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Issue of March 2003 
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Cover Story: Linux in the enterprise
Linux - The India story

Linux 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

Indian 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 networks.

Indian user base
And 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.

Kamal 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.

Robust Linux
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.

International trends
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:

  • Vendor independence
  • 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

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