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Why customers are flocking to Linux

Beyond the numbers. Customers flock to Linux because it works.

photo of Jeffrey S. Smith

By Jeffrey S. Smith, IBM Software Group Vice President, Linux Middleware

According to a Butler Group report, 'Linux in the Enterprise: A Viable Alternative for Server and Desktop Operating Systems?' September, 2004, the successful emergence of Linux® to capture a "significant share of the enterprise server market" has led some members of the vendor community to "hotly dispute the actual figures." Hot disputes aside, when a technology goes from a student project in 1991 to being part of Charles Schwab's solution to reduce processing times by 90 percent in 2004—something is working.(1)
It might be time to look beyond the numbers to the advantages Linux provides its practitioners to understand Linux growth.

The advantages of Linux:

Flexibility   Security   Reliability
Total value   Future value      



Linux uncouples the operating system decision from the hardware decision. This flexibility lets customers choose what hardware is best from price and performance standpoints, consolidate operations and better control costs.

For example, Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway company, recently announced the completion of the migration of their IBM Lotus® Notes® and Domino® e-mail system to an IBM eServer® zSeries® 990 running Novell® SUSE LINUX®. Deutsche Bahn's Lotus Notes mail system supports 55,000 users and is the technology platform for more than 5,500 databases containing 6.5 terabytes of data. The scale of the migration demonstrates the enterprise scalability possible using the combination of Linux, IBM software and IBM servers. The benefits promise to be continuous cost savings through higher flexibility in terms of vendor independence and improved integration.(2)

Another example is Banco do Brasil in Europe. With nearly 1,000 top banks in 145 countries, this significant player in world banking has switched its European operations from a PC-based server farm running Microsoft® Windows NT® to an integrated IBM eServer xSeries® and iSeries® environment under Linux. The cost savings delivered through system consolidation will be the immediate benefit of the new IBM infrastructure. The banking system from Banco do Brasil's six European offices will run on a single iSeries in London, dramatically reducing administrative overheads and increasing efficiency.(3)

"We evaluated a lot of solutions, including Microsoft.NET, but the IBM WebSphere solution gave us an open, integrated environment to build e-government solutions across a variety of hardware and software platforms." — Nadine Culberson, Information Systems Manager, Washington County

Linux also provides the flexibility to port applications across systems and control costs in future through vendor choice.

Case in point: Washington County in southwest Virginia recently developed an e-government portal to serve its more than 51,000 citizens and 1,200 employees. The solution uses IBM DB2®, Lotus and WebSphere® software to bring legacy applications to the Web so that citizens and employees can access information to greatly improve government service and employee productivity.

The solution runs on Red Hat® Linux and provides Washington County the flexibility to work with their existing legacy applications and new applications. It also provides a flexible, scalable foundation for the future. Nadine Culberson, information systems manager at Washington County stated that the IBM software and Linux provided the flexibility the county needed. "We evaluated a lot of solutions, including Microsoft.NET®, but the IBM WebSphere solution gave us an open, integrated environment to build e-government solutions across a variety of hardware and software platforms."

Linux can run along with other operating systems. It's not a rip-and-replace proposition. This enables organizations like Washington County to build solutions that can adapt to changing needs. "Not only do we have the means to be much more responsive to our employees and constituents, we have also laid the foundation for seamless future growth," said Culberson.(4)

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From its very origins, Linux was built for security. It shares a common design philosophy with the UNIX® operating system and, unlike some other operating systems where security was added later, security was an integral part of Linux from the start.

"Open-source software also offers the defender great advantages by providing access to security techniques and knowledge that are rarely available with closed-source software." — IEEE Computer Society, 'Certifying Open Source-The Linux Experience'

A recent publication of the IEEE Computer Society, 'Certifying Open Source-The Linux Experience,' reports that Linux has obtained an Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) 3 certification based on the Common Criteria—an international standard for evaluating the security functions of IT products. The report marks the first such security certification for an open-source product. On February 15, 2004 at the LinuxWorld® Conference and Expo in Boston, IBM and Novell announced that SUSE LINUX Enterprise Server 9 has successfully completed a Common Criteria evaluation to achieve a new level of security certification of EAL4+. This certification will further enable Linux to be adopted by governments and government agencies for mission-critical and command-and-control operations.

It's not surprising. Building in security from the start and an open-source development process make Linux a highly secure environment. Open source actually helps Linux be more secure. As the publication points out, "open-source software also offers the defender great advantages by providing access to security techniques and knowledge that are rarely available with closed-source software," and "another advantage of open-source software is the speed with which developers make patches available when bugs are found. Many open-source developers consider it a personal challenge to develop and release fixes to the open-source community, sometimes within a few hours—a speed unheard of in closed-source development." Further, products such as IBM Tivoli® Access Manager for Linux enable the security to be locked down on operational systems.

