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Users Ponder Linux Tradeoffs

Think you're going to save gobs of money by opting for Linux over other operating systems? You may be in for a rude awakening, according to some financial services IT managers, who cited skill shortages and integration challenges aplenty.

NEW YORK -- Think you're going to save gobs of money by opting for Linux over other operating systems?

You may be in for a rude awakening, according to some financial services IT managers, who cited skill shortages and integration challenges aplenty.

"I think that the whole financial aspect of open source might be a little bit frothy and over-hyped," said Jeremy Lehman, chief software architect for global equities at Citigroup during a panel discussion this morning at an event in Manhattan. "I don't believe that TCO is actually a primary driver for open source," he explained, adding that the list price for some Linux products can be more expensive than Microsoft Windows.

A number of vendors, including Novell and Red Hat, offer commercial versions of the open source Linux operating system, which has traditionally been perceived as cheaper than Windows, IBM's AIX, and Sun's Solaris offerings. (See Virtualization Looms Large at LinuxWorld, Energy Firms Clamor for Clusters, LSU Raises Storage Bar, HP Dons Red Hat , and IDC Sees Growth in Linux, Blade Servers.)

Lehman, who did not reveal which Linux product he uses, admitted that open source has hindered attempts to virtualize Citigroup's global systems. "It actually makes it tougher to deploy things," he said, highlighting the fact that, outside the U.S, Linux is much less prevalent. "It's a lot tougher to gain acceptance of a Linux system, in say, Korea, compared to Windows," he added.

The exec, who is using HP's DL585 servers to build a slew of Linux-based trading and market data applications, is also wrestling with a major open source skills gap. "The ability to find readily available and affordable talent in all markets is a challenge at this point," he said, again pointing to Asia as a particular trouble spot.

That said, Lehman likes the flexibility offered by Linux's 150 million lines of code, which, he explained, offers, "the ability to add features that are very specific to your business."

Other IT managers at the event, however, highlighted the difficulties they face getting Linux to work with legacy software and information on back-end databases. "The biggest challenge is probably the integration issue," said a CIO at a New York-based bank, who asked not to be named. "You need adapters and converters so that one software can communicate with another."

Even HP, which, along with IBM, has put its weight firmly behind open source over the last few years, acknowledged that users need to balance the pros and cons of Linux. "Open source is a two-edged sword, you can get a competitive edge, but there's also a risk," admitted Larry Ryan, director of HP's financial services division.

But it wasn't all doom, gloom, and Linux bashing at today's event. John Giattino, IT director of investment bank Societe General, told Byte and Switch that he has gained a "serious ROI" by running Linux on HP and IBM servers, although he was unable to reveal specific dollar amounts. Linux, he added, is currently used across about 40 percent of his firm's IT infrastructure, primarily for fraud calculations.

Even Giattino, however, agreed that the Linux deployments are not without their problems. "As you start to stress the Linux kernel, you do experience the growing pains," he said, explaining that his firm has had to contend with Linux bugs related to Java.

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