In many ways, the development of the Linux market parallels that of the Unix market, and one of them is that there has been an explosion of different variants of the Linux platform.
The difference with Linux, of course, is that there is essentially one kernel (practically speaking, there are a few different ones), and that the proliferation of Linux variations is more times than not focused at the systems or applications level.
Cybernet Systems, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been shipping an operating system called NetMax, based on the Red Hat kernel, since 2000, and today it will update that platform with a new 5.0 version.
Cybernet has shipped about 40,000 NetMax licenses since it debuted its first operating system in 1999. The company was founded in 1988 and predominantly did a lot of IT work for US government departments, specializing in robotics, visualization, handheld computing, and other areas.
A decade ago, the US Army approached Cybernet to help it create a network infrastructure that would allow soldiers in the field to build and configure networks with as little technical background as possible. NetMax is the commercialization of the code and knowledge that Cybernet gained through this experience, and at this point it is marketed predominantly as a browser-based interface for managing file serving, webmail, groupware, and virtual private networking on the Linux stack.
Cybernet created NetMax to allow for local and remote management of servers – which was important in military applications a decade ago, and which is now important in regular business – and also provides a remote management service for customers whereby it will manage their servers for a fee.
According to Nathan Pitts, the lead technical developer at the company, the initial release of NetMax was based on the BSD open source Unix kernel. While BSD was widely respected and used in 1999, it did not have the momentum that Linux had, and in 2000, Cybernet switched what amounts to an appliance and administration layer (which is what NetMax really is) to the Red Hat Linux kernel.
The company says that customers can set up a Linux server in as little as 15 to 30 minutes using its interfaces, which is a pretty bold claim. This week, Cybernet announces that it has moved NetMax to the Red Hat 9 RPMs as the core operating system behind NetMax and has made a number of other enhancements to the NetMax product.
Specifically, NetMax 5.0 has improved virtual private networking support and can now support DSL modems for high speed internet capability. It runs in 32-bit mode on either Xeon or Opteron servers, and according to Pitts the software can run on uniprocessor, two-way, and four-way SMP servers. It can, like Linux 2.4, support up to 16-way SMP processing, but NetMax customers are not using the operating system as a high-end database or application platform for large enterprises, so this is not something that Cybernet has been focused on.
That doesn’t mean that customers cannot run MySQL or Oracle databases or tools such as ColdFusion on their NetMax Linux stacks – many can and they do. But you might have to pay Cybernet a fee to make sure specific software runs properly.
Pitts says that Cybernet still believes in the one machine for one job approach to Linux, and still is advising customers to take this approach. He also says that for the moment, the company is not thinking about reviving BSD support for the NetMax administration layer, although Cybernet is considering offering a SuSE kernel alternative.
The NetMax 5.0 software is not a generic Linux platform, like Red Hat or Novell Inc.’s SuSE Linux, but has different editions tailored for specific uses. NetMax Firewall edition costs $231 and is designed to be used solely as a firewall; the NetMax VPN edition is used as a VPN server and costs $404. NetMax Professional is the core program that Cybernet peddles, and it includes the Apache web server, ProFTP for FTP serving, the Sendmail mail server, the Samba file server, and other core appliance components such as DHCP and VPN servers.
The software also includes software RAID, load balancing, firewall, and intrusion detection software. NetMax Professional costs $464 for a single server license. The company also has a NetMax E-Commerce edition that costs $499, with additional customization for a storefront costing as much as $2,399 (including the NetMax E-Commerce license).