Practical Technology

for practical people.

SCO Linux 4 – Ready for the Big Time

SCO, formerly Caldera, have taken the lead in bringing UnitedLinux consortium’s UnitedLinux server operating system to the reseller market. And, that’s big news. SCO Linux 4, SCO’s version of UnitedLinux 1.0, may not look that different from OpenLinux. In fact, it really just looks like a typical-albeit stripped down to the vital server basics-Linux server distribution. Which, when you get down to it, is exactly what it is. But, that’s the point

UnitedLinux is an attempt to create a standard business server Linux with common file directory conventions, command options, installation routines and high-end options like clustering and shared memory multiprocessing (SMP). The main idea behind UnitedLinux is that when a customer buys a UnitedLinux branded distribution he can be certain that any UnitedLinux applications will run on it without tweaking.

As resellers know, common business application and operating system compatibility is far more important to customers than having the latest and greatest file system. So it is that SCO Linux 4 has more in common with business operating systems like Windows 2000 Server or Solaris 9, than well-thought of, but end-user oriented, Linuxes like Debian or Slackware.

That’s not to say SCO Linux 4 isn’t really Linux. It’s Linux from top to bottom with a 2.4.19 kernel, KDE 3.03 and BIND 9. For the server trimmings it comes with up to date (as of January 2003) server programs like Apache, Samba, and NFS. SCO Linux 4.0 also comes with such mail essentials as Sendmail and Postfix and such developer necessities as gcc, cpp, and Tomcat.

If, however, you’re looking for a Linux with multiple Web server choices and every last new Linux program known to Freshmeat.net, you’re looking at the wrong distribution. SCO Linux 4 contains the most popular business Linux software choices and that’s about it.

In fact, if you know your Linuxes well and you look hard at UnitedLinux, you’ll find yourself thinking this look a lot like SuSE’s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 7.0. And, you know what? You’d be right. SLES 7 is UnitedLinux’s immediate ancestor.

What’s different about UnitedLinux isn’t so much the technology as the idea of providing business with a single common Linux server platform. With a common Linux platform, the UnitedLinux companies, and their major ally IBM, hope that independent software vendors (ISV)s take a permanent seat on the bandwagon. So far, it seems to be working. Borland, Computer Associates, NEC/Siemens, PeopleSoft, Progress Software, and SAP are all supporting it.

The Business of SCO Linux

In turn, this means, the four UnitedLinux companies-Conectiva, SCO, SuSE and Turbolinux–hope that Linux will move out of the popular, but low revenue, business of Web site hosting and file/print servers and into the much more profitable world of application and enterprise servers.

Of the four companies, only SCO is making a serious run at the North American reseller trade. Turbolinux is only a Far East play now. Conectiva… well, I know they want the Latin American market, but they seem to be making a hash of it.

Other than SCO, only SuSE is making a serious attempt at the business market, and that’s only in Europe. For all serious business purposes, SuSE is dead in North American market. That said, since they still have a US presence in the consumer space, you can still expect to find customers who want to consider it. Their lack of a viable reseller channel though means North American SCO partners won’t have much to worry about. European SCO vendors, though, are going to have their work cut out for them.

For us in the States and Canada, though, SCO Linux real competition is Windows 2000 and .NET Server, a point that SCO’s reviewer guide makes exceeding clear. SCO Linux also targets the major server Unixes-AIX, HP-UX and Solaris. The only Linux, it competes with is Red Hat’s Red Hat Advanced Server (RHAS).

SCO, having finally learned that OpenServer is here to stay, is wisely not targeting its own Unix market. As most of you already know, OpenServer is solid as a house and, it’s one of the safest operating systems out there according to the English security research house, mi2G (http://mi2g.com).

The Right Stuff, The Tech Stuff

To make SCO Linux 4 do its stuff, you’ll need at least an Intel 486, with 64MBs of RAM and 500 MBs of disk space to give it a try. But, that’s pointless. To do the jobs SCO Linux 4 is meant to do you’d need a minimum of a high-speed AMD Athlon or Intel Xeon with 512MBs of RAM and 40GBs of hard disk and up.

But, to really see UnitedLinux strut its stuff, with advanced features like IBM’s open source Memory eXpansion Technology (MXT) and large memory support so that even on Intel 32-bit architecture, UnitedLinux can address up to 64GBs of RAM with up to 4GBs per process, you need high-end servers with gigabytes of RAM and a Storage Area Network (SAN).

Since I don’t have one of those in the office (darn it!), I tested SCO Linux 4 on a HP Pavilion 512N with a 1.4Ghz AMD Athlon XP processor with 512MBs of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. By UnitedLinux standards, that’s barely getting into second gear.

Even so, some things quickly became apparent. One is that SCO Linux 4 is easy-I mean fall off a log easy-to set up. With more two decades of setting up server operating systems under my belt, I’ve never seen one this easy to set up before. In fact, I’ve found most desktop systems to be more difficult to install.

