IT looks for answers to linux questions

As the discussion around the advantages and disadvantages of the Linux operating system grows louder, IT managers are finding themselves caught between the rhetoric being voiced by its proponents and detractors.

“I think it is difficult for an IT manager to sort through the marketing FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) coming through from all sides,” said David Senf, manager of IDC Canada Ltd.’s IT/business enablement advisory service in Toronto. Senf spoke at the LinuxWorld Expo in Toronto in April.

But the good news is that the propaganda is dying down on both sides, he said. “I think the rhetoric has diminished to an extent, and marketing campaigns are increasingly directed towards how an organization can leverage Linux or a competitive offering to Linux in their environment,” Senf noted.

And despite criticism directed towards Microsoft and its aggressive “Get the Facts” campaign, the software firm has bundled a lot of functionality into Windows Server 2003, more than one would get in Novell Inc.’s SUSE Linux or Red Hat Inc.’s Linux, out-of-the-box, he said. However, Novell’s eDirectory and other NetWare services run directly on the SUSE Linux kernel, so adding that proprietary software on top of SUSE puts the two on a more level playing field.

But misconceptions about Linux remain. Alex Bichuch, formerly a consultant for Ottawa-based Linux firm Xelerence Corp., said one of the myths about Linux is that it is not ready for the enterprise. But he said there are lots of Canadian companies like TD Group Financial Services and Canadian Nation Railway Co. that are already using Linux.

But the main thing people still want to know when it comes to Linux is real ownership price. Cameron Robitaille, a PC and networking specialist at Compel Technology Inc. in Toronto who has used Linux in the past but generally works with Microsoft Corp.’s platform, said Linux cost questions are prime. “I heard about how cheap it was but people who say that always miraculously overlook the higher administrative costs of Linux,” he said.

The sheer number of possible configurations with Linux is what makes the open source operating system more expensive to administer, he noted. “It is good from a geek standpoint, but from a user standpoint it can be daunting and therefore somewhat unfriendly,” Robitaille said.

When asked if the additional pains in administration are worth the lower licensing costs of Linux, Robitaille said maybe. “I have heard that the latest versions of Linux are getting better in the administrative end,” he said. “I think the most important part [of] transitioning to Linux is the actual planning. (For example), if a desktop is designed and tested and implemented with everyone on board, I can see it being effective. But the process is the key.”

Another myth that persists around Linux is that there is a limited number of trained administrators in the industry to effectively tend to it. Bichuch, however, said good Unix administrators can easily transition to Linux. But, he added that good Linux keepers tend to cost more than good Windows admins, which could in the end mean Linux is more pricey.

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