Despite Shortcomings, CIOs Embrace Linux

Any doubt that Linux and open-source software are powering mission-critical systems in some of the largest enterprises was laid to rest at the Open Source Business Conference.

If any doubt remained that Linux and open-source software are powering mission-critical systems in some of the largest enterprises, that skepticism was laid to rest at last weeks Open Source Business Conference here.

At a CIO panel aptly titled "Beyond Linux in the Enterprise," several executives talked about their Linux use and the motivation behind it. The presentations included not just praise for open source but also frank discussion of the models shortcomings and areas where the executives expect to see further growth.

Don Haile, the former CIO of Fidelity Investments and now a venture partner at Fidelity Ventures, said the Boston-based company spent approximately $2 billion annually on technology and 9,000 of its 37,000 employees were in IT.

Fidelity remains very much a mixed IT shop, with large mainframe configurations, 11,300 servers, Windows, and lots of Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM platforms. "We have every platform known to man, but were slowly focusing on Intel [Corp.] as the base," Haile said.

"When we started with Linux, the primary driver was cost. But even so, from a maintenance perspective, we [made] a decision early on to stay with our hardware support team, either IBM or HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.], rather than move to a Linux one," Haile said. "We started off migrating Solaris applications in the beginning to Linux, and, while we had a target of 1,000 servers by the end of last year and we almost made that, we are past that figure now from a Linux perspective."

/zimages/6/28571.gifIs this the dawn of the Linux worms? Click here to read Larry Seltzers column.

The company also makes heavy use of the Apache Web server and Eclipse tool integration platform. "We also have put in place an open-source support center and are doing a lot of work to get a handle on whats happening among the 4,000 people in our development ranks—who is finding what and what [they are] doing with it," Haile said.

But Haile said he is not yet ready to trust his Oracle Corp. and IBM DB2 database to Linux and open-source software. He also predicted that open-source software will grow and develop on a horizontal track much faster than up the vertical stack.

Ronald Rose, CIO at Norwalk, Conn., company Priceline.com Inc., also said his company is not yet ready to move its high-availability databases off Oracle and onto open-source alternatives such as MySQL or PostGres.

"A lot of our motivation for going into the open-source realm is [driven] by a forward-looking view rather than [the potential for] immediate economic or time-to-market gain," Rose said. "But, with the advent of 64-bit in open source and the ability to throw 20 or 30 gigs of RAM at the database, open-source databases are becoming pretty good from a performance standpoint. But we are cautious and will stay with Oracle for our mission-critical databases for a while longer."

Priceline.com had looked at open-source tool sets for a variety of reasons, including to help it in its time to market, since the tool sets are very rich. "We also do a lot of XML and Web service interfaces to our supply chain and down to our suppliers, and we throw a lot of these every second, and so we use it for that type of utilization," Rose said.

Rose said he wanted one set of management tools to help manage the entire data center as one operating system and believed that the virtualization wave that was just beginning would continue to embrace a variety of initiatives that would help security and would help get administrative tools.

"We think all of that is going to gravitate inevitably into a set of virtualization utilities, and we think virtualization in storage will come. Linux and open stuff will be a big attraction to that innovation on a forward-looking basis. As a matter of fact, our view is that security will get better, administration will get better—[because of] the ability to move things back and forth for a lower cost of total ownership, not just by box compression but by resource optimization as well. We really dont think that could evolve with proprietary solutions in any way near the speed with which it will evolve in open source," he said.

The companys bet on open-source tool sets was really a bet in anticipation of those future economic benefits, he said.

But, "for those of us [for whom database availability is] mission-critical, I think well be on Oracle for a good time," he said, adding that with Sarbanes-Oxley Act deadlines coming up, there was even less motivation to move.

Barry Strasnick, CIO of CitiStreet, headquartered in North Quincy, Mass., was even more blunt about changing databases. "It gets back to the definition of CIO: Career Is Over. With the volume and criticality of our databases, which are now with Oracle, that would be a major risk," Strasnick said.

Amit Patel, a senior adviser for New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., said that the financial services company spends approximately $8 billion on technology annually and that its environment tends to be very late-adopter-focused. "We have been working on a barbell strategy in our approach to open source, with one part of the barbell focusing on infrastructure, with [Red Hat Inc.s] Red Hat Linux being widely deployed within the enterprise, [and] with large providers like IBM providing much of the support. The other side of the barbell was focused on development, which is where there is a far more robust use of open source, especially in the high-development parts of the firm," Patel said.

"The focus internally has been around building a community to share and reuse ideas, to try and get some coordination in place around that barbell strategy. Some of the areas where we still have problems are around support and the skills base, but there was a dearth of open-source-based trading applications and third-party builds," Patel said.

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