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This chapter is from the book

Power Workstations

Every organization has at least one or more power users, individuals who are obsessed with wringing every possible ounce of capability out of technology. It might be the finance guy who is modeling complex pricing models to determine optimal rate of return. It might be the marketing person who is mixing and massaging model after model to determine who the target customer is and what his buying habits are. It might be the engineer who links together spider webs of structure for finite element analysis. Whatever their jobs, these people want flexibility, power, and control, and usually have the technical skills to implement whatever they can find.

Your job as IT manager should be to liberate these individuals. Support them with the services that they need but don't want to worry about. You make sure that they have connection, storage, backups, are secure from unauthorized intruders, protected from virus and outages, and more. At the same time, you have to ensure that all other IT assets are protected.

So what's the advantage of Linux and open source to these "power users?" These advantages can be broken down into four categories: power, flexibility, programmability, and cost.


Linux provides power workstations with some hefty performance capabilities. For starters, applications written to run on Linux or using any of the open source solutions, such as databases, have some great scaling options. These advantages were mentioned previously on the server side, but power users can take advantage of all the Linux scaling options, including symmetric multiprocessing, NUMA, clustering, SANS, and more. In addition, a wide range of workstation scalability options are moving from the x86 hardware platform to 64-bit, and even mainframe if needed. Getting more power can be accomplished incrementally as needed without the cost of a complete changeover. Linux performance gives power users the capability to do more with less, but then they usually end up doing the most with the best available.


Linux provides power users with a broad range of flexibility in terms of creating solutions and sharing results. Multiple machines can be harnessed together for combined computation or for shared information. The capability to access one or many machines simultaneously, regardless of whether they are local or remote, using the same X Windows interface can be very powerful. With a wide assortment of available services and utilities, plus the selection of open source projects, a power user can often find solutions that fits her needs, or collaborate with others who are working to solve the same types of problems.

In addition, sharing or collaborating using Linux and open source is very flexible and secure with FTP, web servers, password-protected access, and more. Power users can employ the same techniques used by system administrators to grant or restrict access to collaborators, partners, or other groups within the company. The pricing wizard can securely provide access to marketing so they can run gaming scenarios against projected sales numbers given specific pricing conditions.


Linux and open source provide a huge toolbox of development aids, ranging from simple scripting to as complex-as-you-want-to-make-it object-oriented programming. Often power users need the capability to modify input or output. They also need the capability to share information with interested stakeholders. Open source allows them the capability to do so. Results can be displayed using a web-accessible database. Analysis can be shared using a web server. Automated processes can be implemented with notifications for updates or changes being sent to one or thousands.

Powerful scripting gives users the capability to manipulate databases, control trial scenarios, produce iterative tests, and much more. Novell customers who have adopted Linux have commented that although Linux appears more complex than Windows at the outset, once learned it is not only more simple, but much more powerful as well. The modular, distributed, open, web-based nature of Linux and open source solutions provides a much richer development environment that can be leveraged across platforms, locations, and diverse applications.


By now a consistent theme, Linux with open source is a low-cost alternative. Even if specialty applications are proprietary, chances are the overall costs on Linux are lower because of reduced hardware requirements and lower licensing fees. Developing in-house applications can be less expensive, and they can be leveraged without added copyright requirements.

If your power users are the type who are constantly looking to get the most out of technology, there's a good possibility they have already installed a dual-boot option and have experimented with or are using Linux!

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