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LinuxWorld Summit: Linux Replacing Other Enterprise OS

The Coming Tide

  • May 26, 2005
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Linux is rapidly replacing Unix, Windows, and old-style mainframes for mainstream enterprise use, despite lingering issues ranging from the availability of enterprise server applications to the quality of desktop Linux software, according to attendees at this week's LinuxWorld Summit in New York City.

During a keynote panel on Wednesday, C-level executives from three enterprises said they've achieved benefits ranging from cost savings to lowered server downtime from swapping out their earlier operating environments in favor of Linux.

During another presentation in Manhattan, R. Carl Drisko, a speaker from Novell, pointed to Linux-based implementations of grid computing not just in financial services, but in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and the airline industry, as well.

"I have a large group of customers who have decided to move off of other platforms--including just about any platform you could name -- to run on Linux," Drisko maintained, during a follow-up interview with LinuxPlanet.

Linux has definitely stepped beyond the era of limited deployments at the development and small department levels, agreed Steve Garone, VP and senior analyst, application and integration infrastructure, at Ideas International.

"I'm saying this based on what I'm hearing at the conference, as well as on what I've been seeing in many other places," the analyst told LinuxPlanet.

The transitions to Linux haven't exactly happened overnight, however. During Wednesday's keynote panel, representatives from E-Trade Financial and Cendant Travel Distribution Services each said their companies each started to take Linux seriously as a potential cost-cutter way back during the economic slump of a few years back.

When the bubble burst in 2001, E-Trade looked at both Linux and Windows as possible replacements for its expensive Sun Solaris environment, said Josh Levine, chief technology and operations officer at E-Trade.

For its part, Cendant considered both Linux and proprietary Unix as potential alternatives for its long-time mainframe environment, said Robert Wiseman, the company's chief technology officer.

In fact, to help mitigate risk, Cendant for some time ran the three operating environments--Linux, Unix, and old-fashioned mainframe--alongside one another, Wiseman said.

"(But) now, everything we do is open systems," Wiseman told the audience in New York City.

Citigroup Technologies, on the other hand, integrated Linux into its mainframe environment more recently, upon migrating to IBM's newer zOS mainframe platform, said Aaron Graves, a senior VP.

Citigroup is using Linux to run its back-end credit card processing environment on the mainframe.

All three enterprise initiatives are now planning further steps into Linux deployment. ETrade, in fact, is now contemplating the possibility of producing its own Linux distribution, Levine said.

ETrade is also looking at enterprise-wide deployment of Linux at the desktop level some time over the year ahead.

"The biggest challenge [to desktop Linux] is making it look like Windows. If [Linux software makers] gave that up, maybe [desktop Linux] would actually work," according to Levine.

ETrade won't exactly be alone with Linux on the desktop. For example, two states in the US are about to start deploying the SuSE Linux desktop environment, said Novell's Drisko.

Still, users see some lingering barriers to server-side Linux, too. "What's on my wish list? I'd like all of the applications that aren't yet available on Linux to become available for Linux," said Levine, in an interview with LinuxPlanet after his presentation.

"I'd also like everything that does run on Linux to work better on Linux--and for all of it to work better together."

Graves told LinuxPlanet that he's particularly interested in getting Sybase to offer a version of its database for zOS, and that he's been trying to prod Sybase in this direction.

Novell's Drisko took issue with the notion that interoperability issues might be slowing some Linux deployments.

"Linux distributions are more or less the same, under the covers. Red Hat and SuSE are each trying to differentiate, but we're doing so mostly at the level of management tools that run on top of Linux. There's not a lot of forking, and we interoperate (with Red Hat) all the time," he told Linux Today.

Also, over the past year, more than 1,000 ISVs have signed on to develop applications for Linux, according to the Novell exec.

But, he added, not all developers are yet convinced, particularly when it comes to porting applications to the relatively costly zOS mainframe platform.

"Developers need to see the need, and some incentives might help," Drisko said. IBM, he suggested, might help to drive zOS migration by making the zOS platform more economically accessible to application developers such as Sybase, even to the point of "giving it away."

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