Interview: GM Eyes Linux for 7,500 Dealer Systems

Forget about whether the Fortune 1,000 is interested in Linux. Try the Fortune One. General Motors Corp., the largest corporation in the U.S., is reviewing Linux to run the order-management applications at GM's approximately 7,500 North American dealerships.

But David E. Hutka, operations manager of GM Access, the dealership network, told Computerworld senior writer David Orenstein that the automaker is considering a move from Windows to Linux only because of how much the Microsoft Corp. operating system taxes server hardware.

Q: What use are you evaluating Linux for?

A: The IT infrastructure for the dealerships. Every GM dealer has a GM Access server that is currently running Windows NT 4.0 and is connected via satellite to our back end. The main applications [cover] order management, which is how the dealers order their cars, report sales of cars [and] find other vehicles in their area that a customer wants.

Q: Why Linux?

A: Our main problem today is not the operating system; it's the hardware and the infrastructure. We are looking at replacing the server in each dealership. While we are doing that, do we also change the operating system? We've got applications banging on the door to get in but ... we don't have the hard disk space. It's been reported that Linux is stable and has low support costs, and it has a small footprint on the hard disk and memory. The [fewer] resources the operating system takes up, the more you can do with your applications. Linux has no licensing issues.

Q: What concerns do you have?

A: It's not controlled by one company, and fragmentation can occur. One thing with Linux is they have the benefit of the hindsight of Unix, so they may be able to prevent that, but time will tell. Also, it's a new product with no long-term track record.

Q: Are the GM Access applications written specifically for Windows?

A: Our client/server apps are all Visual Basic, as far as I know. Future apps are all Web-based. If [porting to Linux] was something we could do tomorrow with the snapping of the fingers, it might not be so bad. But a mission-critical application like this really has to work the first time, and there can't be any conversion issues.

Q: How are you evaluating Linux?

A: After [LinuxWorld], I was impressed by the number of vendors that support it. The next step would be to see if we could get the [applications] we have today running. I would also look at whether this takes up less space on the hard disk ... and does the stuff run faster. At this point, we haven't committed any resources, and I haven't taken the next step of convincing upper management that that's the way to go yet.

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