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LinuxCon Preview: Virgin America Runs Massive Workloads on Linux, Shares Best Practices

Virgin America's Ravi Simhambhatla is delivering a keynote at this year's LinuxCon North America. He will be giving us the CIO view on how to sell the value of open source internally when cost isn't the only driving factor. Mr. Simhambhatla took a few minutes to answer some of our questions as we prepare to see him speak in Boston on August 12, 2010.

How does Virgin America use Linux? How are you using Linux today compared to when you first deployed it in your company?

Simhambhatla: Virgin America uses Linux to operate its commercial web site www.virginamerica.com, frequent flyer database, data and systems integration, border e-mail gateways, anti-spam, ssl-vpn (OpenVPN), document management systems (KnowledgeTree), and high performance internal and external proxy servers. There is not much more room for Linux, as it already occupies a hefty share of the operating systems running in our data centers.
 
What did you migrate away from in order to deploy Linux, and how did that process work?

Simhambhatla: On almost all fronts, we started with Linux in the data center so there really was no migration involved. However, we did switch from a commercial VPN solution to OpenVPN on Linux. The setup was simple and because OpenVPN hooks into active directory, all we had to do was make a new VPN client available to our users to allow them access to our network.
 
What kinds of workloads are you running on Linux today?

Simhambhatla: We’re running very large workloads on Linux-based systems including www.virginamerica.com, which accounts for 70 percent of our sales - not to mention all inbound/outbound email and spam checking. This accounts for more than 150gb of documents in our document management system, tens of thousands of soap calls served up by our proxy servers, and more than 2 million members in our frequent flyer program hosted on MySQL/Linux.
 
How does the collaborative development model help you do your job at Virgin America?

Simhambhatla: The collaborative and community model helps us immensely, as the quality of the product is typically far better than commercial counterparts. Additionally, contrary to conventional wisdom, serious problems are typically addressed more expeditiously than commercial vendors. This is a direct result of the pride and love of the subject of computing (and building great software) that is exhibited by community developers and engineers. This quality and inherent stability allows me to focus on bringing new solutions to our guests and our business, instead of focusing on keeping the technology running.
 
How was your introduction of Linux received by your colleagues at Virgin America? What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome to get consensus?

Simhambhatla: At first, there was a fair amount of skepticism due simply to the lack of exposure to the Linux operating system. However, Virgin America was founded by, and is run by, risk takers and innovators who were willing to take a look at what Linux had to offer. Building consensus was easy: we built new products (e.g. our web site, data integration layers) and deployed infrastructure solutions (document management system, postfix MTAs, anti-spam, anti-virus, proxy servers) at costs vastly below industry "norm" and with the very high quality that was expected of them. These systems, which we deployed in 2006, are still in place and are performing very, very well.
 
What is your primary piece of advice for other Linux users?

Simhambhatla: Give back to the community – whether you publicly extol the virtues of Linux, or help with InstallFests, or host your local Linux Users Group at your workplace. There are many, many ways to give back. And, the most important impact is that giving back encourages even more adoption and innovation.
 
Linux is built and supported by a bunch of super talented and wildly enthusiastic people from all over the world who have but one goal: to build the best and most useful software. As such, you can count on its longevity and ever-evolving strengths and capabilities. Also, the passion behind Linux community is undeniable and ever increasing as can be seen by the absolutely awesome software available on the platform. If you take a long, hard look at your computing environment, you will see multiple pain points that you can easily attend to using Linux as the operating system and software running on Linux. If you are attempting to bring Linux into your environment, I suggest finding one of those many pain points - - for example, email, dns, proxies, filtering, anti spam/virus - - and build a Linux equivalent and show off its capabilities.

 

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