Telco dumps Red Hat for Ubuntu

Solid code base and ease of upgrades seal the deal

Providing location information to thousands of mobile phone users is all in a day's work for Ubuntu Linux, which has replaced popular enterprise distribution Red Hat for Locatrix Communications' mission-critical workloads.

The Brisbane-based telco began as a startup, developing presence and location information applications which can be used by mobile phones over GSM networks, and won its first operator customer late last year in a deal with Telstra.

The service, dubbed Whereis Everyone, is a mobile social networking application that shares locations between people and finds places for people to meet.

Locatrix founder and CEO, Mark White, said the company did a lot of early development on Solaris but wanted to move to rack-mounted Intel servers, which initially ran Red Hat Linux.

"One developer was enthusiastic about Ubuntu and we liked the installation and the apt-get packaging tool is very cool," White said.

Locatrix has had the Ubuntu Intel systems in production in a telco environment for eight months now "without a second of downtime".

"I can't give user numbers because of the contract, but there are thousands of simultaneous sessions," he said. "We interface with carrier-grade equipment and are under SLAs that require 99.999 [percent] uptime, and we are achieving that comfortably."

White said the reasons for moving from the pay-for Red Hat to the zero-cost Ubuntu was not so much about the price, as Locatrix still runs a bit of Red Hat for front-end workloads, but was more about Ubuntu's ability to install new software seamlessly.

"And we can build a very lean production system, and the maintainability is good, and support for everything is good," he said. "Apt-get just happens to work for odd things, there's RAID support, and all the top-end hardware seems to work just fine."

Ironically, Mark White used to work for Red Hat and even started the Asia Pacific operations, based in Australia.

"Ubuntu's stability is the key thing and it has been great," he said. "It's cost effectively a great platform in a maximum uptime environment. [We] will certainly use it as a base platform as we move overseas."

That said, White believes Red Hat's business model is a good one as it provides paid-for support available for Linux.

"We do have some on-site support for our Sydney machines but we mostly do it all in-house," he said. "We are a very engineering oriented shop so we are much better qualified for self support."

Furthermore, the main development platform is now on Ubuntu, instead of Sun's Solaris.

"We still do some development on Sun, but it's just a matter of bang for buck for what we wanted to do and we are able to get telco-grade production levels out of Intel," White said.

For network redundancy, Locatrix has three systems across two sites, with two in Sydney and one in Brisbane.

In addition to Ubuntu, Locatrix is also using the open source PostgreSQL database with Slony for replication.

Locatrix has a lot of business ahead of it, including a trial in Europe which will be its first off-shore contract, and is looking at doing enterprise-wide systems for not just phones but assets like cars. It will also look at doing plug-ins for Skype and Facebook.

White's biggest headache is the skills drought, as Locatrix needs to hire two open source software developers in the immediate term.

"We're looking for engineering skills rather than administration and it's challenging," he said. "We are doing cool 3G telco applications and it's very open source friendly."

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