January 14, 2008

At healthcare application vendor, migration to Linux was the developers' idea

Author: Tina Gasperson

Opus Healthcare provides Web-based software solutions for doctors, nurses, therapists, and healthcare support staff. Recently, Opus moved from Unix on Hewlett-Packard hardware to a mixture of different Linux distributions on Intel. Opus CEO and co-founder Tim Rhoads says it has been a "bottom-up" transition, driven by the company's development staff.

Opus not only develops applications for patient care records and reporting, it also designs workflow processes and consults customers on hardware requirements.
The migration to open source began in 2000, when the company decided it would move to Web-based SAAS applications, replacing Opus' standalone products. "We had a fatigue factor from using the commercial operating systems," Rhoads says. "We were limited in what we could offer as far as hardware solutions. Parallel to that, as we were developing our new solution with Web-based architecture, we were using open source development tools. Our developers already had a familiarity with Linux, and they pretty much brought the idea into the company of using Linux as the production operating system." Rhoads calls it a "bottom-up" decision. "Our developers began developing in Linux, and as time passed, it just became the obvious solution."

Opus has realized several benefits as a result of the change. "I think all the benefits ultimately relate to saving money," he says. "It's saving us money because we can use standalone, commodity hardware. As we bring in development staff, the programmers virtually all already have a significant familiarity with the Linux environment. They understand performance metrics and operating system intricacies to a much better degree than I had seen in the '90s with the commercial operating systems. Linux has also saved the company money by moving away from exorbitant fees associated with commercial operating systems."

Rhoads says bringing Linux into the company has made his IT staff much more valuable to him. "We have a traditional IT department that is more focused on the hardware, deployments, and networking and such. In my previous experience, that's where most of the open source system knowledge resided. Now, our development community is almost as knowledgeable and in some ways is more knowledgeable than the traditional IT department. By running Linux as our primary operating system, it has really broadened the base of experience and knowledge in the company."

Opus has one last bastion of commerciality in the mix. "Years ago, we chose the commercial version of Crystal as our report writer," Rhoads says. "At the time, it was only offered on Windows. We still run a Windows cluster with Crystal. We've already started a project to eliminate that by the end of 2008."

Rhoads says the key to a successful open source migration is buy-in from vendors. "If you're using someone else's software solution, you'd better be working with a software company that embraces the open source community. If they don't, I would not advise you to go down that road on your own."

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