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What is Linux? A powerful component of modern data centers

Zeus Kerravala | Aug. 15, 2017
Linux has long been the basis of commercial networking devices, but is becoming more prevalent on its own in enterprise infrastructure

Linux is a tried-and-true, open source operating system released in 1991 for computers, but its use has expanded to underpin systems for cars, phones, web-servers and, more recently, networking gear.

It’s longevity, maturity and security make it one of the most trusted OSes available today, meaning it is ideal for commercial network devices as well as enterprises that want to use it and its peripherals to customize their own network and data center infrastructure.

That in turn makes Linux skills highly sought after by IT hiring managers. Many of the new technologies associated with DevOps, for example, such as containers, OpenSource infrastructure and SDN controllers are built on Linux.'


So what is Linux?

Linux, an operating system similar to Unix, is distributed under open source licenses meaning the following rules apply that make it attractive to enterprises:

  • Linux operating system are free to run.
  • Administrators are able to study the OS and customize it for specific purposes.
  • Unlimited redistribution privileges of the original or modified versions of the operating system.

The Linux OS is made up of the following components:

  • Kernel. This is the core of the system and sends instructions to the CPU, peripherals and memory.
  • Bootloader. The processes that manage the booting up of the system. On a computer the user would recognize this by the splash screen that was up. On a network device there’s a status indicating boot process.
  • Daemons. Background services that start at boot time or after the system is fully up. For example, the network daemon activates all network interfaces at boot time. Other daemons are things like time and DNS.
  • Shell. This is the Linux command line. It can be intimidating for people that are used to working in graphical environments but most network professionals are used to operating in a shell.

In addition to the shell, Linux servers also have a graphical desktop environment and applications that run on top of it. There are some networking applications for Linux, such as traffic analysis, security and network management, that also have graphical interfaces, but they are far fewer in number than those for servers and desktops.


Foundation for commercial gear

In actuality, the command line interfaces (CLIs) that most network managers use today to configure routers and switches from their favorite network vendor are highly customized versions of Linux with vendor-specific interfaces running on top of them. The challenge with this is that the skills needed to work with them aren’t very portable from vendor to vendor. A highly proficient engineer that works with Cisco IOS probably couldn’t work with Juniper’s Junos because they each include their own, different abstraction layer that sits on top of the pure Linux code.


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