Big business opens up to Linux
- 15 March, 2004 14:42
If Linux was a niche operating system within the enterprise a few years ago, today it is gaining traction as a secure and reliable central business platform, according to CommSecure’s managing director Ray Loyzaga.
“I don’t think Linux is questioned now,” Loyzaga said. “I used to have to write a paper as to why anyone would use the technology, but the systems we have developed have been rock-solid for the past five years.”
In 1998 Loyzaga implemented a trading system on Linux for ASP-style hosting of services payments, and electronic commerce between companies at the billing interface with customers. Now Loyzaga claims CommSecure is used by 30 percent of companies doing BPayView.
“Linux was designed as a multi-user system and applications are built on top of a secure kernel,” he said. “These days security is above the operating system and Linux makes life easier because you can see what’s happening. There is no security by obscurity.”
CommSecure uses Linux from the payment gateway to the market information system applications, and other open source software, such as the PostgreSQL database; the Python scripting language is also used.
“We don’t use commercial applications – mostly due to control of the software,” he said. “We can chop and change the software as needed and don’t have much of an integration problem.”
Loyzaga said CIOs need to make up their own minds, but there shouldn’t be a “we don’t want Linux because it’s the wrong colour” mentality.
“Consider the lack of viruses when calculating TCO,” he said. “There are compelling reasons to experiment with Linux.”
On the desktop, Loyzaga said Linux is very reliable.
“There are a whole bunch of places where Linux suits, for example in education,” he said. “Fairly limited environments are more than catered for with Linux and it can be a source of tremendous savings.”
Leveraging Linux and open source software can open opportunities for local companies to offer services to Australia’s government and commercial sectors, according to Babel Com managing director David Elson.
“SMEs have always been looking at cost effectiveness in IT and this has percolated through to government,” Elson said. “Infrastructure servers, such as mail and DNS, got Linux in the door two to three years ago and now Linux is being used for core enterprise systems, including databases.”
Elson said there is particular interest in Linux VPNs and specialised firewalls for security.
“If I don’t have the source code to the software and [the company] goes belly-up I can’t fix it,” he said. “People want source code to protect their business interests also.”
Elson, who founded Babel Com with the sole intention of providing services and not selling software, said his company typically develops less than 10 percent of an application with the bulk of the code coming from various open source projects.
“Open source can definitely cut the reliance on outside software and [local] development is good for Australia and is at the forefront of the minds of legislators.” he said. “The government tendering system is good as we can look into government tenders and focus on Web development and content management systems.”
Although Babel Com advocates open source software, Elson said the rise of commercial applications on Linux will make it stronger.
“People are happy to pay for commercial applications and Oracle runs well on Linux,” he said.
On the desktop – where Linux is less obvious - Elson said there is a lot of interest but not a lot of uptake.
“Typically, niche Windows applications are holding Linux back,” he said. “Linux is easy to deploy on desktops and can result in support cost savings.”
Although Linux is freely available, a number of companies have formed as a result of tailoring and supporting custom versions, or distributions, of Linux.
The most notable Linux distributor is Red Hat, which according to Asia-Pacific vice president Gus Robertson, is experiencing 100 percent year-on-year growth in Australia.
“Enterprises are now using Linux for high-end workloads and therefore want training, consulting and additional support,” Robertson said. “Customers that have gone down the open source route want more of a complete architecture and most people that we talk to require support.”
Red Hat’s immediate focus is migrating Unix systems to Linux on Intel and, with its recent acquisition of Sistina, is working on building an open source cluster and storage system.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Robertson said when asked how CIOs should approach Linux. “We are seeing significant adoption in the top 200 to 300 companies.”
Robertson said Red Hat is not going after the desktop market at this time but it is viewed as important and on the company’s roadmap.
Following its acquisition of SuSE Linux last year, multinational software vendor Novell is now at the forefront of delivering Linux to the enterprise, according to the company’s Australia and New Zealand solutions manager Paul Kangro.
Kangro said Linux is “there” on the server and is quickly gaining ground on the desktop with its suite of infrastructure management software.
