The relevance of Linux in a stagnant IT market

By   |  February 29, 2004

\”IT is not the blue-eyed boy it used to be,\” says Anton de Wet, CTO of South African Linux services and training company . De Wet says today\’s companies and IT managers are caught in a difficult position.

On the one hand, they need to continue to spend money to innovate and maintain their competitive advantage, while on the other, they face severely restricted and decreasing budgets. And increasingly organisations are becoming frustrated with the \”forced upgrades\” that many of the proprietary vendors are laying on them, he says. \”Organisations are no longer able to afford the increasingly hefty licensing costs associated with proprietary software and many of them are turning to open source and Linux for more affordable solutions.\”

The fact that companies are looking to open source software for IT relief is not surprising, however, says De Wet. \”Open source software (OSS) originated from exactly this scenario in universities where talent is available but the budgets are not always as big as they should be.\” The result was powerful and flexible software with little or no cost that was shared by users so that everyone could benefit.

Open source software, and Linux is particular, offers a powerful uncompromised way of reducing the overheads of IT infrastructure while still offering as much, and in some cases, more power than proprietary solutions.

\”Linux inherently offers more users more power. Switching to Linux does not mean that organisations have to forfeit the capabilities and functionality they are used to,\” says De Wet. \”Linux offers all of the flexibility, scalability and power that business needs to remain ahead.\” And at a price that organisations are able to afford.

Perhaps the biggest draw-card for most users when investigating open source is its low or even non-existent price tag. Strangely, says De Wet, it is the financial directors that ought to understand the value in this pricing and yet in many cases they seem not to understand how anything with a zero price tag can be good.

But open source and Linux is about a lot more than just a low-price tag, he says. \”There will be costs attached to using open source just as there is with any new implementation or application. And if you buy an enterprise version of Red Hat you will pay a licence cost. But,\” he says, \”for the same price that you would spend on proprietary software, you will get a lot more with a Linux system.\”

For a start, Linux will run on a range of hardware. It already runs on the largest 64-bit processor servers and mainframes. At the same time, it runs equally well on embedded devices such as a household appliance. Compatibility across most hardware platforms makes Linux uniquely flexible and easily integrated into almost any installation.

\”By using Linux, organisations are in a position to do more with the IT they already have and with the right skills are even able to prolong the lifecycle of their existing hardware.

\”On the server side, Linux is every bit as good as other operating systems out there and in many cases it is better. And on the desktop side Linux is catching up fast and quickly becoming a viable alternative to other desktop software available,\” says De Wet.

But don\’t just jump into open source, says De Wet. First decide on where OSS and Linux fit into your organisation and then run pilot projects. \”One of the real benefits of open source is that you can run pilot projects, even many OSS pilot projects, without needing to spend a fortune. The software is free and so you don\’t incur hefty overheads before you get a working system off the ground.\”

Once Linux is implemented in your organisation, says De Wet, the benefits will become obvious. For a start, Linux offers powerful tools to ease the remote administration of servers and machines. This reduces the reliance of organisations on skills, allowing fewer support staff to manage greater numbers of computers.

Another of the benefits of Linux is its stability. Linux users typically experience uptimes far in excess of many other systems, again reducing the need for extensive support structures.

One of the arguments thrown against Linux, says De Wet, is that there are fewer Linux skills available than for other systems. This might be true in the short-term given that Linux is a relatively new player in the market but it will change as more companies and people deploy Linux. And besides, he says, Linux skills are a lot cheaper to acquire because there is no barrier to entry in the form of high licensing costs. Any one with a computer can begin today to learn Linux. Also, he says, for organisations that already have Unix skills, the transition to Linux is a simple one.

\”The argument that Linux suffers from a lack of support is equally not true.\” De Wet says typically organisations feel there is insufficient support for Linux and if they do implement it they will be at the mercy of the few skilled people in their organisation. Not true. Even if a company has only one employee that has Linux skills and they leave, a support company such as Obsidian could walk in tomorrow and offer complete support because the system is open source and the code available to anyone with the skills.\”

But perhaps the biggest advantage Linux has is that it is here to stay. \”Linux is not going to be stopped by a slow uptake or by a company that doesn\’t want to invest in its future. Linux doesn\’t belong to one company so its future is not dependent on the profits or failures of one organisation. It will continue to grow and improve.\”

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