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OSDL: Penguins in the Sandbox

Few will dispute that Linux came of age in the past year. As in the past, enthusiasts have continued to load Linux on their PCs and laptops and hack software in their basements and on unused portions of systems at their jobs. More recently, however, traditional software companies have begun porting products and programs to Linux, and the operating system has made even deeper advances in the Web server market, as well as in supercomputing clusters and application server environments. But despite all this progress, the idea of a truly open-standard platform for mission critical needs in the enterprise remains a hot debate. There are many who believe that the community needs the kind of strong, centralized support system for innovation and development that traditional proprietary software has long enjoyed.

Trenches art

Few will dispute that Linux came of age in the past year. As in the past, enthusiasts have continued to load Linux on their PCs and laptops and hack software in their basements and on unused portions of systems at their jobs. More recently, however, traditional software companies have begun porting products and programs to Linux, and the operating system has made even deeper advances in the Web server market, as well as in supercomputing clusters and application server environments. But despite all this progress, the idea of a truly open-standard platform for mission critical needs in the enterprise remains a hot debate. There are many who believe that the community needs the kind of strong, centralized support system for innovation and development that traditional proprietary software has long enjoyed.

In January, a group of industry players came together to create an initiative designed to provide that support system. The Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) represents the industry’s first independent, non-profit lab designed for developers interested in adding new business-oriented capabilities to Linux. The lab is the first of its kind, one where technology leaders from competing companies put business differences aside to create a true testing ground for programs and applications that will usher in a generation of open-standards-based enterprise technology. This effort is designed to build on the energy and coordination pioneered by the existing open-source culture, community, and process.

Those of us who are involved with the OSDL think it is apparent that everyone will benefit from a platform that is based on open, customer-driven standards. The press releases from the major industry players over the past year definitely indicate that a deep level of support exists for such an initiative, and the enthusiasm in the community has frankly been overwhelming.

Stepping Into the Sandbox

The 11,000-square-foot computing center outside of Portland, Oregon will offer a real-world environment to Linux and open source developers. This will provide access to high-end enterprise hardware and an open forum where developers can build and test software for powerful servers and business computing environments. The corporate partners are committed to providing the technology and staffing resources to make this opportunity work for those who are building enterprise-class Linux software.

The development lab has six four-processor Intel servers, one eight-processor server and 50 two-processor servers used to simulate “client loads” of up to 100,000 simultaneous connections — that is, the rapidly fluctuating demand of customers using the same Internet service. By simply reconfiguring the VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and the switches connecting the servers, these servers can simulate a clustered environment, providing resources for supercomputing and cluster software testing. Additional equipment will be installed in the lab as new projects are identified.

And this site is just the beginning. Over the next few years, we expect to set up several additional open source development labs around the world. Each one will be linked to the other to provide a unified, virtual development environment.

Heading In the Right Direction

As the first two projects are already underway, we can only imagine the innovative and game-changing projects yet to begin. The first, a project working directly on the scalability issue with a team at SourceForge (http://www.sourceforge.net), is designed to enhance the Linux operating system to support 16 64-bit processors with near-linear performance improvement. Utilizing the resources at the lab, we should see a very quick resolution to the Single System Image scalability issues that exist in Linux from a large systems perspective (such as large processor counts, I/O configs, etc.), as well as from an intensive enterprise workload perspective, such as a large number of processes or intense memory and bandwidth requirements.

Jabber, an open-source instant-messaging company that is building technologies for an open, large-scale IM technology, is conducting the second project. These technologies are rapidly becoming critical as more and more businesses capitalize on the immediacy and flexibility of Instant Messaging to streamline internal/external communications. The goal is to increase Linux TCP/IP concurrent connection support from 20,000 to greater than 64,000.

All Are Welcome

New projects will be added as fast as they are proposed, provided they adhere to a few simple guidelines. They must be open source, and we at the lab must have the available resources to take them on.

Inclusivity and empowerment are critical. The Open Source Development Lab is one of a host of efforts by Intel and others to ensure that Linux programmers have the hardware they need. It is designed to provide Linux programmers who got their start on ordinary Intel desktop computers with ready access to the high-end, multiprocessor servers that run the big databases of large corporations.

And thanks to the Internet, the ability of the lab to meet the needs of Linux programmers is independent of its location in Beaverton, Oregon. Very few types of tests conducted on the hardware require the developers to be on-site. The lab houses several servers that interface with high-speed Internet communications links, providing lab access to developers around the world, creating a single virtual lab.

The Ringleader

While the lab is governed by an independent board and management structure, it turned to one man to coordinate the projects, allocate assets and make sure it reaches its potential. Tim Witham, a Linux user since 1995 and Linux/open source advocate inside corporations for nearly as long, was selected to act as the lab’s executive director. He will help implement policy, make funding decisions, and work with the open source community to select projects. He will work with a staff of three full-time systems administrators to help get tests running for those that will be using the site. Witham’s experience working with the community and corporate entities has done a great deal to drive this initiative forward.

Getting a Foot In the Lab Door

While the Open Source Development Lab provides major data-center class resources to enable developers to work on open source projects, it does not create these projects. The lab requires the constant submission of new projects from the community. This ensures that OSDL will remain a resource to the open source development community and prevents OSDL from changing the highly successful open source development model. It is hoped that projects supported by the lab will further accelerate the acceptance of open source solutions in large-scale business environments.

To ensure that OSDL resources are applied in a manner consistent with the purpose of the lab, several policies have been defined that govern project selection, including:


  • Projects should address issues that are related to the improvement of the Linux infrastructure. For example, kernel, application services, tools, and other areas that enhance Linux for enterprise, as well as data center, e-business, telecommunications and related applications. Further, these projects must require substantial computing resources (such as those provided in the lab).
  • Code to be developed and/or tested in the lab must be covered by an acceptable Open Source license. Code for projects that use the lab must be openly accessible. Any restrictions on open access require Board approval.
  • Performance data that is developed in the process of testing may not be published or used for any commercial purposes.
  • Single-company projects (which are often commercial in nature) will have to specifically identify wide applicability or be rejected.
  • Hardware in the lab is expected to have well-documented programmatic interfaces.
  • Proprietary software may be used only as test or development tools.
  • Projects are granted access to OSDL resources by the Lab Director, consistent with policies and resource allocations set by the Board of Directors. To request such access, the project maintainer, lead, or other selected developer who is directly engaged with the project must apply to the Lab Director.

These policies, combined with the presence of an independent lab director and a board comprised of representatives from across the industry, are designed to preserve the open source qualities of the Open Source Development Lab and ensure that it serves as the resource to the community for which it was expressly designed.



Ross A. Mauri is President of the Open Source Development Lab and Vice President of eServer Development, IBM Server Group.

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