managers have a number of questions on their minds regarding
the need to use Linux. This article addresses these
queries and provides strategies to help decide if one
should go with the open source product or not. by Soutiman
are many questions in the mind of an IT manager regarding
the choice of a new OS in an organization. And in the
case of Linux the probable questions are:
Do I need to use Linux, a new OS? Why replace the
old OS if it poses minimal problems?
Is Linux suited to the applications I run on my enterprise
How do I decide which applications to run on Linux?
Is Linux really free?
I'm apprehensive about migrating to Linux, so why
This article can help answer the queries above so that
you can make an informed decision about the use of Linux
in your enterprise.
Why fix if it ain't broke?
Indian enterprises traditionally use, and are very comfortable
with the OSs that ship pre-installed with servers. These
OSs like HP-UX, AIX, Solaris, AS/400, and Windows 2000
are usually hardened and configured to perform optimally
on the servers. And the OS license is usually part of
the cost of procurement. With such a cozy setup, why
use a new OS?
Here's the catch. The customer does not need to pay
for the OS that shipped with the server. But it has
to pay for subsequent upgrades, which usually cost a
packet. And the dizzy speed at which some proprietary
OS vendors release upgrades and re-write licensing terms,
may be exasperating for the IT manager. The enterprise
also has to re-deploy AMCs for the new year, all which
adds to the cost.
Linux can offer significant cost savings along with
the reliability, manageability, flexibility, and interoperability
of many proprietary OSs. And the enterprise does not
need to be tied down to a single vendor. These properties
provide a big advantage in a business environment, which
is critical and constantly evolving.
"Imagine being able to build and deploy an application
on an Intel-based server. Then, as business increases,
being able to simply move it to a midrange server, and
ultimately to a mainframe. All this adds up to Linux
being an excellent, low-cost alternative to other more
expensive operating systems for companies," says
Sandeep Menon, Linux Business Manager, IBM ASEAN/SA.
The Linux source code comes along with the OS and the
enterprise is free to modify it according to its need.
This has been a notable advantage enjoyed by Linux users.
However, Microsoft has introduced a 'Shared Source Initiative.'
This program makes the source code to Windows available,
tailored to meet the needs of specific categories of
only a few specific customers, like governments and
Suitability of applications
Linux can support a broad range of enterprise applications.
This is evident from the number of enterprise application
vendors' decision to enable its products on the open
source OS. Vendors like Oracle, SAP, CA, Sun, Veritas,
and Symantec ship Linux versions of their application
software. Hardware vendors like IBM, Sun, HP, and Dell
ship their servers pre-installed with a hardened Linux
OS. This means an enterprise can run ERP modules, network
management tools, databases, financial packages, enterprise
storage, and Web-based tools on a variety of hardware.
Linux may catch on at a rapid pace in the telecom, manufacturing,
and xSP space. The availability of 64-bit architecture
microprocessors will add to the suitability of Linux
in data centers and enterprises.
many industry watchers agree that the Lintel architecture
will play a positive role in the adoption process.
How do IT Managers decide?
K. K. Mookhey, CTO, Network Intelligence India Private
Limited says, "It may not be a good idea to use
Linux if the organization already uses Windows-based
proprietary enterprise application. For example, if
the ERP modules are Windows-based. However, if the applications
are generic, almost anything that runs on Windows can
run on Linux."
The Meta Group feels that the real choice is between
RISC servers and Intel servers. The choice about Linux
only needs to be made if the CIO's strategy is to use
Intel-based servers in the data center and phase out
Organizations with strong Windows skills, significant
investments in Microsoft technology, and a strategic
partnership with Microsoft should stay with Windows
and avoid increasing the complexity of the environment
by adding another OS. Other organizations need to decide
when to use Lintel instead of Unix/RISC. This should
be based on hardware costs, scalability, and availability.
Since Linux is a product of the joint efforts of a development
community, no one 'owns' the software. So no one will
take the responsibility if it does not work. However
Linux distribution vendors like Red Hat and SuSE offer
support and technical services for a fee when you purchase
The vendors promise 24x7 support and prompt on-site
visits, but many enterprises are unsure of its efficiency.
This is because a company cannot afford to have the
mission critical server down while it waits for support
personnel to arrive from a location miles away. To combat
this issue, enterprises can use the services offered
by third parties who offer strict SLAs you can rely
Anil Valluri, Director, Systems Engineering, Sun Microsystems,
India says, "Support is offered by a third party
organization for break-fix maintenance. However, support
for bug fixes, patch upgrades, and drivers needs to
be handled by the customer organization directly, by
downloading from the Web. Thus, the customer may not
receive end-to-end support from the vendor. This puts
a lot of doubt in the mind of an IT manager regarding
the use of an open source OS on mission critical applications.
Kamal Dutta, Business Manager-Linux, HP India says,
"Linux vendors in their bid to outdo each other
package more and more layers into the Linux kernel.
This can result in a serious challenge since each vendor's
package will differ from another. This may cause customers
to reconsider the adoption of Linux."
