January 21, 2017

Linux at the BBC - page 3


  • October 29, 1999
  • By Damion Yates

Clearly we use all kinds of equipment in our IT strategy, but for particular situations, Linux is a winner, and I'm about to tell you why.

  • It's free

    The Linux licensing means that there are none of the financial constraints that might exist if extra copies of licenses had to be purchased. So this does encourage us to use it for all kinds of applications.

  • It uses standards

    When you are working with broadcast media you must always have an eye for standards. The material we send out has to be received by millions of people, so it must be compatible with whatever equipment those people have. Because this is part of our core business, in other areas we have a respect for standards and the transparency they bring to the internal workings of our complex systems.

  • The support is good

    Our best support success story for Linux was my contacting Donald Becker at NASA asking about Driver support for the 3C900B PCI network card. I first did several net searches using the local Usenet Newsserver, then http://www.dejanews.com/, as it was back then, and I asked on IRC #linux channels. I then read the kernel sources for said driver, and found, as I'd expected, detailed comments. After drawing a blank on these usual sources of information I decided to email the author of the actual device driver. His address appears in most peoples' Linux boot sequence, and also in the src, in case you're wondering how I knew. I emailed, asking him to reply to the work mailing list. The question was basically whether this particular brand of new 3com network card was compatible with the existing driver. His C comments in the kernel sources implied that there were some problems with some of the newer ones that he was working on, and he listed some successes and failures. My card, the one that came with our machines, wasn't even listed, as it was so new.

    He replied in amazing detail within one hour! Never in a million years had we expected the actual author of the C driver code for the operating system we were using to reply back with such great detail so promptly. I don't think you could _EVER_ get support like that from anywhere else. Due to it being Open source, I'd already been able to vastly surpass any possibility, had it been any other vendor OS, of examining the situation myself. .

  • It is efficient

    Linux will run on low-specification hardware. As I mentioned above, the digital text service machines that directly feed the broadcasts are very basic. The servers for most of our DNS/DHCP servers are Pentium 166MHz with 32 MBytes of RAM, or similar spec. Even on these, processor utilisation is low in normal running.

  • Remote access is easy

    Linux boxes, as with all UNIX systems, provide X or tty access to shells which communicate with the kernel to provide interactive services. Either mechanism allows _full_ control of the system and, better still, has no relation to where you are based. Controlling a command line shell from the console is the same as controlling a command line shell 800 miles away over a modem in a remote moor in Scotland. You can even 'X' a graphical system to yourself if you don't feel you can control everything you need from the command line.

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