Do Linux and Critical Systems Mix?

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - Chuck Beyer CIO Northwest Natural Portland, Oregon.

No Of course not, unless you are running a large Unix environment with a plentiful supply of very competent Unix developers and administrators.

Otherwise you would be adding credibility to the other definition of CIO:

Career is over.

Unix is a good operating system, and the versions supported by Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. are relatively safe. However, which Linux would you want to bet your career on? There are several versions with some sort of announced support, and who knows how many with "volunteer" support via the internet.

For the university, home hacker and large, well-established Unix shop, multiple versions of Linux and other Unix systems may be very acceptable. But most companies do not want to know or have to care about what operating system is running their applications. They certainly do not want to have to find and retain very expensive folks to install, maintain and enhance the OS. They want it to run out of the box without having to search the internet for a driver that actually works.

The most significant problem with Linux is not any technical weakness. The biggest problem is that it is yet another operating system to be supported by application vendors.

Linux cannot get much bigger without hurting the support structure that has helped it succeed. The people who now answer questions for free will want to be paid. I doubt Red Hat has applied for a nonprofit organization permit. And what if someone comes up with a killer-app modification for Linux? Will they really give it to the rest of the world for free, as required?

The companies that could succeed with Linux know who they are. If you are not sure, you would be wise to tinker with Linux on noncritical systems before taking the big risk.

Michael Prince vice President and CIO Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp.

Burlington, N.J. Yes The benefits of Linux stem from its development model.

Linux was created--and is continuously updated--by a community of the world's most skilled programmers. Linux is free not only in cost but also in the sense that it offers access to the source code. This presents businesses with the tremendous flexibility to shape their information technology structures without relying on the whims of a vendor.

Moreover, because Linux is constantly improving, users don't have to wait several years for the next version. With proprietary operating systems, you could wait months for a bug patch if the vendor ever decided to release one.

With Linux, updates and fixes are continually available, and you don't even need to bring your systems down to apply them.

Which raises another point. Linux is secure, reliable and easily upgradable, and its rate of improvement and growth of enterprise acceptance (which dwarf all other operating systems) show no sign of slowing. A recent IDC poll found that just under 25 percent of businesses were already using Linux in some capacity in 1999, and according to U.K. networking consultancy Netcraft, more public web servers run on Linux than on any other OS. Even the National Security Agency has recently joined the Linux party--you don't get any more mission-critical than that!

Of course, these benefits would ring hollow in the business world without the credible support and services Linux offers. Established players such as Red Hat and Caldera Systems sell packaged versions of the operating system, and hardware vendors such as Dell Computer sell preconfigured Linux systems. Red Hat, among others, has a well-developed support center, respected training programs, and an ever-growing and flexible array of service options. And the most respected software and hardware companies in the world, citing massive customer demand, now support Linux--many doing so well before it was a household word.

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