I recently learned the news that Lenovo is entering the server market outside China.
As the editor of Free Software Magazine, the first question that came to mind was: "Will they run Linux?". To my surprise, the answer was nowhere to be found.
Lenovo: hardly a Linux-friendly maker
Back in April 2007, Lenovo announced that it would "offer a wide selection of low- to high-end machines be loaded with Linux software from Novell Inc.". I won't comment the odd choice of GNU/LInux distribution, which is besides the point (I am an Ubuntu fan, and am convinced that any new Linux desktop user should be given Ubuntu for a number of reasons). What I do want to point out, is that some ten months later those laptops are nowhere to be seen.
Going back in time a little bit, when IBM still owned their laptop unit, they made a big deal about the fact that they worked with Linux. Back then, when buying a laptop intending to install GNU/Linux on it was a huge gamble, IBM came to the rescue for many GNU/Linux users. Then, Lenovo took over and we heard this:
We will not have models available for Linux, and we do not have custom order, either. What you see is what you get. And at this point, it's (Microsoft) Windows.
Probably in fear of losing customers, Lenovo was quick to rectify the statement:
There has really been no change in the support and commitment to the Linux community and to our customers and business partners," Marc Godin, vice president of marketing for Lenovo's notebooks
The person setting the record straight must have been a politician: there was no change in support--where in fact that support was absolutely minimal. A little later, I bought a Lenovo V100 and failed to have Linux preinstalled in it. "What you see is what you get. And at this point, it's (Microsoft) Windows".
Now, on the server side
Now, Lenovo has announced that it will start selling servers. However, there was no mentioning of GNU/Linux--none what so ever. This is in itself a huge problem: a company is about to start selling servers, and doesn't tell them if those servers will run the operating system chosen by most system administrators and companies?
Supporting a server is a very delicate matter. While it's much easier to put together a server that is absolutely perfect for the Linux kernel, it's also important that none of the components have any problems working with the Penguin. If my Lenovo laptop doesn't wake up once in a while, it's not (normally) a major problem; if there is a small bug in the SCSI controller's driver in my Lenovo server, the results could be a major disaster. Linux (the kernel) needs to be carefully tested with the server's hardware, and--in this case--a Red Hat certification is not just "optional": it's crucial.
The final words
I sent an email to Lenovo, but haven't yet received a response. I somehow doubt I will. While I do hope that Lenovo will provide and support Linux and GNU/Linux on their server, for some reason I doubt it.
What I think it will happen, is that they will sell the servers either with no OS, or with Windows Vista. Then, people will start writing reports about their servers working fine with Linux, which hacks might be needed, etc.
That might work for end user laptops used by GNU/Linux enthusiasts; however, I doubt it will really work with servers.
I wonder if Lenovo's management realises it. We shall see.