June 14, 2002

Enterprise customers now ask for Linux by name

- By Grant Gross -

Companies pitching Linux to enterprise customers say they're seeing a change in attitude from potential clients in recent months -- the customers are now asking for Linux instead of getting it sold to them.
Linux specialists at companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, both of which seem to be announcing new Linux conversions weekly, say some of their recent high-profile Linux sales went to customers who specifically asked for Linux.

Michael Callahan, CTO and co-founder of PolyServe, says his company has seen an explosion of Linux interest in the last six months. PolyServe announced its Matrix Server multi-server file system/application manager software Thursday, and the product is first available for Linux, with a Windows version slated for early next year.

Although "Linux hype has ebbed and flowed" in the two years the PolyServe team has been working on Matrix Server, Callahan says he's seen a continually growing interest in Linux during that time, with interest "burgeoning" in the last six months.

"We talk to customers just about every week who say, 'Six months ago, if you'd been talking to us about Linux, we'd have said we're interested in that, but we're not really ready to look at it that seriously. But today, we're really interested because we see Linux taking over our operation in 24 months.'" He adds, "I think Linux at the moment is a victim of under-hype."

Over at HP, a recent announcement of Reuters moving its Reuters Market Data System to Linux servers is an example of a company that was interested in Linux from the start, says Judy Chavis, director of the HP Linux Programs Office.

Reuters' customers had worked with the old Compaq in the past in moving Solaris applications to Linux, Chavis says. So Reuters approached HP after it was considering moving the the Market Data System to Linux and was already interested in the total cost of ownership advantages of Linux, although Reuters also was considering staying with Solaris. Many customers are asking for total cost of ownership comparisons, says Chavis, and one of HP's best Linux sales tools is running a TCO study comparing Linux to other choices.

Chavis says she sees a lot of customers porting their old Unix applications over to Linux because they see cost savings. "I don't think there's a lot of convincing any more of customers around Linux," she says. "Their question to me is, 'Can the new HP support me?' That's really what we're down to -- when you look at enterprise customers like a Reuters, they're used to a very complex environment, and they want one throat to choke."

Some customers do have questions -- about Linux scaling or support or applications available under Linux -- but there's little time spent on convincing customers they should look at Linux. "We've lived through this 11-year history around Linux, and the last year or so, it's really taking off," Chavis says. "People are using it for applications, they're not playing around with it. It's not an engineer exercise anymore, it's solving a business problem."

One of IBM's recent big announcements was paint seller Sherwin-Williams adopting Linux for its in-store PCs, one at each store working as a server, with a second Linux box as the store manager's workstation. Like Reuters, Sherwin-Williams was interested in Linux because of its stability and its cost savings over the company's former OS, SCO Unix, says Scott Handy, director of software solutions for IBM. Sherwin-Williams was also interested in Linux's open code, which allows the company to customize its applications easily.

IBM customers considering Linux, like those at HP, are looking for one company to provide service, Handy adds. But after one company in an industry moves to Linux, word gets around and Linux interest seems to snowball. IBM customers tell Handy their first source for information about Linux is people they know in the same field.

One recent IBM Linux customer is NextWine, a seller of high-end wines that uses its Web site, plus phone and email sales, to sell its products.

NextWine is using IBM's WebSphere Commerce 5.1 and Linux to tie its Web site to its database. In moving from Windows to Linux, the company can update two separate database "orders of magnitude" more quickly than in the past, when workers had to manually update inventory lists, says company president Dain Dunston. That instant inventory update is important, he says, because NextWine deals in rare wines and sometimes has only one or two bottles of a particular vintage.

NextWine uses Linux as the connection between the Web site database, its bookkeeping databases and a proprietary inventory management system.

While NextWine didn't approach IBM about using Linux, it didn't take much convincing to make the switch, says Dunston. Linux's cost wasn't even a big consideration, other than it was much less expensive than other options that were hundreds of thousand of dollars higher.

Dunston says he was aware of Linux and has followed the open systems vs. proprietary systems debate. But choosing an operating system isn't a priority for the company; Dunston just wanted something that worked.

"The advantage here was very clear that if it's running on Linux, it's going to be really easy to access data in and out," he says. "There was zero resistance on our part. What I'd thought in my head was, 'Yeah, that's kind of hip. What I'd heard was Linux was this hip new system doing a lot of good things. It was like a no-brainer for us."

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