago. Some VARs climbed aboard the NT train early and developed their expertise, leaving other VARs shivering at the station. "The VARs who have become certified Microsoft providers are the VARs who are winning. They were able to develop the expertise and form the different alliances. The same holds true for Linux. The VARs who can offer Linux expertise will stand above the rest."
Leaning Toward Linux
Mike Barcus, VP of sales and marketing for Tracer Technologies, agrees with Sims. "The Linux train is gaining steam. Just look at RedHat. Its business is soaring… and it's all based on a free product."
Barcus believes that people are looking at Linux as a more vigorous solution than NT. "Linux offers the robustness of UNIX, but it's more user-friendly. Plus, it's free. Based on these two factors, we think that — if a customer is looking at NT vs. Linux — that customer is going to lean toward Linux."
"Everything I read says Linux is gradually chugging into the NT marketplace," he continued. Right now, approximately 80% of the server operating systems out there are NT. The other 20% are covered by UNIX. I think Linux will cut into the NT space by approximately 10% to 15% over the course of the next six to 12 months."
Hiring A UNIX Expert
So, how should a VAR pack for the trip? According to Barcus, VARs need to have a UNIX expert on board. An in-house UNIX expert will allow the VAR to explain to customers the robustness of UNIX. This, in turn, will allow the VAR to explain how Linux emulates UNIX. "VARs who want to compete in the Linux space must have someone with UNIX expertise. I'm not saying they have to be a UNIX guru, but the VAR should have someone with an understanding of both UNIX and Linux. They'll also need to understand how Linux is going to compete in the NT space."
Step right up, folks. Watch your step. It's time to board the Linux train.