Date: Fri, 07 Dec 2001 12:24:40 -0500
Subject: Linux making giant strides in corporate America

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December 06, 2001



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Linux making giant strides in corporate America
But the OS isn't for everyone, necessarily, and it's not a

by Johanna Ambrosio

Linux is the fastest-growing server operating system these days,
International Data Corp. (IDC) says. Many shops are finding Linux can
save money and hassle, if the company is open to trying it.

The operating system garnered 27% of operating system server
shipments in 2000, up from 24% in the year before, according to Dan
Kusnetzsky, vice president of system software research at IDC 
in Framingham, Mass. These numbers do not include the number of free
copies that people download from the Internet or share with each

Linux is indeed garnering significant heavy-duty corporate customers,

* Dreamworks, the film production studio that used Linux-based 
  machines to help render the hit movie Shrek
* The Securities Industry Automation Corp. (SIAC), the technology 
  arm behind major New York stock exchanges, which is moving several 
  billing and commission-tracking applications to Linux
* Home Depot, with Linux-based kiosks and point-of-sale systems in a 
  project that will ultimately involve 90,000 terminals in all its 
* Royal Dutch/Shell Group and Amerada Hess Corp., both using Linux-
  based supercomputers to hunt through seismic data.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg, most observers agree.

In fact, IDC's Kusnetzsky suggested that many shops are using it more
than even their own IT execs often know. "The people using Linux are
quite often people like the network manager, systems manager or some
other technical user," he said. "They solve a specific problem and
don't tell anyone it's Linux."

These types of people use Linux on the sly, more often than not,
because the operating system isn't always on the "approved" list of
software, Kusnetzsky said. "But if you don't have the budget to buy
the nice big new machine to solve the problem," Linux is often an
answer. It will run on an older PC that may not work for another
operating system.

Another reason Linux is being brought in is its cost relative to
other systems software. Bill Claybrook, research director for open
source software at Aberdeen Group in Boston, said that the cost of
open source software in general can be 10% to 25% that of a competing
proprietary product.

Economics was the primary factor at Komatsu Ltd., the world's second
largest maker of construction equipment. Jose Santiago, a senior
systems analyst at the company's plant in Peoria, Ill., has been a
long-time open-source believer. He first introduced Linux to run some
file and print servers, then moved all the engineers' Internet
services over to the platform.

"There's no value in spending resources on an operating system,"
Santiago said. "That makes money for Microsoft, not for us. I'd
rather convert those resources into something we can find more value
in," such as an application.

Mike Calabrese, IS manager at Bike Friday, a small specialty seller
of high-end bicycles in Eugene, Ore., agrees. When his customer
database got too big to stay in Microsoft Access, he looked around to
see what else was available. "We're a small company, and the three
leading databases are very expensive," he said. "We just couldn't
afford it."

So he started looking at open source very seriously, and found a
Linux-based database to which he moved his customer data. "I can tell
you our Linux server has outperformed any NT server I've ever worked
on," he said. "NT was crashing once every month or two. We've gone
365 days with Linux," as of Nov. 30.

That said, there are some things to be aware of with Linux. One is
the need to do some education around what open source is -- and
isn't. One issue is the mistaken belief that using Linux exposes all
the related corporate intellectual property to the world at large. It
doesn't. If you use a version of Linux, you don't need to share
anything you're running or doing on top of the operating system. The
only reason you'd need to share code with the Linux open-source
community is if you change anything within the operating system

Another perceived problem is with support. It's no longer the case
that Linux customers have to search the Internet to find a news group
to solve their problems. Corporate support contracts for Linux are
available from Red Hat, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq and many
other systems vendors that are household names in corporate hallways.

There are some things to be aware of, though. First off, Linux isn't
for everyone, much the same way that MacOS or Unix or even Windows NT
isn't for everyone, either. Kusnetzsky and others suggest doing a
detailed requirements document to figure out which operating system
platform a specific application most appropriately belongs on.Also,
Linux does require some specialized knowledge. Although many Unix
programmers will pick it up fairly quickly, "you can't just throw 
any normal kind of IT person into an open-source shop," Komatsu's
Santiago said. "You have to understand fundamentally what the
software is and how it works."

What it comes down to, ultimately, is "finding the best tool for the
job," said Andy Zimmerman, a senior systems analyst at CitiMortgage,
a St. Louis-based subsidiary of CitiGroup. Sometimes that tool may be
Linux or some other open source software, and sometimes it may be
something else.

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