Citing a failure rate of only nine per cent for one version of Linux, and claiming rates for Windows and Unix are triple and even quadruple that figure, one expert urged financial services attendees at a recent seminar to consider migrating to the open source platform.
Although cost is often cited as a primary reason to move to Linux, Matthew Rice, president of the Canadian Linux Users Exchange, was quick to downplay that notion while speaking at the Real World Linux conference in Toronto.
“The number one reason most people list is security,” he said, citing the number of vulnerabilities associated with Windows. “Cost doesn’t seem to be a concern for most people.”
But moving away from a proprietary environment to Linux comes with its own host of challenges. It requires a great deal of upfront planning, Rice said. That includes taking account of your current inventory of applications — for instance, office productivity suites have mature equivalents in the open source world, but some packages are much harder to find, or may not exist at all. Hardware requirements could also change as a result of a migration, and often recycling PCs is less cost-effective than buying new equipment.
It’s always advisable to consider what current in-house talent you have, and how to proceed if Linux experience is lacking, Rice added.
As well, “before you start, you want to find a small group of people and get them to be guinea pigs for you,” he suggested.
Rice then outlined eight ways to help ensure such a migration is successful.
1. Establish your vision early. “If you can’t find someone to lead this (project), you’re not going to get anywhere,” he noted. That also means talking business executives through any squeamishness they might have around using open source software.
2. Plan and research. Search for case studies and success stories. “Find out what people are doing. People love to brag about their Linux migrations,” he said. Also, get a very clear sense of the costs they incurred.
3. Build and distribute a questionnaire. “Outline where you want to get to, and how people feel,” he advised. Get a sense of what users prefer, what technology is available to serve them, and what if any usability issues they have. Downloadable questionnaires can be found at techatlas.org.
4. Set targets, but stay informed. “Make sure you have a team willing to keep up on current events,” Rice said. “(The Linux industry) is changing every day.”
5. Get sponsorship. That also means double-checking that you “have the funds to make this migration happen,” he added.
6. Encourage communication. “Keep everyone aware of how things are proceeding,” he prompted.
7. Consider outsourcing. “If you don’t have the in-house talent, don’t be afraid of outsourcing.” Those who go that route should ensure they get at least several competitive bids. Also, be sure to ask some key questions of potential service providers — what technology do they prefer? Can you support it yourself?
8. Evaluate. “When you’re finished, make sure you have a complete analysis,” he advised.
Rice also highlighted areas where costs can often be greater than first expected. Installation and training are particularly vulnerable to overruns.