has slowly crept into the Indian enterprise. Initially
it was used for non-critical applications like mail
and Web hosting, but now enterprises are willing to
use it for mission critical applications. So why is
the Indian enterprise community giving Linux a second
look? by Soutiman Das Gupta
enterprises have always used proprietary OSs, namely
Unix variants like HP-UX, AIX, and Solaris; Windows
NT and Windows 2000; and Novell releases. Over time,
these OSs have shown various performance levels and
produced various degrees of satisfaction.
Then came Linux, the open source OS, a new kid on the
block. Indian enterprises, shy to adopt Linux at first,
decided to test waters by deploying it on non-mission
critical servers. Impressed with its performance and
flexible licensing policy, enterprises slowly started
experimenting with mission critical applications on
the open source
OS. Many companies who had adopted a wait-and-watch
policy shed their inhibitions and deployed it on their
Indian user base
now in 2003, Linux is present in a large number of enterprise
networks in India, many of them on mission critical
servers. The user base of the OS is growing, slowly
but surely. It's however difficult to determine the
exact size of the Linux user base in India, but one
can estimate that the user base is expanding fast, and
the OS will become a significant part in networks tomorrow.
Verticals like banks and financial institutions, petrochemicals,
FMCG companies, ISPs, and educational institutes already
have a lot of Linux in their systems. Large e-governance
projects in various Indian states are also set to kick
off on the Linux platform.
Dutta, Business Manager-Linux, HP India says, "Adoption
of Linux in the SMB and large enterprises space has
grown steadily over the last few years. It will find
a place in most data centers tomorrow and will be a
common part of the enterprise computing landscape within
a few years. Most CIOs we've talked to lately have formulated
plans to include Linux-based systems in their annual
plans and budgets."
Sandeep Menon, Linux Business Manager-IBM ASEAN/SA says,
"The open source movement is making strides in
India with the developer community in the country showing
active interest in the Linux platform. Various Indian
companies are planning forays and setting up pilots
in the open source domain. And many already run it in
production environments. Linux in India has graduated
from 'hype' to a 'deployment' phase."
Why the interest
Lesser license cost: The main reason why enterprises
want to use Linux is to save on licensing costs. After
spending large amounts of money on hardware and enterprise
applications, IT managers do not want to spend further
on OS license fees. They view it as an unnecessary overhead.
Some OS vendors have a dual licensing policy where the
enterprise has to pay licensee fees for each CPU and
every user. This adds to the cost, an aspect that IT
managers want to avoid.
Linux is free to download, modify, and distribute. Enterprise
editions however come at a modest fee. Proprietary OS
vendors argue that Linux may be free to use, but the
cost of running the OS over time will outstrip the cost
of the software license. The cost will include aspects
like management, training, cost of experienced and qualified
technicians, and lack of support.
Ability to tweak source code: Linux comes along with
its source code, which can be modified according to
the user's need. It needs experienced IT personnel to
optimize the code so that the OS works best on certain
hardware configurations. For example, the source code
can be modified to enable optimum performance for a
4-way server running a RAID function. This provides
a certain amount of management capability and flexibility,
which is desired by many enterprises.
Reliability: Many enterprise users claim that a well-configured
Linux OS is as robust as a proprietary OS, like Unix
and its proprietary variants. This nature has however
become less attractive due to the stable nature of Windows
2000. But since Indian IT heads have traditionally been
comfortable with Unix, Linux is not alien to them.
Mission critical environments
Enterprise application solutions vendors like Oracle,
SAP, CA, Sun, Veritas, and Symantec have begun to ship
versions of their application software for the Linux
platform. Hardware vendors like IBM, Sun, HP, and Dell
ship their servers pre-installed with a hardened Linux
OS. All this is an indication that the networking industry
is serious about the use of Linux on mission critical
applications like ERP modules, network management tools,
databases, financial packages, enterprise storage, security
applications, and Web-based tools.
Enterprise users worldwide traditionally use Linux for
running applications like Web servers and mail servers.
They also use the open source OS for non-mission critical
applications like the Intranet and development servers.
But the scene may change. The Aberdeen Group predicts
40 percent growth rate for Linux servers in 2003. It
says Linux will move towards a greater presence in high-performance
computing and embedded systems.
The Meta Group believes that, as management and tools
support strengthens, momentum will grow by 2005 for
more robust Linux deployment at the critical application
tier currently dominated by Windows and Sun Solaris.
Moreover, by 2006 or later, Meta projects Linux will
outgrow its current immaturity relative to Windows and
proprietary Unix (Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX), and begin
to be considered as a possible backend DBMS engine.
Linux for Indian enterprises
Indian enterprises have generally shied away from deploying
Linux on mission critical servers since they still prefer
the comfort of the time-tested proprietary OS solutions.
But now, companies in India have slowly accepted the
use of Linux. Its benefits like cost savings, the ability
to modify source code, reliability, the traditional
comfort of Unix, and availability of technical support
have been the main drivers.
Is the use of Linux in Indian enterprises in a nascent
stage? Manoj Kunkalienkar, Executive Director, ICICI
Infotech, who uses Linux to run Knowledge Management
applications on Linux-based servers said, "We can't
say it is in a nascent stage. It is in the process of
testing open source with internal applications. Linux
has picked up usage in the last five years and is now
more popular as a cost-saving mechanism."
A few instances of Indian companies who have used Linux
for mission critical applications for sometime now:
Asian Paints India runs SAP ERP modules
IDBI Bank runs core banking applications
Rolta India runs its database containing details of
thousands of users
ICICI Infotech runs Knowledge Management applications
C-DAC runs e-governance solutions
Alan Sedghi, President and Managing Director, SAP India
has mixed views on the use of Linux in Indian enterprises.
He said, "The acceptance of Linux as a mission
critical platform is growing by the day. But not too
many customers are looking at moving enterprise applications
on the Linux platform."
Limitations in mission critical environments
The Meta Group feels that Linux is not used in mission
critical systems due to the following factors:
There is a limit in parallelization of the kernel,
which allows scalability only upto four CPUs. However
high-end 4-way Intel servers have sufficient performance
for most applications.
There is a limit in fail-over clustering capabilities.
The technology is relatively new and in many cases
must be purchased from third-party vendors.
The standard file system is weak and lacks high-end
journaling features, though this is available from
third-party file systems.
However, the Meta Group believes that by 2005, these
issues will be sufficiently addressed and Linux will
be more widely used in mission critical environments.
According to IDC, international server OS shipments
will grow by 341 percent by 2006. The number of servers
expected to be shipped is 2.2 million.
The drivers for growth of use of Linux are:
Large developers community to fall back on
Cross platform interoperability
The 'open' nature supports product innovation
Reliable and stable
Less TCO due to low license fees, low cost hardware,
and less expensive hardware
Over-hyped is it?
However, the Gartner Group also feels that Linux is
still over-hyped mostly due to anti-Microsoft sentiments.
As Kevin McIsaac of the Meta Group puts it, "Organizations
that allow emotional reactions (e.g. against Microsoft)
to drive decisions to replace Windows or Unix with Linux
will fail to achieve anticipated savings and will end
up with an infrastructure that is limiting and difficult
to manage. Inappropriate use of Linux as a Windows or
Unix replacement will weaken the IT infrastructure and
reduce its business value."
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at