by John Wolley, Linux Today Silicon Valley correspondent
SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 14, 1999 - Linuxcare held a
news conference today to announce their second round of funding and
their ambitious plans to use the additional $US32.5 million to
extend the breadth and depth of their Linux support services.
Fernand Sarrat, president and CEO, explained Linuxcare's
goal: to "provide breakthrough customer services for enterprise
Linux environments". Put another way, he wants Linuxcare to "Do
for Linux tech support what Dell did for PCs"--to make it
"top-notch service, very affordable, and very scalable".
"Not Your Mother's Service Company"
As Sarrat pointed out early on, Linuxcare is the only company that
makes its money soley off of Linux "tech support". But if
you are used to thinking of tech support strictly in terms of
people answering your questions over the phone (or via email or a
newsgroup), Sarrat's outline of nine major services that Linuxcare
is now providing, or is gearing up to provide, is a real
device driver development
custom Linux distributions and applications
Linux security audits
Open Source strategy consulting
parallel computing and clustering
Web and email server offerings
These services are provided not only to true end users, but to
corporate IT departments, ISPs, ASPs (application service
providers), and independent developers. Services provided to true
end users are usually paid for by a third party with an interest in
seeing that end user support is available, as is the case with
StarOffice--Sun is paying Linuxcare to provide the support at no
cost to the end users. (Linuxcare is currently gearing up to
support StarPortal, the web-based version of StarOffice.)
Using the Technology to the Max
A key part of Linuxcare's plans to provide very high quality
service and make it very affordable is use of the Internet
and Open Source tools to provide support remotely. Pat Lambs,
Linuxcare VP of service solutions, described how installation,
configuration/tuning, trouble-shooting, and proactive patch
installation can all be handled remotely in all but the most
complicated situations. If the customer desires it, the latest
patches, especially those related to security, can automatically be
applied remotely by Linuxcare.
Some long-time members of the Open Source community might chafe
at the idea that customers wouldn't take the time to be fully
informed about patches that become available and make their own
decisions about which ones to apply and when, but apparently there
are a lot of customers who want to delegate this
responsibility and are willing to pay for the service. The
beauty of the Open Source model is, after all, that it puts choices
like this in the customer's hands.
The second round funding is helping to make possible three
The Puffin Group, based in Ottawa, has been
helping Hewlett Packard port Linux to its PA/RISC computers
and has sponsored the Open Source Writer's Group (Linux Today 8/99).
Linuxcare plans to draw heavily on Puffin's porting expertise.
Cheek Consulting (LinuxPR 9/99),
developers of the Linux Knowledge Base CD. They will be beefing up
the "self-service database access" that Linuxcare provides.
PROSA, based in Italy, has a Linux distro
based on Debian (LWN 2/99). Sarrat
says that PROSA will help Linuxcare service the embedded
New Talent on Board
Of interest to the Linux community are the folks who have joined
Linuxcare recently. The following were listed by Sarrat as new
talent at Linuxcare--quotes are from bio's on the Linuxcare
Rusty Russell "wrote, maintains, and develops
the Linux kernel firewalling code... lives in Australia. ...other
contributions include g++ hacks, the Kernel hacking HOWTO, a
compressed read-only loopback block device"
Christopher Beard "founded The Puffin Group in
September 1998 and served as its president and CEO... has
contributed code to the Linux kernel... is cofounder of the project
to port Linux to Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC family of high-end UNIX
Alex deVries "contributed to the Linux for SGI
Indy project, and produced the first Linux distribution for SGI
called Rough Cuts, shipped by Red Hat in 1998... contributed to the
Red Hat Package Manager and cofounded the project to port Linux to
Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC line of computers
Stephen Rothwell "came to Linuxcare from NEC
Australia" and, according to Sarrat, is an expert in "power
management", i.e., Linux on laptops!
Phil Schwan "most recently... has been working
closely with Dr. Peter Braam of Carnegie-Mellon University on the
design and implementation of Intermezzo, a distributed file system
for Linux... has also worked on the optimization of the hoser ftp
Matthew Wilcox "has contributed to GNU
binutils, GNU texinfo, the Linux kernel, glibc, and a number of
other Open Source projects, including an NFS server and an ext2
file-system reader. ...is working on the project to port Linux to
Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC line of computers."
Rasmus Lerdorf, who Sarrat credited with
writing PHP, and coming to Linuxcare from Apache, is apparently so
new to Linuxcare that he's not yet listed on the website.
A "Very High End" Linux Distro
In the "wish there was more to report" category--Sarrat mentioned
in passing that Linuxcare is working with a vendor on a "very high
end" Linux distribution. When asked if he could say more about it,
he would only add that, "It's with a systems vendor" vs. a chip
vendor. Apparently Linuxcare is assisting in the development of
this distro; the "systems vendor" will handle distribution.
Expanded Applications Support, Major Customers
Linuxcare never was "just Linux", in that they have been prepared
to deal with the heterogeneous environment into which Linux is
deployed from the beginning. But the range of Linux applications
that Linuxcare supports is steadily expanding, as the range of
applications available on Linux expands. Linuxcare now supports
"all major relational databases that have been ported to the Linux
platform... Apache, Sendmail, and Samba... IBM's WebSphere,
SecureWay and VisualAge ...and end-user support for VMWare and Sun
Microsystem's StarOffice." Major customers signed that were
announced today include Informix and Amdahl. See the press releases
under "related stories" below for more details.
What a Difference a Year Makes!
What struck me as I was listening to the Linuxcare announcements
was the contrast with the world as it was just a year ago. One year
back, in mid-December, 1998, a few big companies were just
beginning to get involved with Linux, but the business world in
general was still stuck on, "how can you make money by giving away
software?" The Open Source business models outlined by Eric Raymond
in the Cathedral
and the Bazaar were still largely theoretical. Linux IPOs
weren't even on the horizon.
The Open Source development model wasn't well understood either,
outside of the Open Source community. And on both sides of the
"fence" that separated us, there was some doubt that the Open
Source methodology could work with commercial businesses.
One year later, Fernand Sarrat didn't have to spend a minute
explaining how Linuxcare can make money with an Open Source
business model--all he talked about was how Linuxcare is prepared
to do it better than any other company that's offering
Linux services. It seems like the financial world not only
understands the Open Source business models, but is firmly
convinced of their long-term financial viability. This is an
astonishing change to have occurred in only one year's time. In my
view, this is what has made possible the record-breaking Linux IPOs
of recent weeks.
Linuxcare's motto is "At the center of Linux". Their success in
demonstrating the feasibility of Open Source business models has
put them squarely at the center of the Linux