In large part that was because SCO’s Webmin and Usermin, Web-based administration programs are very easy to use. We also found, though, that YaST, the UnitedLinux default administration suite, also worked well.

For fine-tuning, though, they weren’t perfect. Both use KDE 3’s built-in Web browser, Konqueror 3.03, for their interface. And, I found that Konqueror consistently broke during some setup installations. For example, it always broke during some stages of setting up Samba, the Windows NT compatible file server. I was able to get around this by using Samba’s own SWAT administration tool. From some early experiments with Mozilla 1.01, the other supplied Web browser, it would appear that it works more reliable with the Webmin and Usermin administration tools.

While I didn’t test performance as such, I did run some informal tests of how fast it ran compared to Caldera’s pre-UnitedLinux Linux, OpenLinux 2.4. I found that on the exact same machine, SCO Linux 4 and its applications ran faster.

And, for lack of a better term, it ran smoother than its predecessor and other Linux distributions. There were fewer glitches. Yes, Linux is more stable than its competitors, but we all know programs that need fine-tuning before they work well enough for business. Well, on SCO Linux 4, there were simply fewer fit and polish problems.

That’s pretty amazing for a 1.0 release. Of course, if you look really closely, you can see a lot of bits and pieces still labeled SuSE rather than SCO or UnitedLinux, but for practical purposes of getting the job done, it runs remarkablly well for a 1.0 release.

Still, nothing is perfect and neither is SCO Linux 4. The biggest problem I found was that there is no graceful way to upgrade from OpenLinux 2.3. In talking with SCO, I discovered that it wasn’t just my own klutziness getting in the way. The only way to ‘upgrade’ OpenLinux, or any other Linux for that matter, is to back up your data and configuration files and restored them after letting SCO Linux 4 blow away the existing Linux system. If you’ve invested a lot of time in getting your Linux setup just so, be ready to re-do a lot of it.

So, in short, if you’re upgrading an existing business installation, make sure you have up to the second backups and allow for lots of time for bring the system back up to production level. Otherwise, you’re going to have one really ticked up client on your hands.

UnitedLinux representatives tell me that upgrade paths from older Linuxes will be made cleaner. But, with the possible exception of SLES users, I doubt that will happen. By its very nature UnitedLinux resets all those little, but vital, Linux file placements and settings to one standard way. And, that way, again with the exception of some of SuSE’s Linuxes, isn’t the UnitedLinux way. In the future, however, one SCO Linux 4 is in place upgrading SCO Linux Upgrade service, will go much easier.

How Much?

SCO, SuSE, and Turbolinux’s UnitedLinux-based distributions are available today. Connectiva is, in January 2003, lagging behind. For the North American reseller market, SCO took a quick and immediate lead and there are no signs that it will have significant competition from the other UnitedLinux companies in the near future. Europe, as I mentioned earlier, is another story. There, SuSE and SCO, as mentioned earlier, will compete head to head.

SCO’s pricing starts with a Base Edition, that’s meant for VARs or a small business with its own Linux expert, costs $599. Other versions, like the Classic Edition are $699, the Business Edition: $1,249 and the Enterprise Edition for $2,199. With each increase in price the owner gets higher levels of SCO direct maintenance and support with speed of response being the most important difference. The more you pay, the faster a SCO engineer will get back to the customer. At the bottom level, the reseller is responsible for all support.

All commercial versions also include the SCO Linux Update Service, which delivers upgrade and maintenance packs and security fixes. While each of the UnitedLinux partners has its own pricing system, you’ll find this basic tiered structure with better service for more money to be the same. For the full details see the SCO Linux 4 page.

Of course, you can also download UnitedLinux ISO images, but these come without support. And, as a business class operating system, technical support is the name of the game. If you’re an SCO reseller, I really wouldn’t worry about someone trying to steal your business without SCO’s support. They’ll be operating without a support network worth the name.

That said, it would be good to see a firm technical certification track set up for SCO Linux 4. Linux Professional Institute (LPI) president Evan Leibovitch has hinted that the LPI might brand their vendor-neutral certifications for UnitedLinux. Given, Caldera/SCO’s long support for the LPI certification, I expect the LPI certifications to become the de facto UnitedLinux/SCO Linux certifications.

What many resellers want to know though is whether SCO Linux 4, or any UnitedLinux, is better than RHAS. In my opinion, it depends on the customer. If you have someone who’s wedded to Oracle for their DBMS and Dell for their servers, chances are they’re going to like RHAS. But, for everyone else, but especially for IBM-oriented customers, I think SCO Linux is a good, viable choice.

ISV support, OEM support, technical support, and a strong, stable Linux distribution, there’s a lot to like here. With its pure business focus and pricing, UnitedLinux will never be the Linux for people at home, but SCO Linux 4, along with RHAS, is the Linux for people at the office.

Comments are closed.