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Linux Magazine’s Top 20 Companies to Watch in 2009

Once again -- with remarkable clarity -- we peer into our crystal ball and pick which companies in and around open source are going to grab your attention in 2009.

There are certain phrases likely to crop up in 2009 that are already kind of worn, but get ready for them anyway: “belt-tightening,” “budget conscious,” and “cost cutting.” Sense a theme? It’s true that the year ahead will probably be all about austerity, but there are companies that can help with all that streamlining, consolidation, efficiency, and strategy without resulting in tears and headaches.

That’s where these companies come in. Once again, the magazine tries to foresee which vendors will be compelling in the year to come, and although choosing a Top 20 is always a subjective exercise, our crystal ball (fortunately, we budgeted for one last year) tells us that these firms have a high probability of helping their customers to save some funds in 2009. Chosen because they could help enterprises survive and even thrive, here are the companies (in no particular) that are worth a look:

IBM

Usually, IBM has some interesting brew of Open Source projects going on, but this year could be even more interesting, with its big push toward getting customers to cut the cord with Microsoft.

In early December, Big Blue announced it was launching a Linux-based collection of virtual desktop applications that run on a server without the need for desktop hardware, or Microsoft software. The package, dubbed Virtual Linux Desktop, runs on a back office server and is accessible to customers on thin clients. IBM estimates that corporate customers could save up to $800 per user, which is pretty attractive, and it remains to be seen if those numbers play out, but either way, the adoption rate and effect are worth watching.

Citrix

Tired of hearing about virtualization yet? Hope not: the strategy may have been overhyped in the early days, but now that the consolidation push is in full swing, the strategy is likely to gain even more momentum in 2009 than ever. And for good reason, actually. Virtualization may still have some challenges, but for the most part, it’s been made fairly user friendly and, more importantly, budget friendly.

That’s going to put Citrix in a good spot going forward. Although there are several top virtualization vendors — most notably, VMware — Citrix is more purely Open Source with its XenServer, based on the Xen hypervisor, which the company believes is an exceptionally lean technology that delivers low overhead and nearly-native performance. Over the next year, look for Citrix to keep touting the XenServer’s advantages, especially its “10 to Xen” feature: that it only takes 10 minutes to install and configure XenServer. That should give IT managers more time to work on their budgets, and less time playing around with installations.

Hewlett Packard

In talking about its platforms and distributions, HP notes that it’s different from other vendors — in the Open Source section of its website, the company boasts that Linux and Open Source from HP are “offered as best-in-class solutions, not teasers that lure you into commercial software.”

For the upcoming year, it looks like HP will be putting that belief into the marketplace, with some potentially interesting results. One notable initiative is the recent expansion of its Mozilla Firefox for HP Virtual Solution, which puts together Firefox and Symantec Software in order to make small business PCs easier to support. As people surf, any changes made to the machine are put into a virtual layer that’s separate from the operating system. For IT types that have to lock down numerous machines, the tool could be a time- and money-saver.

Cisco

Not only is Cisco leveraging Linux as a platform for developers with their ISR routers, but they’re also becoming an Open Source company, and may intend to use Open Source to compete with Microsoft on the Unified Communications front. As evidence of this, they purchased PostPath this summer, a handy Microsoft Exchange substitute.

Unified Communications could become a bigger deal, since it creates a way for people to collaborate with greater ease. The tools allow colleagues, customers, vendors, consultants, partners and others to use multiple device types like mobile phones and laptops to get in touch with each other more quickly. In a speedy communication era, this might not seem terribly important, but the savings add up.

Cisco points to Sage Research results showing that softphone use saves about $1,700 per month in cell phone charges. And that’s the just the pocket change aspect — there can also be reduced hardware requirements and lower support costs, which add up to even nicer budget numbers.

Another area to watch will be Cisco’s interest in building a developer community; recently, the company ran a contest, “Think Inside the Box” to encourage developers to innovate by building Linux-based applications on the Cisco Application Extension Platform.

Novell

The latest news from Novell centers around SUSE Linux Enterprise Server Subscription with Expanded Support, a program designed to migrate users from Red Hat onto Novell’s enterprise servers. The Novell v. Red Hat market tussle isn’t new, but increased competition between the two could result in more services, reduced subscription rates, and other cost-saving goodies.

Also worth watching is how the partnership between Microsoft and Novell will play out in the future. The match-up has now passed the two-year mark, and Novell noted in November that it now has more than 200 joint customers.

What should really be interesting in 2009, though, is the result of the partnership’s development work. When they announced the deal, they mentioned that they’d begin creating software with an emphasis on virtualization and open-document formats, as well as a management tool that will allow for simultaneous monitoring of Windows and Linux servers within one console, which would be handy indeed. That’s due in the early part of 2009, apparently, so stay tuned.

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