Getting real with Linux

Nigel Wright, director, Abtech UK (BCS Elite Member) and Dirk Kissinger, senior marketing manager, Red Hat EMEA address the debate surrounding migrating to Linux and consider the key elements in making a successful migration through the experiences of a real-life customer - Stirling University.

More and more enterprise organizations are migrating their key business applications to Linux. Right in the heart of the data centre, business applications such as SAP and Oracle are increasingly being deployed by some of Europe’s largest businesses on Linux systems.

The cost savings and improved security and performance associated with migrating an IT architecture across to open source technology continues to be a focus of debate within the industry with vendors of all persuasions arguing their case either in support of or against the merits of open source generally and Linux specifically.

Enterprise business applications have traditionally been run on proprietary UNIX systems from manufacturers such as HP, Sun and IBM.

These systems are highly regarded as being both robust and offering good performance and scalability. However they are costly to buy and maintain, and are now starting to lag behind some of the commodity platforms in terms of performance.

The natural replacement cycle for existing UNIX deployments is challenging IT directors to look afresh at their infrastructure and evaluate how best to deliver the best cost/performance not just now, but looking forwards into the future.

The arrival of Linux as a viable enterprise operating system has brought with it an alternative way of thinking.

The operating system, hardware, applications and support are at a point where open source technology can move - indeed for many businesses has already moved - from the edge of the network into the heart of the data centre.

Today businesses are faced with a choice of products, proven in enterprise deployments around the world as being both robust and scalable and that can be run on a wide variety of hardware platforms.

For example the latest Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron based systems running Linux offer leading-edge performance at an affordable price.

Most companies cite savings of 30-50 per cent and sometimes even more, when moving from proprietary UNIX solutions to Linux on standard Intel or AMD hardware.

Combine this with comprehensive support from key application providers, such as Oracle and SAP, and organizations have a viable solution that can and will save them money.

Many organizations start with small test environments but quickly move to live implementations when they start to see the benefits.

Support is the biggest concern but with vendors of commercialized Linux solutions offering Premium level support with a one-hour response 24/7, this becomes less of an issue.

Tier one hardware vendors like IBM and HP also offer Linux support, which instils further confidence in customers that they will be supported every step of the way.

When undertaking a UNIX-Linux migration there are a number of factors to consider:

Application support

Are the applications you run supported on the operating system? In most cases they will be. There's a range of over 1,800 applications from vendors from across the entire range of enterprise software that are certified on a commercialized Linux distribution.

This means an application like Oracle 10g is certified for and supported on Linux as long as the customer uses a supported Linux distribution.

For those applications that are not supported, or customized applications, porting from UNIX to Linux is fairly simple and tools are available to automate the process.

Availability

What level of downtime can you afford? This is just the same issue as when designing a UNIX environment. Do you need to cluster servers or look at running on multiple sites?

Clustering packages from Open Source and proprietary software vendors are available and fully supported on Linux as well as backup and disaster recovery solutions.

Budget

This may be the driving force behind the migration. When you next look at the cost of supporting a UNIX infrastructure, think how that money could be spent on a Linux infrastructure.

You will quite often find that you already have the funds available, tied up in your support contract. Backing that statement are the results of a recent IDC study conducted on the cost of computing, which showed Linux with a lower cost of ownership versus competitive RISC/UNIX environments.

According to this study, companies realized an average ROI of 504 per cent when assessed over a three-year timeframe at a discount rate of 10 per cent. In most cases the payback of the initial investment in hardware and software was achieved in less than three months.

Performance

If you have service levels to meet this can be a key factor. It may be that you face financial penalties if the system doesn't perform to customer expectations.

Running your enterprise applications on Linux will allow you to meet these expectations without blowing your IT budget or making you uncompetitive.

Management

It is also important to consider how Linux systems should be managed. A managed deployment strategy is required that delivers the benefits of automated Linux provisioning and management.

This is key to keeping down the cost of ownership and ensures that the server inventory doesn't get out of hand. Tools such as Red Hat Satellite server, which can manage many hundreds of servers, are available to do this.

Realizing the benefits

Once you've answered these questions the first step towards realizing the benefits of Linux in the enterprise begins with a careful consideration of where to deploy Linux, and how.

This requires a migration road map, understanding why to deploy in these roles, managing expectation and monitoring results. It is also important to standardize at an early stage.

Choose your Linux vendor

For enterprise environments running mission-critical applications, support and certification from hardware and software partners is key. Therefore a commercial Linux distribution has to be chosen.

Choose your hardware vendor

HP, IBM or Dell are the best supported. Sun, Fujitsu et al may offer an alternative.

Choose your management platform

This factor should not be underestimated. In most cases the management tool is key to lowering administration cost, increasing security and leveraging the flexibility of your Linux environment.

If you want to reconfigure your systems according to peak hours within minutes and make sure the latest security updates are deployed in an easy and timely fashion, a Linux management system is the way to do it.

It's estimated that Linux administrators can manage three to four times the amount of systems than their UNIX counterparts, given they have the right management tools.

The way forward?

Considering all these factors together will allow your application people to concentrate on managing their applications, knowing that the data centre staff have a handle on the systems.

Going forward, Linux will evolve with you. Linux makes the same APIs available to every platform so as applications are required it is the systems administrators and not the vendor that can make the choice where to run these applications.

Linux is the way forward for many enterprises. Is it the way forward for you?

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This article first appeared in the BCS Annual Review 2006