“I challenge CIOs to look at what people are doing and if they can do their work with Linux they can save money and have the freedom to get control back into the organization,” he said. Have an informed opinion, he said, adding "I’m sick of hearing ‘we’re a Microsoft shop’.”
Novell also recently acquired Ximian, developer of the Evolution mail and groupware suite and software management tool Red Carpet.
Internally, Kangro said Novell is looking to have all of its some 6000 workers using Linux on their desktops by year’s end.
“Linux has a more reasonable unit cost and a positive TCO,” he said. “This year have a look at Linux and evaluate it.”
In addition to Novell’s management tools for Linux, the company also has a consulting arm to support customers and look at migration strategies, Kangro said.
The big four systems vendors
With Linux being distributed by all of the world’s largest server vendors, Computerworld spoke with representatives from each to gather their market perceptions.
Historically Linux has been in most enterprises for custom applications but in the last 12 months is now in the data centre proper, according to Dell's director of enterprise solutions for Australia and New Zealand, Simon Johnson.
“We are seeing more requests to migrate off Unix to Linux as there is less of a ‘degree of separation’ and the in-house skill sets don’t really change,” Johnson said.
“The Australian market lets customers look at mid-range boxes and migrate to a two-way two cluster or a four-way two cluster. Enterprises can then ‘pay as they grow’ by adding nodes.”
Dell has partnerships with Oracle and Red Hat to deliver fault-tolerant Linux clusters and a partnership with EMC for storage systems.
“All our SAN products are Linux-enabled and a cluster of servers is just as easy to manage [as a single system],” Johnson said. “A cluster can also mean a reduction in management tools.”
Johnson said CIOs should consider Linux because it is now proving itself to be used in mission-critical solutions while delivering cost effectiveness.
Ross Templeton, HP Australia’s senior technical marketing manager for business critical systems, is seeing most organisations “at least evaluating” Linux.
“We are seeing increased adoption with the main driver being a low TCO,” Templeton said. “In the commercial space, most Linux systems are two- and four-way and in the technical space the majority of systems are clustered.”
HP offers Linux systems across its 32- and 64-bit Intel servers and has ported its System Insight Manager management tool to the operating system.
Templeton also said the increased availability of enterprise applications is also contributing to Linux’s uptake.
“There is migration away from Unix in edge operations but there is still a differential between HP-UX and Linux,” he said. “Linux does have scalability constraints but will become more enterprise capable.”
“CIOs need to be evaluating Linux at one level to be on top of a trend within the industry,” he said. “Evaluate it in more ‘hands-on’ places. HP is not taking a dogmatic view and we listen to our customers. They want to have a choice.”
In addition to offering Linux on its Intel systems, IBM is also investing resources to bring Linux to its Power architecture which, according to Australia and New Zealand Linux business manager Geoff Lawrence, opens up new opportunities.
“Linux is still very much used in edge infrastructure but support for multi-way systems is better because of kernel 2.6,” Lawrence said.
“This opens up a new opportunity as users who have large SMP applications will have a choice. There will be situations where Unix is better and where Linux is better.”
Lawrence is adamant that IBM is not arguing that Linux is the answer to everything and that users want choice.
“We have spent the last few years looking at Linux and its track record is darn good,” he said. “Linux is an important movement and we encourage everyone in IT to look carefully at it. If CIOs put in a pilot to understand how well it works they will be pleased with the results.”
IBM has now introduced a Power-based blade server running Linux and recently announced its availability on the entire range of pSeries servers.
Sun Microsystems set itself apart from the other systems vendors last year when it released the Java Desktop System, based on SuSE Linux, as a replacement for enterprise Windows desktops. This combined with Linux on its Intel server platforms is part of an “overall strategy” that is “well thought out”, according to Sun Australia and New Zealand’s software business manager Laurie Wong.
“Our Java Enterprise System infrastructure suite on Linux is more of a total solution,” Wong said.
“Also we are abstracting the Java Desktop System functionality from the Linux distribution so the handware and software layer doesn’t matter.”
Wong said Sun’s approach to Linux is as a scale-out operating system.
“Analysts see Linux as two to three years away from scaling,” he said.
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