04:02 AM

Westport Rivers Toasts Open Source

Winery replaces Windows with Linux to save money and support expansion.

Troubled by Microsoft's new licensing policy and unhappy with Windows' performance, Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery Inc. is mixing a new approach to its IT systems. The small, family-owned winery and brewing company is using ingredients from Computer Associates, IBM, and Red Hat to create a Linux solution that will better support its growing IT systems.

Westport is in the process of implementing Red Hat Linux Advanced Server on its two Gateway dual-processor servers, which run the company's AccPac accounting software from Computer Associates and an IBM DB2 7.2 database. The winery will continue to use Windows 2000 on its 13 desktops and four notebooks, but the goal is to become a "Microsoft-free" company within the next two years, IT manager Jamey Russell says.

By all indications, Linux is gaining critical vendor support (see "Linux Boosting," Aug. 12, p. 18). It accounts for 27% of the market for server operating systems, up from less than half of 1% in 1995, according to IDC. And more than half of all Web servers run Linux.

The change from Microsoft to the Linux open-source operating system is necessary to help the company keep costs down and prepare for nationwide expansion. "The move to Linux began when we started looking at the licensing situation with Microsoft," Russell says. Under Microsoft's Software Assurance plan, disclosed in late July, customers pay an annual fee of 25% to 29% of the cost of the desktop or server software at the start of each year to receive upgrades over the term of the license. Before, customers could upgrade their software at their own pace.

Westport also wasn't getting the performance it needed. The servers were going through memory like a wedding party through champagne, causing the winery's system to lock up. Microsoft couldn't give Russell a satisfactory explanation as to why this was happening.

Since he joined the company in 1998, Russell had been thinking about a move to Linux, he says, particularly as it garnered attention from large IT vendors such as IBM. When he became the head of Westport's small IT operation two years later, support was growing for the nascent operating system. CA's AccPac has a Linux interface to the desktop, which means Westport can access its accounting software using an open-source Web browser such as Mozilla.

Cost, stability, and security are reasons Russell wants to put Linux on the desktop. But the savings won't come right away. At $1,500, Red Hat Advanced Server costs Westport about the same as a Windows 2000 server license. The bulk of Advanced Server's cost covers Red Hat support, required because Linux is new to Westport. Once the company becomes more familiar with it, Russell can cut support costs in half, to $750 per year, or eliminate them altogether.

Since the two operating systems cost about the same, the bulk of the expenses comes from paying for AccPac, Russell says. "After that's paid up in three years, the Linux environment will be 50% to 60% cheaper than Microsoft."

Westport plans to grow its business beyond the Northeastern United States. As the company sends sales representatives out to points west and south, they'll need to connect back into the company's main database, located on Westport's lush farm 50 miles south of Boston. The virtual private network Westport's sales professionals used to connect remotely to their Windows applications was clunky and slow. By contrast, with Red Hat, remote users can more easily connect through SSH Communications Security Inc.'s Secure Shell, which uses an open standard for encrypted terminal connections and secure file transfers.

The next step in Westport's Linux evolution comes to fruition this week when Russell moves his 20 users from Microsoft Exchange to Lotus Domino, which has native support for Linux. With AccPac, which replaced non-Linux-compliant MAS 90 accounting software from Best Software Inc., Westport can merge its 35,000-name mailing list with its customer information and create more-targeted marketing so each customer receives the proper campaign.

Illustration by Ferrucio Sardella

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