Enterprises driving adoption

As the voice of open source computing grows from a meow to a roar, it appears that more and more Canadian enterprises are listening.

And with Linux being the current golden child of open source, enterprises have a few questions: Why should it be adopted? Where does it belong in the network? What are the specific benefits of doing so? And last but not least, what’s the migration path?

But the best way to sell Linux is not to sell Linux, according to Chris Heaven, president of IT solutions provider beONix Technology. The Belleville, Ont.-based company last January established, with Sun Microsystems, a Linux Competency Centre, which develops open standards and the interoperability of Sun and third-party solutions with the Sun Linux operating system. As the top tier technology players – notably IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Oracle and Sun – chart a course for Linux and other open source waters, legitimacy for open source grows. End users, particularly CIOs, want that, Heaven said.

“They want to be able to pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year for a 24 x 7 contract with Sun or another tier-one OEM that they can go back to their board of directors and say ‘this is the infrastructure that’s in place.'”

But Heaven warns against viewing Linux as an enterprise panacea. “It’s not a cure-all. It’s not a tool for every job,” Heaven said. “The key for Linux is that we can modify source code, we can modify what we want and can deploy into an appliance-type role.” Where Linux really shines is in providing that individual application out to the user via an appliance, as opposed to confronting them with an operating system and being an system administrator – which isn’t the core competency for most end users, Heaven said.

Open source interest and adoption is clearly on the back-end server side – currently there has been no toying with the idea of replacing desktop applications with it. Experts note that heavy Linux penetration on the desktop side will come in time, but more in dedicated kiosk or terminal-type roles, such as shop floors and call centres. But on the enterprise server side, said Mark Olson, it’s already a legitimate platform.

Olson, principal for Solon Technology Consulting in Calgary, said many Canadian organizations are now conducting internal pilots – this can be attributed to both a maturing of the Linux environment and an acute enterprise sensibility to “evaluate something that offers such a compelling advantage to licensing costs.”

Russell McOrmond, an Ottawa-based Internet and Linux consultant, noted that open source computing is also making inroads into the public sector. As a member of software lobby group GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic Into Governments), McOrmond is monitoring Canada’s stance on open source. What’s surprising, McOrmond said, is that it’s the enterprise sector and not the public sector that appears to be driving open source adoption.

“The reality is that the private sector and some of the larger vendors are starting the trends,” McOrmond said. That said, even in the server market, Linux’s market share is still under 50 per cent “so it’s not the major dominant player.”

However, Olson noted that Linux is currently the only server platform that can run high end enterprise databases or small departmental file servers, and it’s the same software platform. “And this is where the interest for open source is coming from,” he added.

Jamie Moore agreed. Moore, president of Quinte Computer Systems Ltd. in Belleville, Ont., said up until 1999, the solution provider typically relied on standardizing on AIX/Unix and Windows platforms. Adopting open source meant the company was able to get a better handle on overhead. “In the last 12 months alone we’ve saved about $100,000 in operating savings in systems costs on our servers by going to Linux,” Moore said, adding that the company reduced its server implementation costs by 57 per cent.

Efficiency gains have been “unbelievable,” Moore said. “We used to run RS6000s and even large IBM/Netfinity servers.” He added that the company is now able to get its solutions running on $5,000 Linux servers.