Using Linux in the Enterprise

CIO.com has published another article I’ve written, “Seven Financial Reasons to Use Linux in the Enterprise” — like the last one, it’s a point/counterpoint style of arrangement giving reasons to use or not use something. After I got raked over the coals for puppy-kicking last time, my editor said I’d earned a positive assignment. In other words, this time I’m defending the position I actually hold. The premise on this one is restricted to the enterprise (rather than small business) and focuses on financial reasons, both of which make sense given their audience.

Since I’m not on the dark side for this one, hopefully the Slashdotters don’t kick up a fuss while missing the point like they did last time. This time out I’m paired off with Daniel Dern, who drew the evil card for reasons not to use Linux, so he’ll be taking the comment heat. Being less controversial, my piece may stay under the radar, but it’s been Dugg a few times already. As demonstrated last time out, controversial subject matter is good for circulation, if nothing else. At least not everyone missed the point, which ended up being the lesson that there’s no standard solution that works on every problem. To paraphrase what Larry Wall has said about Perl, even if it does every job perfectly, that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect tool for every job.1

CIO.com actually published a “financial reasons” series on OSs, with pro/pon pieces for using MacOS and a pro/con set for Windows, where the anti-Windows piece by Tina Gasperson would be most similar to the one I’ve written, so between the two you’ve got fourteen reasons to get off of Windows and onto Linux (okay, they overlap). The set went up yesterday afternoon, but hasn’t really popped up onto the front page yet.

I could have written the assignment based just on my own knowledge of course, but I followed Daniel’s lead when we compared notes early in the process, and got in touch with a few sources, after Tina Gasperson helped put me in touch with a couple of good people. I caught up with HOSEF founder Scott Belford while he was in transit and we had a good conversation about what they’re doing and how Linux has import for his situation given Hawaii’s island economy. For him, Linux helps cut down e-waste and keep money from flowing back to the mainland. They’re in the process of rolling out wireless access points in parks on the island using Debian and DansGuardian on donated hardware. It was a bit off-topic, but I should have asked him who’s supplying bandwidth anyway since wireless Internet is rather up my alley.

During the process, I had lunch with my brother — a recent business partner and former Penguinista co-conspirator. I quizzed him on the subject matter, and some of his thoughts also made the cut, connecting well with Stephen O’Grady’s.

I had a good conversation with Mark Hinkle of Zenoss, who remembered that I used to be the editor of The Penguinista! News a few years back when he was Editor in Chief at LinuxWorld Magazine. He’s currently also the Editor-in-Chief at Enterprise OpenSource Magazine, and remembered the aforementioned MySQL piece, which he charitably referred to as “controversial.” He said he’d considered blogging about it but didn’t. I was glad and was happy to move along in the conversation from that point. Although he’s running Ubuntu on his desktop at home, I did get him to admit to using Mac OS/X at work… for want of an EVDO card that runs under Linux. It was Mark who mentioned their use of Asterisk (also in use at Rainy Day) on their PBX as we discussed the use of Linux in the enterprise, which tied in with my observation that the larger an enterprise, the more likely its choice of platform will be 100% anything. What I didn’t say in the article is that Linux is perhaps the only system where that might even be feasible, from handheld devices to routing and switching to desktops, laptops, and servers to firewalls and wireless devices, and yes, even the telephone. I can’t think of any other platform capable of all of that… so if you truly want to be 100% anything, you’ve got to go Linux. Versatile, to say the very least. Match that, Microsoft!

This actually fit in with the conversation that I had with Brian Stevens, CTO and VP, Engineering at Red Hat. I had already filed the final version of the article when we spoke, but had just enough time to include some of his thoughts in an updated version before it was published. I had a good conversation with Brian — we made mention of JBoss and talked about TCO and GPLv3 and other such matters, including a fair bit about “the client environment” with respect to desktop operating systems.

Daniel and I shared notes from the interviews we did (with permission), and this is where I came up with comments from Steven O’Grady of RedMonk. I most appreciated his mention of “paying at the point of value,” a concept described by Sun’s Simon Phipps. I won’t give it all away here — you can go and read the article — but this notion is in my view the lynch-pin of the whole argument for using Linux and the effect it has on TCO. Working through this piece also got me rethinking TCO more fundamentally to explain how Microsoft can publish studies proving Windows has lower TCO than Linux, and others can publish studies concluding the opposite. While some of the religious zealots scream “Shill!” I think the answer is far different but equally simple. The opposing conclusions of both groups of studies are actually correct… but for now, the explanation of how and why is going to have to wait.

Footnotes:

  1. What Larry Wall said was, “Perl is not the perfect tool for every job, but it does every job perfectly” (or words to that effect). [back]