Is Open Source Imperative? - InformationWeek

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Is Open Source Imperative?

LinuxWorld speakers say Linux is ready for you; be ready for it.

"Linux is not a boy. Linux is not a child. Linux is ready." With these words, Martin Fink, VP of Linux for Hewlett-Packard, rephrased a popular sentiment at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco this August (while simultaneously knocking competitor IBM's ad campaign). He, along with many others, took the message another step: Not only is open source enterprise ready, but the enterprise had better be ready for open source.

Many enterprises are embracing open source to some degree. Fink says 93% of companies report to IDC either using or planning to use Linux. For a long time, Linux came in through the back door. CIOs and corporate managers of software makers have been shocked to discover that Linux had penetrated the data center or that their products were already ported to Linux, Fink says. Now, Linux and other open-source system components are coming through the front door, at the insistence of executives.

HP has Global 500 customers running Linux on mission-critical systems, the likes of British Petroleum and Bank of America. And HP runs its own mission-critical apps on Linux, in more than 5,000 servers. "Linux is everywhere," Fink says, citing commercial products carrying it: Tivo digital TV recorders, desktops, laptops, PDAs, phones, printers, and digital printers. And, as further evidence of Linux's trustworthiness in mission-critical systems, Fink referred to Versaterm, which makes records management systems for public safety, such as for dispatchers of police and fire departments.

At the LinuxWorld conference, IBM announced that the U.S. Army selected a Linux-based supercomputer for the Army Research Laboratory Major Shared Resource Center (ARL MSRC) in Aberdeen, Md. It will be a 10-teraflop system. Jim Stallings of IBM reports that the Army chose the Linux platform not because of its lower cost, but because of its security.

The CTO of Orbitz, Chris Hjelm, is also a big proponent of open source. He began using Linux in his previous stint at FedEx. In the relatively greenfield environment of Orbitz, he's made many layers of the stack open source: Linux, Jini, Apache, and so on. One "reality check" he encountered while conducting a recent massive architecture transition at Orbitz was that "the open source community and vendors have limitations on what can be certified in the stack." The flip side of flexibility can often be complexity, and such is still the case with open source software. Still, Hjelm says, the upgrade went really well. Now he's even looking into using open source databases. His main attraction to open source is the flexibility: to scale, to modify, and to react rapidly to change. He calls his technology choices an "investment in flexibility."

Hjelm's competitor agrees. Scott Healy, VP of planning and engineering of Sabre Holdings, which owns the Travelocity Web site, says, "We have an agile environment, so there's no final solution. Our configuration changes constantly, and it's easy to change." He believes that agility is critical to the business and is a component of the cost savings Healy associates with using open source. "To meet the demands of the marketplace, we knew were going to need to have the power of mainframes in lower-cost systems. We wanted to take our most CPU-intensive systems and put them on open source." To conclude, Healy expressed a sentiment common at the conference but rarely put so dramatically: "It's a very competitive world. If you're not looking to open source, you're probably already dead. You just don't know it yet."

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