Since the source code comes along with the OS, an organization
can modify it to suit security-specific needs. But the
same flexibility can be a security hazard. Under the
General Public License of the developer community, users
may modify the code to their liking, but do not retain
the rights to the modification. And they may have to
share the modification with the developer community
if the need arises.
An enterprise also has to perform OS hardening exercises
where open ports are blocked, unnecessary drivers are
uninstalled, and unneeded features removed. This helps
create a more secure product. Although Linux users can
download patches and updates from the Web, a proprietary
software vendor is usually very prompt to notify and
send the latest patches and updates.
Linux is free to download, modify, and re-distribute.
But the enterprise versions come at a small cost. Javed
Tapia, Director India, Red Hat says, "Linux costs
far less to support, maintain, and upgrade licenses.
If one vendor charges too much, the organization is
free to select another vendor without any proprietary
lock-in. The TCO in
the long term is less in case of Linux as against other
proprietary software. According to a study, 75 percent
of the total IT expenditure is incurred in the procurement
of licensed software."
Migration to Linux
OS migration is a change management issue. And the issues
faced by each organization are unique. An IT manager
has to consider a number of factors before the decision
to migrate is made. Here are some considerations:
Will Linux support the applications I run in my organization?
Will Linux run optimally on the hardware I use?
Will there be downtime on mission critical servers?
What will happen to the money I spent on purchasing
and updating licenses on proprietary OSs currently
on the network?
Do I have enough technical personnel who have experience
on open source OSs?
How much support can the OS vendor actually give?
Lately, most enterprise applications and database vendors
have announced support for Linux. And the decision is
mostly customer- and market-driven. Although the new
versions will support Linux, the older versions may
not. In such cases, you can keep the application server
OS as it is, and migrate OS of the other servers.
Linux can run on almost all kinds of hardware which
includes legacy 386 PCs, mainframes,
Sparc-, and Intel-based systems. And many users are
surprised at performance levels cranked out by legacy
Linux can be installed on a partition on a server running
a different OS. The applications can be migrated in
pre-planned steps to avoid downtime. However, it's a
good idea to migrate non-mission critical applications
to Linux first. Learn from the good and bad experiences,
and then move mission critical applications.
Once you decide to migrate, the money you spent on licenses
is a 'sunk' cost. You have to ask the Linux vendor for
a realistic price/performance study over time to be
convinced whether it's worthwhile to migrate.
It's very important to have experienced technical personnel
in your enterprise to run Linux. The study of Linux
is as large as an ocean. There are a lot of technicalities
that need to be understood. And also consider what you
will have to do, if a bunch of technical personnel did
not arrive at work, or decided to quit without warning.
Support and training is available for enterprise editions
of Linux. Make sure you sign a strict SLA to bind the
partner with its promises. P. Rambabu, General Manager-IT,
Asian Paints India uses Linux on mission critical servers
and is pleased with its performance. He advises, "Don't
trust analysts, vendors, websites, and reading material
blindly, because you have to feel comfortable about
your decision. Sometimes, a commercial product may be
cheaper if you have to hire a Linux consultant and pay
1,000 dollars for it. The whole idea of using Linux
may go to waste. But if you feel you have the expertise
to sort out issues, it is a good idea. Linux works."
Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at
to use Linux
The Meta Group feels that Linux has its place
in the data center, but it is not a silver bullet
for Windows. Linux can be used in the following
In an appliance where the OS is not exposed,
like NAS and kiosks. Linux removes the licensing
cost issues, and the appliance maker becomes
responsible for the support and integration
of Linux. Because the OS is not exposed, it
does not have an impact on staff skills and
When the price/performance benefits of commodity
Intel servers over RISC are important, but single-image
high-availability is not an issue. Intel servers
are widely used for scientific computing due
to the computational price/performance of the
Intel chipset. Web and application servers usually
are processor-centric, and Intel-based servers
can deliver 2x-3x better price/performance than
it is possible to use Windows in this application,
many Unix-centric organizations will be more
sympathetic to Linux and will find the skill
transition much simpler.
As a general-purpose infrastructure server like
DHCP, DNS, and POP. In these cases solid reliability
is required, but high availability is not. Linux
is particularly well suited in this role, because
it is robust and many infrastructure products
are readily available.
Linux should be avoided whenever there is a requirement
for single-image scalability above 4 CPUs or high-availability
based on OS-level clustering. In these circumstances,
Windows 2000 or Unix should be used through 2004.
in the data center
Data centers generally use heterogeneous environments
since they have to cater to multiple clients.
So it's a good idea for data centers to keep the
option of using multiple OSs.
Advantages of Linux as a data center OS:
Many server applications and programs are written
exclusively for use with open source OSs.
Linux is free to download and modify.
The OS is known to be stable and efficient.
Disadvantages of using Linux as a data center
Popular applications of other software vendors
(like Microsoft) do not run on this platform.
The Unix command line interface is\ essential
for in-depth management and tweaking. So it
can be daunting if the user is not experienced.