November 9, 2006

Linux replaces Unix on CitiStreet systems

Author: Tina Gasperson

CitiStreet, a Quincy, Mass., corporate benefits provider, was founded in 2000. A year later it was already outgrowing its proprietary Unix-based network infrastructure. Faced with a choice between adding more HP-UX and Solaris boxes, or moving to Intel hardware with Linux, CitiStreet chose the latter. Today the company is enjoying enhanced stability and security, and drastically lower costs.

One of the first moves CitiStreet's CIO Barry Strasnick made toward open source was to migrate the organization's DNS servers from Solaris to Red Hat on Intel. "We started with simpler, more redundant systems," says Strasnick. Within a year or two, he realized the network was going to need additional capacity to keep up with its six million participants. "Although not necessarily planned that way, we moved from the outside in. We moved our Solaris Apache Web servers, then when we moved from BEA WebSphere to JBoss, we also moved from Sun Enterprise to Red Hat Linux on Intel."

Strasnick says that the desire for better hardware prices and performance was CitiStreet's biggest motivator. "In almost all cases," he says, "we are not saying necessarily that Red Hat Linux is better than HP-UX, but we are saying we don't lose anything from that move either." He says that while hardware acquisition costs were high, the greater challenge was the "ongoing 24/7 hardware maintenance. HP's costing models basically forced us to move off of HP-UX to Linux. The good news is that the maturity of Linux, combined with Red Hat's support, have made this a non-issue."

Strasnick says he looked at "other instances" of Linux, but felt that Red Hat was the most mature and "their support was the best. Each of the transitions went well." Even so, Strasnick says the problems associated with maintaining CitiStreet's infrastructure will never completely disappear. "Our systems support over 11 million employees in our customers' programs. We must constantly add functionality while ensuring availability and reducing costs."

Strasnick says the migration to Linux will continue at least for several more years. "The last step relates to our Oracle, DB2, and Sybase databases, along with some core COBOL-based applications," he says. "These servers are all HP-UX." He plans to fully transition CitiStreet to an Intel blade and Red Hat Linux infrastructure. "That continues to be our goal. The transition will take years because we don't do change for change's sake. There are relative priorities where we feel that moving to Linux can either save us significant monies or significantly improve performance. There is also the minor point that if I bought a new HP server 18 months ago, I want a useful life of at least 36 months out of that asset."

Strasnick says that having a great technical team has been a prerequisite to the move to open source. "I have over 600 people on my team worldwide," he says. "In all cases they are IT professionals who need not be 'hand-held' by the vendor, but do need access to proper technical resources when appropriate."

Strasnick says he is happy with the move to Linux. "My team has been able to improve our software performance at a lower cost. The combination of reduced software licensing, with the ability to move to an Intel hardware model, saves us in excess of a million dollars a year. Obviously this then allows us to invest this money on other priorities within the organization."


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