Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Linux TCO: Fact Or Fiction?

In the early days of Linux, back when its advocates consisted primarily of Kool-Aid-drinking enthusiasts and a handful of gutsy early adopters, one of the few obvious reasons to choose it over another OS was cost. At the time, people were still leery of its robustness and security, so selling point No. 1 always was about how open source could put some money back in their pockets.
But now, open-source vendors and resellers routinely push the OS as better-suited to running enterprise applications than its competitors. Its low cost is now seen as the closing point to drive the deal home.

Recently, however, critics have begun to say that, in fact, implementing Linux may be much more expensive than its supporters claimed, depending on what type of company and installation it is. Last month, the Yankee Group released a report that says bigger companies wanting to switch to Linux from Windows or Unix might find the back-office migration costs to be prohibitively expensive. The report went on to say that whatever price-tag advantage open source may have can be eaten up by a number of expenses associated with the migration, including hiring or retraining tech support people on the Linux system and potential downtime during the changeover.

"If you're a Unix shop, your technicians should be cross-trainable, but if you're a Windows shop, the bad economy may be holding you back from making the change because you don't want to add any unnecessary costs," says Frank Basanta, director of technology for Systems Solutions, a systems integrator in New York. "There also are timing costs of consolidating servers and getting people off of them to reboot the system."

That said, Basanta notes the long-term ROI becomes more attractive when you consider the stability of Linux. "We've had a Linux-based FTP server running for two years and have only had to reboot it twice for kernel updates," he says.

Basanta says that certain types of companies need to be walked through a new Linux installation, but overall they find it easy to use and administer. "At an SMB shop, there aren't many people designated to learn about the products, so they might need their hands held a bit at first," he says. "In the enterprise, it provides stability, security and ease of use, and most Linux boxes can be put together in about 20 minutes."

Tim Dana, CEO of Q&A Communications, a managed services provider based in Tampa, Fla., says the inherent ease of use, security and cost advantages provided by the Linux-based Astaro security appliance make it the only such device his company uses.

"Now that Linux has begun to mature, a number of companies are bringing a Windows look and feel to the environment, which reduces the complexity," he says. "This allows any engineer who may not know Linux but does know security to manage the devices quickly and effectively, and it gives us the ability to bring new products to market quickly, which is extremely important to VARs."

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