How to Talk to Your CIO/CTO About Using Linux


The economy is still in mid-turmoil.

IT budgets remain down or flat.

But eventually, things will again get better.

So does that make this a prime time to be suggesting new or expanded uses of Linux and open source software to your CIO or CTO to update and improve your company’s IT systems?

Actually, that’s not a bad idea, according to several industry analysts and experts who talked with to offer their hints and tips on how to broach the subject and make an effective business case for wider Linux use even as the economy remains difficult.

“I think it’s definitely a good time to be talking these folks up even if they don’t have an immediate budget,” said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions LLC in Gilford, NH. “What these organizations need to do is take a hard look at what they’ve got in legacy systems and where they want to be in the next three to four years. The nice thing about open source is that you can make changes without long commitments on licensing and support. The down economy opens it up even more for open source.”

One way to support such arguments, Gardner said, is to remember that the end goal is improving your company‚Äôs IT systems–not just bringing in more Linux and open source for the fun of it. That‚Äôs the message you can use to gain the interest of your IT executives.

“It’s about what’s going to get us our productivity and flexibility going forward,” he said.

Another key point to make is that large enterprises that use open source software can leverage a lot of influence in an open source project by including IT employees in the development communities and leading features and development where they want them to go, Gardner said. “Remember, it’s a two-way street. They can probably get their way, where they wouldn’t get that reaction from a large [proprietary] vendor. Large enterprise customers should recognize that they can have that kind of power. You’re going to have a much better chance of making it happen.”

Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said that making such recommendations won’t be as difficult today as it was just five or six years ago, when Linux and open source software weren’t as prevalent in corporate IT systems.

“CIOs in enterprises are certainly business people, but one thing to remember is that they’re typically not evaluating” technologies and products,” Haff said. “In an enterprise they have people working for them who are technically savvy” and are relied upon to make such recommendations.

A key distinction to make to your CIO/CTO, Haff said, is that Linux and open source software today are not solely community supported, but are also commercially supported by real companies that provide deep technical support. “The way to talk to your CIO or CTO is to tell them that these are commercially supported” so they have confidence in bringing them in and using them for mission-critical work inside the company, he said.

“Really promote it because is a cost effective, functional piece of software,” Haff said. “One piece of advice I would give is to really lead with the benefits of the software and the organizations behind the software.”

Haff said when he does hear concerns about open source software from IT leaders it comes from “some level of ignorance about what open source is,” as opposed to people who know what it is through research and found it lacking for their uses for some reason.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, CA, said a key reminder to give to some still-worried CIOs and CTOs is that expanding the use of Linux and open source doesn’t automatically mean abandoning the familiarity of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system and applications for all users.

“The two environments can be managed together in ways that couldn’t be imagined only a few years ago,” King said. “What Linux is now that it wasn’t just a decade ago is a field tested, proven platform for performing even the most critical of business processes. We have reached the point where pigs have sprouted wings and begun to fly when it comes to Linux.”

And to make those still-leery IT executives a bit more comfortable, you can point out that even Microsoft has been doing real work for managing Windows and Linux applications together using a new Windows management console that presently supports SUSE Linux, King said.

Another key to point out, he said, is that Linux is at the cutting edge in uses such as high performance computing, grid computing and clustered systems. “Companies that are really looking for an edge or that are looking to deploy cutting edge applications, well, Linux is usually leading in those areas. Where we’re at with Linux today, it’s achieved the same level of success that virtually every other class of enterprise operating system has achieved.” And because the selection of available open source tools and resources are so vast, companies can find that using Linux and open source saves money while also providing their IT staffs with the tools they need to perform their work more seamlessly, King said.

“One of the biggest issues that companies will run in to is that they will make choices about platforms that they deploy,” King said. “Then they assume that because they made decisions in the past, that they’re locked in forever after. It’s hard for them to grasp a different operating environment or a different hardware environment for their business processes.”

One thing to keep in mind, he said, is that moving to more open source won’t necessarily be seamless. “There are some issues that they need to keep in mind moving to Linux as with any operating environment,” King said, including project time and administrative staff training. On the plus side, he said, most large Linux and open source vendors provide needed training and assistance.

David Lynch, owner of DLA Systems, an embedded Linux software consultant in Lititz, PA, said his suggestion for potentially new Linux business migrations is to start slowly to allow IT executives to feel comfortable with the process and initial results.

“When you turn around and you discover that you’re comfortable with these little things to start with, then you’re going to be more informed,” Lynch said. “It will show you that this open source stuff does do the job.”

For instance, Lynch recommends that a company just starting out with open source might want to install Apache Web server on a Windows machine to get a feel for the application before ultimately installing and using it on Linux. “When you then move Apache to Linux, then you’re not learning two steps at once,” he said. “Trying to take a big step to Linux can be overwhelming.”

Analyst Donald A. DePalma, president of Common Sense Advisory Inc. in Lowell, MA, said today’s tough economic environment gives you another key point in talking up open source to your executives.

“In this market, its amazing how things are being turned on their heads,” DePalma said. For years, one corporate argument against open source has been about the uncertainty of support. But today, as even proprietary vendors are being pressured, there are no longer built-in guarantees of long-term support for the applications and hardware you are using today, he said.

“Fast forward, now some of the biggest software vendors are in tough straits,” he said. “Companies are merging, folding or cutting back service hours or support contracts. At the end of the day what you have is the uncertainty of support from a commercial vendor. It’s a balancing act. I think it’s quite striking.”