Building the Linux Community

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Dell began formally selling and supporting Linux in 1999 with the release of Red Hat Linux 6.1 on PowerEdge servers. Prior to that, it was possible to get Linux installed via our Custom Factory Integration team. As the volume of Linux requests through CFI grew, we recognized enough system administrators wanted to run Linux on their systems that it made sense to 'productize' it, formally validating the product, developing device drivers, and offering support. Then like clockwork, we refreshed the product offering every 6 months, as Red Hat Linux 6.2, 7.0, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 8.0, and 9 were released, adding Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1, 3, 4, and then Novell/SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9, and starting this week, SLES 10.

However, we also recognized that not every Linux user wanted Red Hat's distro. Immediately there were requests for Slackware, Debian, and SuSE. We weren't in a position to productize and support each of those at once, but we didn't want to discourage their use either.

In May 2001, we launched, a public mailing list for Linux system administrators with Dell PowerEdge servers. This was to our knowledge an industry first—a major hardware vendor putting their engineers on the front line in front of customers, answering questions in public. And its popularity has grown, now with about 2500 subscribers. For the most part, people ask and answer each others' questions, independent of Dell's engineers chiming in. But we do post there, especially when a question is of a nature that Dell's engineers would be the most knowledgable. As we added the Precision workstations to our Linux product mix, we added the mailing list to serve a similar purpose, but with unique aspects (high end video, audio, and IDE / SATA storage) which are less interesting to server admins.

In 2003, we launched, a web site which was the outgrowth of the mailing lists. This site is unique within Dell as being 100% engineer-generated content and engineer-managed. Here we post details about the hardware and Linux device drivers necessary to use it, such as the various RAID controllers, NICs, and IPMI systems management controllers. We aim for this to be far wider reaching than our specific products, and more leading-edge, with links to updated Debian netinstall images, unofficial YUM repositories to ease installation of Dell software like OMSA, and hosting for developing projects such as libsmbios, firmware-tools, DKMS, and efibootmgr.  Our Linux blog has been live for a while now, and expanding our reach to include Linux content on Direct2Dell is a natural extension to the work we've been doing.

We welcome you to join us on our mailing lists at Michael Brown and I will be regular contributors to Direct2Dell discussing Linux topics going forward. Let us know what you'd like to hear about.

For Linux users, you can access the Ogg Theora format of our vlog here.

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About the Author: Matt Domsch

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