Sensis CIO mulls Linux mass movement

It is the extreme IT makeover Bill Gates never wanted to see. Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris and Linux have emerged as the big winners in a comprehensive IT architecture and infrastructure overhaul to make Sensis, Telstra Corp. Ltd.’s A$2 billion (US$1.44 billion) directory, search and content cash cow, a lean, mean Web services machine.

The IT overhaul, first revealed by Computerworld in October last year, consolidates Sensis’ hitherto grab bag of disparate directory, print, data, advertising and geospatial applications, systems and products into a single, IP-driven service-oriented architecture (SOA) that will service around 420,000 core business customers — and eventually millions of Australian consumers.

The revelation follows swiftly on the news Sensis will launch a consumer mega-portal in mid-July to act as a springboard for a massive wholesale and retail assault to cement dominance over the local converged information services market. Dollar figures on the technology push remain under wraps until analyst briefings for the launch.

Sensis CIO Len Carver told Computerworld the move to consolidate infrastructure on Unix and Linux had been born out of a necessity to remain fast and flexible as Sensis integrated all its brands onto a single, converged system.

“All of our infrastructure has been built so that it is Sun One compliant. It’s all about leveraging your platform against all channels and content. We are (building) multi-channel access for all of our product content (so that regardless of whether it is) White or Yellow Pages or maps, it can be integrated over (a given) channel — (say) over voice, Blackberry, small or big screen,” Carver said.

Carver added that the new-look Sensis will, in time, also have a substantial Linux footprint across its call centers, search and content divisions. “We are starting to reposition for Linux. You are starting to see the mass movement of [IT] vendors to Linux, it’s two-figure [percentile] growth. In 30 months we will have consolidated under Sun Solaris, transitioning to Linux. We’ll be using Solaris for grunty, processor-intensive applications and Linux for the less grunty [cost saving] stuff,” Carver said.

Asked if Linux will see substantive uptake in the mainframe space, Carver said he anticipated vendors in the intensive multiprocessor computing space would have robust open source offerings by the time his organization would “get around to looking at it”.

There has also been plenty of movement in Sensis’ call centers since December, with an imminent deployment of VoIP slated for Sensis’ new showcase contact center in Melbourne’s refurbished Queen Victoria Building.

The new contact system will have a joint Telstra and Avaya VoIP solution, bolted to a Siebel 7 Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to give 360 degree visibility of customers. A lighter, Web-hosted version of Siebel is under trial for field staff armed with Blackberrys, tablet PCs and mobile phones to enable remote access and transactions on the fly for on-site client visits.

Carver insisted that deployment of VoIP was more about harnessing the silo-busting potential of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and IP rather than any imperative to slash operating costs. Even so, there are no complaints about the price tag. “Is it less [than we previously spent]? God yeah. The overall [call center system] investment will be less than $10 million. [That’s inclusive of] the IP switching and the apps layer,” Carver said, adding he was leaning very strongly towards rolling out a thin client model for the near future.

Telstra Directory Assistance staff have also quietly been migrated under Sensis’ roof since December —although still officially employed by Telstra. There will be few prizes for guessing what flavor of operating system is likely to be running thousands of converged Sensis desktops in the near future. Or where Telstra sees its post-Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) revenue stream.

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