CIO praises move to Dell, Linux servers

Two years ago, Joe Drouin, global CIO for automotive safety maker TRW, had a decision to make: whether to buy new hardware and continue running one of the auto parts supplier's major ERP systems from QAD on a proprietary Unix environment or standardize his system on a Dell cluster running Linux.

While TRW had run DNS, file, print and e-mail applications on Linux, the company had never run a mission-critical application like ERP on the open-source software.

"I kind of threw the challenge out to the team and said, 'Before we go out and do the same old thing -- go out and buy another big proprietary Unix environment -- tell me why we couldn't do this on Linux with our standard Dell platform,' " Drouin said.

His team researched the issue, determined that a switch to Dell and Linux would work and set out to build a model environment.

"In the end, it was a really successful project for us, and we ended up deploying it into production -- a high-availability cluster of Dell servers with Red Hat Linux -- and we saved a bunch of money doing it that way," Drouin said. "We got a lot of flexibility out of having a cluster of basically high-end Intel servers versus the big, expensive footprint of Unix machines."

So, Drouin said, TRW is now driving that model deeper into the data center and looking for other areas where the company can migrate off proprietary Unix and into the Dell/Linux environment.

In October, TRW announced a three-year contract extension with Dell to replace its Unix servers from IBM, Hewlett-Packard and other vendors with Dell servers running Linux. Drouin declined to discuss the financial terms of the deal, which covers a mix of hardware and software, including 24,000 Dell OptiPlex desktops, Latitude laptops and Precision workstations; hundreds of Dell PowerEdge servers; and dozens of Dell/EMC storage systems.

"Implementation has been going really well -- the initial implementation I would call an uncategorical success," Drouin said. "We've been kind of slowly and methodically migrating applications and environments as we can onto the Dell/Linux platform. So far, the only area where we haven't pushed really hard is with our SAP implementation. About half our factories in TRW are running on SAP -- it's a huge scale, the implementation. We haven't even put our toes in the water. But so far just about everything else we've pursued has gone off well."

Drouin said that since the initial implementation with Red Hat Linux, TRW has partnered with Novell Inc., which is working with TRW to certify applications on Novell's implementation of Linux on the Dell platforms.

"Novell is working through issues and bugs and all the hiccups that might come up, and with their support we've been able to push it a little more aggressively than we might have," he said. "We've now focused down to four data centers, one in each of our major regions: North America, Europe, South America and Malaysia. Within those data centers, we're trying to reduce the number of different proprietary Unix platforms and put in ... standardized racks of Dell servers running either Linux or Windows."

Drouin said TRW saved half of what it would have spent on an equivalent proprietary Unix environment -- money it has used to install redundant servers at a second site for disaster recovery.

"We never really had a hot-site fail-over for disaster recovery, because the expense of having a big, high-end Unix machine just sitting somewhere unused as an insurance policy was too great for us," Drouin said. "But now that we've built up this lower-cost environment, we've been able to invest in having a hot-site standby, so we can fail that system over if there was a disaster in the data center or just a problem with the hardware environment."

Drouin said TRW has been running Linux for two years and has continued to consolidate its ERP operations around that environment. Last weekend, TRW migrated one of its facilities in the Detroit area -- one of the last to have its own ERP server at the factory -- off of a proprietary Unix platform, he said.

"The reports I got [Monday] morning are that things are going noticeably faster than they were on the Unix platform," Drouin said.

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