Linux desktops have internal role at Cisco

John Chambers doesn't have a Linux PC yet, but he will someday if J. Craig Manning gets his way.

Manning, an IT manager at Cisco Systems who supports the vendor's internal network, is behind a Linux push inside the company. The firm has already converted more than 2,000 of its engineers to Linux desktops, with plans to move many laptop users to the platform over the next few years. Manning says the driver for Linux on the desktop is not cost savings, but easier support.

"On the desktop, you're not going to save that much money by replacing Windows with Linux," says Manning, who is also chairman of the Open Source Development Lab's (OSDL) Desktop Linux Steering Committee. The OSDL is a vendor-neutral consortium that outlines common criteria for how Linux should operate in different environments. Manning spoke at the LinuxWorld conference this week on the issues of moving from Windows to Linux desktops.

Factors that even out the Linux/Windows desktop costs include retraining employees, installing applications that support Windows applications on Linux, and support subscription fees from Linux vendors such as Red Hat, which are necessary for software updates and patches, Manning says.

The advantage of Linux on the desktop is in the ease of administration, provided by some of the built-in tools and properties of Linux. Such tools include Secure Shell (SSH), which can allow a remote administrator to easily access and trouble shoot a desktop. Also, the ability to hide and partition underlying system files and OS underpinnings from users on Linux is helpful.

"You don't get people going into their registry or other areas of Windows and tweaking things," Manning says.

Manning estimates that it takes a company approximately one desktop administrator to support 40 Windows PCs, while one administrator can support between 200 and 400 Linux desktops.

Manning is skeptical of the notion that Linux is the cure for buggy Windows desktops, which are vulnerable to attack.

"I'm hesitant to say that Linux is more resistant to viruses and network attacks," he says. "Windows has 95% of the market, and it gets slammed because it's so prevalent. When Linux has 95 percent or the market, it will be interesting to see how much it gets attacked."

As for how far Linux will spread at Cisco, Manning is optimistic yet realistic. He says support for the technology is growing internally; even his boss, Cisco CIO Brad Boston, has a Linux-based desktop.

"We're not going to get everyone at Cisco onto Linux," Manning says. " I would be happy if we could get 70 percent of the company."

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