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Unix maintenance costs spur Ohio EPA's Linux adoption

The cost of maintaining legacy HP-UX servers wasn't sitting well with the Ohio EPA. By migrating to Linux, the agency saved enough cash to do disaster recovery.

As a state run agency, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency couldn't afford a drastic increase in maintenance costs for its data center.

Tips for a smooth Unix-to-Linux migration from Michael Palmer. Palmer is the co-author of Guide to UNIX Using Linux, Third Edition
  • Begin by assembling a migration team of systems programmers, application programmers, users from affected areas, appropriate managers and a project manager.
  • Use the team to establish project management tasks and to assign the tasks to specific individuals.
  • Obtain migration tools for the operating system, software, databases and utilities.
  • Create a migration test environment -- that is not live -- on one or more systems, like servers and workstations.
  • Install the new operating system and test it. Install updates and patches and test them.
  • Test network connectivity and response.
  • Port key application software packages one by one, and test each one.

Unfortunately, the agency's legacy HP-UX servers weren't listening. Year after year, updating the system was becoming more expensive, said network administration manager Sommer "Skip" Holler.

Training Holler's IT staff of 100 employees spread across seven sites on HP-UX was also prohibitively expensive, since HP only offered off-site, out-of-state HP UX training sessions, he said.

Penguins in Ohio

So it was with the aim of saving money that Holler forged a testing and development relationship with Red Hat Inc. in 2003.

"We decided to investigate Red Hat Enterprise Linux when we first started toying with the idea of migrating to Linux," Holler said. "We could get it for nothing and decided to test it out on a few pieces of hardware."

But Holler worried about Red Hat Linux's lack of Oracle support. He did not want to deploy Linux at the production level with his Oracle applications without that endorsement.

Enter Novell. "We were already a Netware shop and we were comfortable with the support we had received from Novell," he said. Furthermore, "by going to SUSE Linux, we were able to perform that training within the state [with Novell], and since [2003] we have been able to buy additional training materials and train our staff in house."

Holler was unable to say specifically how much was saved on support, but he estimated the EPA saved 35% overall by migrating from HP-UX to Linux.

Cheaper hardware equals more hardware

The difference in the purchase price between RISC-based and Intel-based servers was dramatic, Holler said. Additional RISC-based servers would have cost up to $20,000 each. By switching to Linux, Holler paid $5,000 for Intel-based servers from HP Co. or Dell Inc.

The cost savings meant the agency could buy additional servers, increasing its failover options and bolstering its disaster recovery plan, Holler said.

For more information on Unix-Linux porting:
Unix-to-Linux: Migration steps and porting

Unix-to-Linux migrations: Guidelines, distro choices and hardware optimization

"High availability was our first objective. If a production server went out on us, more servers meant we had immediate failover. The lower cost of Linux," said Holler, "allows us to buy more servers and move our services from one to the other automatically or manually in case of a problem."

Holler said he also enjoyed greater flexibility and choice when it came to updating hardware in his Linux server environment. "One of the advantages of Linux is being able to upgrade to different types of new hardware. In the old days, you could count on hardware being around for a year or two and still run your applications.

Today, there's new hardware out every six months, and you don't want to be stuck on old hardware," he said. "So far, with Linux, we have been able to roll in new Intel processors whenever we want."

Microsoft-Novell partnership

When Novell announced in November that it would partner with Microsoft for better Linux-Windows interoperability and IP protection, Holler – who also manages Windows servers -- called the move a "win-win" situation for IT managers.

"My mental picture of an ideal computer room would be a combination of Linux and Windows applications running together," he said.

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