Switching to Linux More Than Just Cost Savings

By Paul Rubens

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Hardly a day goes by it seems without some corporation announcing a move of its computing infrastructure from Windows to Linux. Yet, just a few years ago, commercial organizations running Linux were seen as daring or even foolhardy.

But Linux has grown up considerably today and is backed by big names like IBM, HP and Novell. The rebel code is coming of age as a sensible, respectable alternative operating platform.

While no responsible CIO is going to move to Linux just for the sake of change, many organizations are having change thrust upon them. That's because Microsoft will cease supporting Windows NT at the end of the year. This will leave an estimated 1.2 million organizations around the world looking for a migration.

While most will be considering an upgrade to Windows 2003 (and probably upgrading their servers in order to run it) one of the alternatives is to switch to Linux.

It's a popular misconception the key attraction of Linux is cost savings. The argument goes that Linux, being open-source, is cheap, and therefore running Linux must be far cheaper than running Windows.

But this is not necessarily the case. IDC estimates that over a five-year period, as little as 30% of the TCO of a computing platform is accounted for by software costs. Staff, on the other hand, can add up to 70% of costs. Not surprising to many but ... "This means that if the software is free but you need to employ four new Linux support staff, the Linux solution may be more costly," says Dan Kusnetzky, an IDC analyst.So, any company looking to Linux for cost savings needs to ask whether existing staff have Linux skills (staff familiar with Unix can probably become conversant with Linux in a short space of time). If so, then switching from Windows to Linux could offer significant cost savings.

If not, maybe Windows '03 is the way to go. At this point it's a business decision, not a software decision.

But costs savings are not the only potential benefits of Linux. IBM is one of the highest profile companies pressing NT users to switch to Linux, but Adam Jollans, Linux strategy manager for IBM's software group, hardly mentions cost benefits at all.

"For a set of people, it may be a good move to move to Linux if there's a smooth migration," he said. "The drivers are increased reliability, better security and better control over hardware resources."

DTS Logistics, a UK-based stock picking and distribution company, for example, had existing staff with Linux skills and saved thousands by installing a Suse OpenExchange messaging system on Linux instead of implementing Microsoft Exchange on Windows.

"What we have got with the Linux system is comparable to an Exchange solution, but we saved by not having to buy client access licenses," said Mohammed Taj, the company's IT director. With 140 users of email Taj saved almost $14,000 in end user license fees alone.

Virgin Money, an international financial services company, has been running its Oracle financials system on Linux for about six months, and has used a Linux-based Web servers for over two years.

Now that Linux has proved itself under real-world conditions, Andy Makins, VM's senior infrastructure engineer, is considering moving the company's Lotus Domino messaging system from Windows NT to Linux.

"Cost is not so much of an issue," he said. "Linux for us is more about reliability and performance. We've proved that Linux is more stable than NT, although Windows 2003 looks very good. We are certainly looking at other projects like moving file and print services to Linux as well, because no-one disputes that it would be more stable on Linux."