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Selling your CIO on Linux

A panel at last week's Open Source Business Conference provided advice on making a Linux pitch to an enterprise decision maker.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Linux and open source software advocates have gotten the corporate world's attention. Now, they have to compel CIOs to take action. That's the tall order placed by a panel of experts at this week's Open Source Business Conference.

The panel -- Winston Damarillo, CEO of Gluecode Software; Dave Dargo, consultant and former Linux vice president for Oracle Corp.; Al Nugent, CTO for Novell Inc.; and Cliff Schmidt, director of open source strategy for BEA Systems Inc. -- brainstormed on a set of messages that could give CIOs reason to switch to Linux and open source.

You can't burden CIOs with having to provide their own support and services.
Dave Dargo

Linux will let us focus on IT differentiators.

CIOs are frustrated that their IT infrastructures are taking up so much focus, Nugent said. The infrastructure should be "file and forget" -- and Linux is so reliable and stable that the infrastructure can stay in the background. "CIOs can then focus on the portion of IT that can provide a strategic difference," he said.

Switching to Linux or open source software will be less expensive than moving from one proprietary OS or application to another.

With proprietary software and operating systems, customers are often locked in because switching is so expensive, Schmidt said. With Linux and open source, software acquisition costs are usually much less than that of proprietary products. Linux runs on low-cost commodity servers and PCs, so there need not be an outlay for heavy metal.

Switching often implies throwing one thing away, losing the initial investment in products and IT staff and user skills. With Linux, in many situations, the panelists said, less of the old gets thrown away to make room for the new. For example, a Unix shop's IT team will have skills transferable to Linux. A Wintel shop will have equipment -- like Intel-based servers and PCs -- that can be used with Linux.

With open source software, you can cut costs today and set your company on the path for continually cutting costs in the future, Dargo said. At the same time, you get greater flexibility, reliability and availability than you would with Windows.

Beyond initial cost savings, Linux and open source software can set the stage for future IT flexibility and technology superiority.

High-tech used to be about change, Dargo said. Then vendors began to focus on getting companies entrenched in their product sets. That fostered a lack of innovation that has made the IT market stagnant. Linux can change that.

"Linux is an enabler," Dargo said. It gives companies a lower-cost infrastructure with higher capabilities and a longer life span than proprietary alternatives.

Choosing open source software frees users from vendors' timelines for innovation -- or lack of innovation, panelists said. With proprietary software and OSes, users have to wait months, or years, for product upgrades and releases. Often the new versions of products are very different from the existing ones. So there's tremendous upheaval because users spent so much time getting up to speed on the old product.

In the open source software model, technology evolves continually, and enhancements are made available on a day-to-day basis. Huge leaps to new paradigms are not the norm, as they are in the proprietary realm. For those reasons, Schmidt said, open source software is the answer to an important question for CIOs: "How can I continue on with my business if I need to move away from this product?"

Just be sure that your company works with open source projects that follow accepted standards in APIs, Java compliance and so on, Schmidt said. If you do, you'll reduce the pain of upgrades or switching to other products.

The application picture looks great.

A company's mission-critical apps, be they proprietary or open source, have to play well with Linux, or CIOs won't play. If an existing application won't work, there has to be a strong Linux-friendly or open source alternative. Also helpful is the existence of less-expensive, equal or better-functioning open source software alternatives to any existing proprietary apps.

Anyone making a Linux pitch has to do a lot of homework to make sure the apps are ready, steady and compatible. Today, the enterprise application stack for Linux has some gaps, Damarillo said. In fact, Nugent said, the make-or-break factor for Linux and open source software is whether more ISVs are and will be creating more enterprise applications.

Professional support and services are available.

CIOs want to know: "Who am I going to call for support?" They're not going to wait for a response from a mailing list, Damarillo said. That's why a successful Linux pitch has to include a support and services provider. "You can't burden CIOs with having to provide their own support and services," Dargo said.

Open source software isn't an all-or-nothing proposition for our company.

Rather than being limited to one proprietary application stack, Linux users can choose and use both proprietary and open source products. "Open source and Linux provide choice, but the choice doesn't have to be exclusively open source," Nugent said. CIOs can choose the best solution for their strategic pathway.

Skills obsolescence isn't built into Linux and open source software.

As a continually evolving development model, open source doesn't involve the revolutionary leaps in technology that make IT pros' current skill sets obsolete almost overnight, the panelists said.

Every department is on board

The IT manager or Linux advocate who could make that mind-blowing statement is more than halfway to project approval. Dargo stressed that the biggest obstacle to Linux adoption is people's resistance to change. "It can be very difficult to coordinate change within a whole enterprise," Dargo said.

Dargo recalled an Oracle project, a migration from Solaris on SPARC to Linux on Intel. Trouble was, the operations folks wanted to use the old Solaris/SPARC processes to manage Linux. They didn't want to change their management model, even though the old way wouldn't work well.

The key to driving adoption to Linux/open source software is to make the status quo unacceptable, Nugent said. Open source advocates -- be they IT managers, vendors, developers, etc. -- have to make CIOs sit up and say: "I've got to do more of this!"

FEEDBACK: Have you pitched Linux to a decision maker in your enterprise? What were your arguments?
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