A Successful branch trial of Linux could lead to the open-source operating system being rolled out throughout Housing New Zealand. The Mt Albert neighborhood unit was instructed to behave as if it were a stand- alone business unit and demonstrate its independence by not using any of the existing IT infrastructure. It chose to shrink its property management systems to neighborhood unit requirements and based it on Linux, which it bought as a retail CD for $120.
Rob Herries, manager of development and operations, says the selection of Linux has proved something of a master stroke because the pilot has demonstrated that substantial licence fees, upgrades and maintenance costs inherent in the previous NT-based system can now be side-stepped.
"Our existing approach to IT was inappropriate for the new Mt Albert business model," he says. "We wanted to break our own development cycle to cope with the new decentralized approach." He says the Linux-based system has behaved like a mature configuration and there's a distinct possibility that it may be rolled out across the corporation.
Housing New Zealand has a $6 billion (US$3.15 billion) asset base, and the Mt Albert branch has assets under management and a turnover similar in size to some large public companies. Herries says IT decisions are made from a risk averse starting point and that, so far, Linux has delivered on all the base criteria, including low-cost running, reliability, running efficiently with existing and legacy systems and allowing existing applications to run uninterrupted. A branch PC was converted to a Linux server, running Oracle. "It looks and behaves like an NT server," he says.
A major benefit has been non-stop redundancy. If there is a crash in one sector, Linux seals off the affected part and notifies the problem.
"Linux means we no longer have to have monitoring staff," Herries says. "It has allowed us to eliminate the distractions of an IT site in the sense of being pre-occupied with keeping it running. The pilot has constantly been monitored by head office for its true cost, but so far it has been self-managing. And we have avoided the spiralling cost escalation of licences and upgrades which we endured with NT."
He says Oracle's support of Linux allowed the branch to preserve and miniaturize its existing applications. "The pilot indicates a fresh option for large organizations faced with having to re-model their IT around a low-cost branch plan while preserving existing investment."