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Game Maker Atari Plays With Linux

Atari's CIO looks at Linux as historic cost-saving opportunity.
Three decades ago, Atari was the pioneer in video-game systems. A lot has changed since then--Pong isn't quite the draw it was in 1975--but Atari Inc. hasn't given up on progressive thinking. The company, now a division of French video-game maker Infogrames Entertainment SA, has over the past year set its sights on using Linux. It's using the open-source operating system to cut costs on both Web-hosting and enterprise applications.

Using Linux is hardly the stuff of technology trailblazing these days, but the significance of open source's impact on enterprise IT operations can't be underestimated, Atari CIO Glenn Magala says. "I've never seen this kind of opportunity for improving IT operations and achieving cost savings through a change in platform, not even when the [IBM] AS/400 came out," Magala says.

The ability to run Linux on x86 servers rather than those using RISC processors, leverage existing Unix expertise, and implement industry-standard applications from top to bottom can create considerable cost savings from earlier proprietary environments. This was a big selling point for Atari. Magala estimates that the move to Red Hat Linux running on Dell Intel-based servers will reduce operating costs by up to 60% over the cost of running Atari's Web servers on Sun servers and the Solaris operating system and running enterprise applications on Compaq servers and Tru64 Unix.

Linux migration experiences will vary from company to company. "Larger companies with fragmented operations will have a difficult time, as they would with any change in platform," Magala says. IT executives will also have a more difficult time justifying the movement of financials and other core operations systems to Linux than they will for applications that run Web sites and other edge-of-network duties.

Atari has for the past few years outsourced the hosting of its Web site. In November, the company switched providers from Data Return LLC to Rackspace Ltd., a company that cut its teeth in the hosting market by providing outsourced IT infrastructure running on Linux. Rackspace has since branched out into hosting Windows-based environments as well, but the company is preparing for an increase in hosted Linux opportunities. Within the next few months, Rackspace will introduce a service tailored to companies looking to outsource enterprise applications to run on Linux, chief technology officer John Engates says.

Companies are increasingly accepting Linux as an alternative to Unix for the core systems that run their business. "It's more of a confidence issue," says Daniel Salinas, Rackspace's lead Linux engineer. He adds that Red Hat Inc.'s continual growth and Novell's acquisition of SuSE Linux are helping reassure IT executives.

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