Linux Cost Savings Add Up

By Allen Bernard

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When Jeff Whitmore, IT manager at Ernie Ball Guitar Strings, got the order to change over the company's systems from Windows to Linux, he was ecstatic. Not only would Linux be easier to run, he was about save $80,000 just on new license fees.

"Going to the Linux was just a natural," he said. "I mean that happened so easily and you're not paying for your Citrix license or anything else, or a Windows license."

Of course, Whitmore's CEO, Sterling Ball, made the decision because of a lawsuit brought against the company by the Business Software Alliance in 2000, and not in response to Linux's potential to save the company thousands. Still, the savings have begun to mount.

Prior to the changeover, Whitmore was spending $40,000 to $50,000 a year just on software licenses. Two years since the switch and Whitmore is close to $100,000 in the black even though he needed to invest $80,000 the first year in new equipment and software.

Once that was done, however, his capital investment basically ended. Not only is Whitmore's operation running on fewer, less expensive servers, he was able to save money by not purchasing new PCs. Instead, he put a Linux kernel on each unit (even the ultra-old ones got Linux expansion cards to replace outdated hard drives) and pushed out an open source productivity suite, OpenOffice, from a single sever to all the desktops.

This not only saves money on hardware, Whitmore can fix problems remotely from his desktop, saving anxiety, frustration and a lot time running around reloading hard drives.

What does he do with all his extra time? "Explore new technology," he said.

Lower Virus-related Costs

In addition, viruses, currently the bane of Internet-connected enterprises worldwide, are no longer a problem for Whitmore. This saves time and, therefore, money.

Cliff Miller, CEO of Mountain View Data, a Linux management framework vendor, agrees. Virus immunity coupled with the greater stability of Linux over Windows, for example, and this can add up to a lot of soft-cost savings.

"Every time you have to go out and wipe viruses off a desktop, every time you have to recreate data that was lost because of system malfunction, you're talking about downtime for the worker and lost productivity for that worker plus your talking about IT management time which is relatively expensive," he said.

These experiences are not unique, said Tim Witham, laboratory director for the Open Source Development Lab, which tests Linux in real world environments prior to the release of new versions like the upcoming general release of kernel 2.6.

"What Linux does is give business the ability to decide when they're going to do an upgrade, when they're going to roll to the next version, and what pieces their going to use," he said.

Since Linux is open source and its source code is free, it can save companies big bucks on licensing fees especially when developing new applications, said Witham. Developers can develop on Linux, which is platform-agnostic, and if the project doesn't work out, the company hasn't lost $100,000 in licensing fees, just developer's time and effort.

But, cautions Witham, if licensing revenue savings is all a company is after, then it probably should reconsider a Linux environment. In the business world, it's not for the faint of heart.

Look Beyond Obvious Savings

"If you're only reason for going is licensing, then you're not making a complete business decision," he said.

Mike Balma, HP's Linux business strategist, probably would agree with Whitmore. While, Linux is a stable operating system showing great promise in enterprise business environments, there is still a lot of organization that needs to take place before a changeover occurs.

"Anytime you look at how much money this is going to save me, well, it depends on is it a web server, or a database server or a supercomputer," he said. "Each of those is going to change the equation as to whether you're saving on hardware or the operating system or the application around it or maintenance."

But, Balma maintains, cost savings are reasonable to expect even if a company does nothing more than run its database on Linux. Comparing Linux running on an Intel Web server versus Sun's Solaris platform with its proprietary chips, for example, Balma estimates a company could expect twice the performance at half the cost.

"One of the top value propositions of Linux is it runs on commodity Intel hardware," agreed Leigh Day, manager of Corporate Communications at Linux services provider Red Hat.

Citing Forrester research, Day said the four main areas people save money using Linux are on licensing fees, lower support and maintenance costs, the price of commercial software compared to open source programs like Apache Web server, and hardware.

"What Linux does is give you the performance and control you gained with Unix but you get it at the price point you want," said OSDL's Witham.