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Linux resolves city's woes with Unix

Bloomington, Ind. put the boot to its HP-UX servers and workstations and rolled out the welcome mat for Linux and lower costs.

TORONTO -- To say that the City of Bloomington, Ind.'s RISC-based HP-UX servers and workstations were showing their age would have been an understatement. After eight years of running homegrown and commercial Oracle applications for the city's 22 departments, performance had degraded to unbearable levels as CPU and memory utilization maxed out on a daily basis.

Be pilot-centric

Mascon IT Limited principal consultant Venkat Sankaran warned enterprises planning similar Unix to Linux migrations to implement and maintain a test environment.

He urges decision makers to take advantage of the flexibility and costs of Linux-on-Intel to deploy a test server(s) to keep applications up to speed.

"It should be 75% the size of your production environment to make sure your next 36 months of growth are prepared for," Sankaran said. "A lot of companies ignore this and it's a critical thing, especially when you are going to a new operating environment like Linux."

With Bloomington, Sankaran did two test upgrades before the live migration.

"You must perform all core tests. A lot of people get their basic business processes working and stop," Sankaran said. "You can save a lot of time and energy performing these tests before moving to your production environment."

"We never would spend the money it would take to buy properly sized equipment," said CIO Gregory Volan Thursday at the Real World Linux Conference and Expo. "We were running our applications on old equipment and performance was slow, but we were living with it because we didn't want pay for properly sized HP servers."

Like so many Unix shops, Bloomington was drawn to a migration to Linux, citing familiar reasons like lower hardware and licensing costs, increasing vendor support and negligible training costs.

"Moving our applications to Linux allowed us to buy new [Intel] servers that we could afford," Volan said. "There was a dramatic improvement in the speed of the applications as well."

Bloomington began its infatuation with Linux in 1999, replacing a Novell file server. By 2001, all of the city's Novell servers had been bumped aside by Linux, leaving only its major applications like its Oracle database, GIS software and Oracle ERP running on HP-UX.

"The city is not risk-averse to using new technology," Volan said. "For an enterprise environment or a government, we are an early adopter of Linux."

Volan said he considered many factors in making the decision to switching platforms, primarily Linux's adoption rate, Oracle's commitment to Linux and total cost of ownership.

"We wanted to make sure Linux would be around for a while and was being adopted elsewhere as an enterprise platform," Volan said.

First to make the leap to the new Intel servers running Red Hat Linux Advanced Server 2.1 was the Oracle database, followed by the GIS application to a cluster of three Linux servers leaving the Oracle Financials ERP app, which was moved during a five-month period with the help of consultants from Mascon IT Limited ending in November 2003.

Volan took the opportunity not only to a href="">switch platforms, but to upgrade his Oracle ERP app as well from 11.0.3 to 11i. The application would now run on Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 from HP-UX 11.0.

"The fact that we upgraded the financial application and migrated to Linux added some complications, but doing both at once reduced and mitigated migration costs because we were able to combine it in one project," Volan said.

Moving our applications to Linux allowed us to buy new [Intel] servers that we could afford. There was a dramatic improvement in the speed of the applications as well.
Gregory Volan
CIOCity of Bloomington, Ind.

Venkat Sankaran, principal consultant for Mascon, decided Bloomington should do its application upgrade first on HP-UX, then migrate the application to Linux. Tests run upgrading on Linux first did not produce favorable results, he said.

Several rounds of testing were done before the migration went live. Sankaran said hardware sizing the Intel platform is critical. He implemented a production database and application server, reporting and batch servers, development and test servers and worked out workload scenarios for storage, backup and high availability.

"It's not one-to-one moving from Unix [RISC] to Linux," Sankaran said. "The file structure is different. The space it takes up is different and so is the space it takes. People say with Intel it's OK to add a machine, but performance is impacted by how you size your machine."

Volan expects 45% to 80% cost savings, and based on Oracle benchmarks, he estimated faster response times. He said Bloomington paid $25,000 for its Intel servers and is paying support costs to Red Hat at a significantly lower cost than HP would have charged.

Being a Linux shop, training costs were kept to a minimum.

We were "concerned" about having to train them on our applications on Linux, Volan said. "With the upgrade, the architecture of the Oracle financial application [and the table structure of the database] changed. That was already a challenge learning to support the new application, then having to support it on Linux."

Volan said Bloomington sent one of its Oracle database administrators for training, but cited it was more of a psychological benefit for the administrator.

"We have four years experience on Linux," Volan said. "We were well prepared to support the application."

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