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LinuxWorld Summit: Execs quell Linux doubters

Three executives from well known companies openly admitted this week that they love Linux in their mission-critical operations.

NEW YORK -- Three executives from well known companies gathered at the LinuxWorld Summitt to discuss their experiences with Linux in mission-critical parts of their operation.

Each of the three men were deeply responsible for bringing a form of Linux into the mission-critical parts of their businesses, which often meant an extensive migration from a proprietary environment, retraining for their IT departments, and understanding the risk involved with such a venture.

The consensus? The fear of Linux that many enterprise-level executives might have of the penguin could be misplaced.

Robert Wiseman, the CTO of Cendant Travel Distribution Services (which recently purchased online air and travel booking site, said he arrived at the company more than three years ago when the system was being run on a Unix mainframe.

At that time, Wiseman said the company had begun the process of migrating from a Unix system to one based in Linux.

Initial concerns with Linux had centered around its immaturity at the time, but Wiseman said those were dispelled after an installation of Red Hat Linux 3 was discovered to be three times faster than Unix and ended up saving his company millions over the past three years.

"In adopting Linux when we did, ahead of the curve, we ended up saving ourselves $100 million," Wiseman said. "[Additionally], since June 2004 there has not been one second --- scheduled or unscheduled -- of downtime."

Aaron Graves, the senior vice president of Citigroup, said his company took a different approach with Linux, but ended up with the same positive results.

Graves said Citigroup decided to go with Linux, but remain on the mainframe with a zSeries from IBM.

"It has proven to be very reliable, and we have continued to see good support from our vendors," Graves said.

A third executive, chief technology and administration officer of the E-Trade Financial Group Joshua Levine said that after the dot com bubble burst, his company immediately set out to find ways to save money.

"Previously we could have been considered a Sun [Microsystems] poster child; we had our 4500's and 6500's, and the idea was to get bigger and more consolidated," Levine said.

However, as Intel technology became less and less expensive, executives at E-Trade started to ask how they could tap into Intel technology, Levine said.

Levine said Windows was dismissed as an alternative because a Sun-to-Windows migration would have been too much work. The only choice, he said, was a move to Linux.

Immediate results were apparent in the areas of cost and speed, Levine said, with a $3,800 two-CPU Intel server running Linux performing twice as fast as their previous Sun 6500, which had cost approximately $250,000 for 10 CPUs and 4 gigabytes of memory.

"You shouldn't be afraid of the risk," Levine said. "If you still believe Sun Solaris or the others are more secure then you're wrong."

The risk-reward system

In migrating to Linux, Levine said he was also able to identify and dispel some of the other risks that had become associated with Linux in mainstream public thought.

The first, technology risk, or the fear that Linux just plain will not work when you boot it up for the first time, is a risk that every IT shop must overcome, regardless of what operating system it decides to use, Levine said.

There may also be some residual apprehension from the SCO legal battle, which Levine said is "no longer high on the radar" but could still be keeping CIOs away.

Each of the men credited open source and its strong sense of community with dispelling many of the myths and reducing some of the risks involved with Linux.

"Proprietary vendors are focused on timelines and marketing schedules, and then when released the product could still contain many extra components not needed by a company," Levine said. "With Linux if you want a weekly distribution then you can do it. It's a technology-driven system."

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