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The reliability of Linux is a result of its modular architecture and design, its maturity and the testing and refinement done by thousands of customers around the world during its development cycle. The result is an operating system that you can truly trust.

BusinessWeek online recently pointed out another of the main reasons that Linux is highly reliable and stable. Its article 'Linux Inc.' January, 2005, reminds us "begun as a meritocracy, Linux continues to operate that way. In a world where everybody can look at every bit of code that is submitted, only the A+ stuff gets in." This is a key reason for Linux reliability, and it's why leading companies in finance, government, retail and other industries are trusting business-critical applications to Linux.

"We're confident we can deliver the high availability and rapid response time that drives our growing customer base." — Georg Nechvatal, Software Engineer and Analyst, Bank Austria Creditanstalt

When Bank Austria Creditanstalt Leasing (BA-CA) upgraded its under-performing leasing systems; Linux reliability was a key factor. Their solution combined Red Hat Linux with IBM WebSphere Application Server and DB2 Universal Database. "With eServer systems, IBM e-business software and Linux powering our online leasing calculators, we're confident we can deliver the high availability and rapid response time that drives our growing customer base," says Georg Nechvatal, BA-CA software engineer and analyst. "And we know that Linux provides a solid option to support other aspects of our data center.(5)

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Total value

Early concerns from customers about Linux were often focused on learning and cost curves for competent administrators and Linux's lack of formal support and documentation—both factors claimed to contribute to an operating system that is costly to operate. However, the entrance of enterprise Linux distributions from companies such as Novell and Red Hat, combined with other support options from vendors such as IBM, is providing the formal support, albeit at a price, that raw Linux lacked. Also, the administrator training consideration is lessened by the fact that Linux is built on stable market and UNIX practices-skills that are easy to find in today's IT marketplace. This availability of needed skills is being augmented by the arrival of Linux-skilled university graduates in to the job market.

The Insurance Council of Australia created an automated compliance reporting system based on Linux and consolidated software licensing costs by as much as 90 percent.

Further, the above criticisms appear peripheral when you look at the core issues of Linux value and TCO: hardware choice and flexibility, lower administration costs through improved reliability and security and the reduced cost of operating system licenses. Customers in turn are increasingly using Linux in conjunction with commercial applications and middleware, and thus getting the best of both worlds with a reliable, secure, low-cost solution. Additionally, a thriving ecosystem of Independent Software Vendors and business partners have grasped the Linux opportunity and are delivering a full range of applications and services.

When Anaconda Sports, one of the largest independent sporting goods dealers in the United States, improved its e-commerce site with IBM DB2 and WebSphere software, it also switched from Microsoft 2000® server to Linux. According to Rob Meyer, director of Internet services, the open system not only "got rid of Microsoft licensing fees, it gave us a more scalable, cost-effective platform for going forward.(6)

The Insurance Council of Australia had a similar license-consolidation experience. They needed a powerful system to meet a host of complex regulatory reporting requirements. Using IBM DB2, Tivoli and WebSphere software, they created an automated compliance reporting system based on Linux and consolidated software licensing costs by as much as 90 percent. The reason: while traditional software licenses are priced on a per-processor basis, Linux enables a single license to be spread across a number of virtual servers within a single mainframe. The result: as the solution grows, average operating system licensing costs fall.(7)

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Future value

The numbers are out there. As the BusinessWeek online article points out, IDC predicts Linux server market share based on unit sales will rise from 24 percent to 33 percent in 2007. A Forrester Research Inc. survey states that 52 percent of business users said they are replacing Windows servers with Linux. According to IDC findings presented to the Open Source Development Labs, the overall Linux marketplace revenues for server and PC hardware and packaged software on Linux, which includes IBM middleware software, is expected to reach $35.7 billion by 2008. In fact, packaged software is the fastest growing market segment within the Linux marketplace in terms of revenue, growing 44 percent annually to over $14 billion in 2008. More fuel for hot disputes? Perhaps, but whether these forecasts prove prescient or not, Linux success did not come because of insightful predictions. Real customers with real IT and business challenges are powering Linux adoption based on real value. Put simply, Linux works.

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  1. IBM Case Study, "Charles Schwab leverages grid technology for business transformation," December, 2004.
  2. IBM Press Release, "German Railways Achieve Major Milestone in Strategic Move to Linux," February 2, 2005.
  3. IBM Case Study, "Banco do Brasil reduces costs and improves resilience with a disaster recovery system from IBM," February, 2004.
  4. IBM Case Study, "Washington County sets stage for e-government," September 2004.
  5. IBM Case Study, "Bank Austria Creditinstalt Leasing automates vehicle leasing with tool based on IBM technology." February, 2004.
  6. IBM Case Study, "Anaconda Sports speeds e-commerce site, increases sales 30-40% during busy season," January, 2004.
  7. IBM Case Study, "The Insurance Council of Australia automates reporting to meet growing regulatory demands." September, 2004.


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