Linux Makes Mainstream Moves - InformationWeek

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1/16/2003
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Linux Makes Mainstream Moves

Operating system gains widespread acceptance, but hurdles remain for critical non-web applications

For more than a decade, Linux has been gaining acceptance as an enterprise platform. At most companies that use Linux, however, the open-source operating system is deployed mainly to run Web applications, file-and-print servers, and custom-developed code. Few have adopted Linux for crucial non-Web apps such as financials, human resources, and order management.

That may change soon, according to analysts and Linux advocates. They argue that 2003 will be the year that Linux becomes a mainstream operating system used for mission-critical business processes, thanks to strong vendor support and the growing availability of apps ported to Linux.

Linux already is mainstream at Cendant Corp. The real-estate, travel-services, and hospitality holding company has 7,000 hotels, and there's nothing more mission critical than efficiently managing check-ins, departures, payments, and reservations. About 60% of the hotels use a property-management system from Hotel Software Systems Ltd. that runs on a Linux distribution from SCO Group, even though Cendant offers Windows-based property-management software. Most of the hotels use the Hotel Software Systems apps to save money and because they integrate easily with their other systems, including voice communications, restaurant point-of-sale, and financial systems, says David Chugg, Cendant's senior director of hotel solutions. "I would consider this a mission-critical use of Linux -- just ask any of the property owners," he says.

A more common approach is the one taken by Cars.com, a Web site owned by Classified Ventures LLC that connects auto buyers and sellers. Chief technology officer Laef Olson wanted his staff to write a program that would consolidate information about the Web site's performance onto a single management dashboard, which he could use to pass along performance data to the site's advertisers.

The dashboard "literally showed up one day when a programmer took the initiative to build it on Linux," Olson says. The dashboard is in its second round of prototyping, and Cars.com's programmers continue to test-drive it to ensure performance and reliability. "Even if it doesn't work, it hasn't cost Cars .com anything yet," Olson says.

Whether or not the management dashboard gets a green light, Cendant has no plans to move the company's Sun Solaris-based PeopleSoft Inc. enterprise resource planning apps to Linux. It's not even an option, because PeopleSoft's applications don't run on Linux, although they do integrate with databases and Web servers such as IBM WebSphere and BEA WebLogic that are Linux-compatible.

PeopleSoft says there isn't much customer demand for Linux for business-critical systems such as customer-relationship management, ERP, or supply-chain management. "That said, we've spent the past six months looking at what it would take to support Linux," says David Sayed, PeopleSoft's product marketing manager. The hard part isn't porting applications to a new operating system, it's making sure support staff has enough training to help customers using the new operating system, he says. PeopleSoft is preparing for the day when its customers want more choices. "We've taken the first steps toward being able to run PeopleSoft on Linux, but we're not ready to productize it," Sayed says.

Linux LeadersVendors such as Oracle and SAP have begun to accommodate Linux users. But neither company has seen significant adoption in the past year. All modules of Oracle's E-Business Suite have been available on Linux since the product launched in May 2000, yet only 200 of Oracle's customers have taken the Linux route. Still, Oracle is "committed to Linux and believes that Linux is a viable platform for enterprise deployments of mission-critical applications," a spokesman says.

SAP also saw some initial demand for Linux but says that slowed in the second half of 2002. Two percent of its customers, roughly 800, were using Linux, the company said in August, but that number hasn't materially increased in the past five months. A number of SAP's applications run on Linux, including Advanced Planner and Optimizer, Business Information Warehouse, R/3, and Supply Chain Management. But liveCache for real-time data processing isn't yet available on Linux. This year, SAP plans to make additional mySAP.com components available for Linux, certify its software on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1, and support IBM DB/2 V8.1 and Oracle 9i RAC, both of which run on Linux.

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