Linux has rapidly evolved from a niche and hobbyist toy to a credible environment in use at many businesses. Much of Linux's initial transition into the business world was as a result of the Internet boom. Service providers saw Linux as a way to deploy systems using commodity components and not have any costs associated with licensing either the operating system or key open source applications such as the Apache Web Server and other programs that are essential to the Internet and that run well under Linux. Service providers tend to have highly technical personnel, thereby rendering vendor support a controllable issue. Mainstream businesses are now seeing that Linux is maturing as a credible alternative to other operating environments from the cost, resource, and control perspectives. Here are some of the key business benefits of Linux:
The fact that Linux can be freely copied, subject to reasonable license terms, without payment of royalties is clearly viewed by many as one of the main business advantages of Linux. Although it is possible for you to deploy Linux without paying license fees, this does not mean that Linux, or any operating system, is "free" in the sense that there are no costs associated with its installation, maintenance, support, and training. In Chapter 6, we will take a detailed look at some of the new and different cost considerations associated with Linux (and many other open source software).
Availability of Trained Resources
Linux is now more than 10 years old and so trained resources are available. The cost advantages of Linux have enticed many education and research institutions such as the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/NCSA (National Center for Super Computing Applications), and many others to deploy Linux aggressively. This has now been happening for a few years. For example, the Groupe ESIEE in France, a center for advanced scientific and technical education, has been using Linux for three years because Linux is open source. They state their motivation very simply: ESIEE develops for the community, and the community develops for ESIEE. It is a simple return on investment for the center. The University of New South Wales converted all of their UNIX-based teaching labs to Linux in one year. The result is that many, many new graduates are fully trained and well-versed in the Linux operating system, even more so than in most flavors of UNIX.
It also follows that the newest generations of developers are all trained and have built their expertise on Linux and its associated application programming interfaces (APIs). Many of the most popular companion open source applications, such as the Apache Web Server, are also very familiar to this new generation.
Figure 13 shows the key Linux stakeholders that represent core competence in the Linux movement and resources you can draw on.
Figure 13 Linux stakeholders.
As your enterprise grows and you need more talented personnel to run your network infrastructure, application servers, and data center, Linux-capable talent will be one of the most readily available resources.
One of the raging debates about Linux is the issue of where support comes from. One side of the debate argues that since Linux is maintained and enhanced by a community of loosely coupled developers, the ability to get guaranteed support is questionable. The other side of the debate argues that since the code is available to all, anyone can provide support and that self-support now becomes a lower cost and more viable option. Which side of the debate you take will depend largely on the type of information technology (IT) organization you have built and your previous experiences with various vendors. The benefit to you is that you have the choice of which support model to implement and anyone can provide support. Chapter 8 will go into the details of support options and the implications of the choices you make.
Control and Vendor Independence
The Intel x86 architecture (also known as IA-32) brought commodity economics to the personal computer (PC). In many ways, Linux does the same thing for the operating system. Prior to Linux, your choice was primarily a proprietary operating system on proprietary hardware, or a proprietary operating system on commodity hardware. While there are other open source operating systems such as BSD, Linux is the first viable combination of a commodity operating system on commodity hardware (Linux is also available on a wide range of proprietary and embedded architectures). As you will discover later, the licensing model used by Linux is what has differentiated it from BSD and created a single operating system developed by many. With more and more independent software vendors (ISVs) making their applications available on Linux, IT managers can now deploy solutions on the hardware and operating environment that is the most cost-effective and delivers the highest return.
Enterprises that have deployed commodity hardware on the Intel IA-32 architecture have seen the many benefits of commodity economics. Companies are no longer tied to one vendor and the switching costs are very low. Companies also have the choice to mix and match hardware and peripherals since a large ecosystem develops around commodity products. Most, if not all, of these same advantages, which boil down to choice and control, are available with Linux. If one Linux operating system vendor does not provide the level of service or quality your company needs, then switch. If the support does not measure up, find someone else or do it yourself. The do-it-yourself option is one that is much more viable with open source software than with commodity hardware. With commodity hardware, you still need to work with one hardware vendor for the features or defect repairs you need. With software, you can implement changes on your own or seek the help of professionals to do it on your behalf.
Linux has become the primary platform for Fluent's development team. Fluent is a leading vendor of computer-aided engineering (CAE) software solutions. Linux gives Fluent's developers an extremely fast and stable platform with a wealth of freeware tools. In addition, developers have complete access to all Windows applications via VMware, an Intel chip emulator that runs under Linux. This gives them access to both UNIX and Windows environments from a single machine.
By almost any measure, Windows with Visual Studio continues to grab the lion's share of the software development market. But, if you segment out the UNIX market, the software development activity is rapidly shifting to Linux. A significant part of this phenomenon is driven by the education and research market mentioned earlier.
Today, Linux is considered to be rock-solid for many application workloads. Every year, companies spend millions of dollars upgrading applications or environments that work just fine. Much of the motivation for the upgrades is due to hardware and licensing requirements by various vendors. With Linux, you are in control. You have the option to consider the costs of self-support, buying support, or doing upgrades and making the best set of tradeoffs for your business. It is not uncommon for users to skip many upgrade opportunities until there is a compelling business benefit and a return for the costs and risks of upgrading an environment. One of the beauties of open source is that you decide when to do this, not the vendor. Hardware is also not necessarily obsolete simply because you upgrade your software. Many developers in the community are making very productive use of systems as much as 10 years old, which are considered obsolete by most others.
It is well understood by most corporations that change implies risks and opportunities, both of which need to be measured and qualified just as any other operational activity within the corporation. If you deploy an environment, no license in the Linux and open source world will compel you to change, downgrade, or upgrade that environment. It is also always possible for you to obtain and use old versions of software. You are in complete control of your environment; therefore, you control the success/failure of your network, and ultimately, your business.