August 20, 2004

Looking into the Linux light

Author: Preston St. Pierre

You want to consider a Linux-based solution to a computing problem. Your manager says he or she doesn't want any Linux anywhere, period. The next
move takes careful consideration. Executives invest more in pride and face than any Samurai, and you can't safely confront them head-on or contradict them directly. You can, however, still integrate Linux into your company. In fact, every large company almost assuredly has Linux installed somewhere in the network already.

Web servers

It is no exaggeration to proclaim the Web built its reputation on Apache software running on Linux servers, and over two thirds of identified Web servers on the Internet are still running on Apache. Every large company has Apache installations somewhere. Many enterprise networks use Apache for specialty applications within their computer center for management, internal portals, or reporting functions, if not public Web services.

List all company Web servers in a report, and show the following for each server:

  • Installation date
  • Uptime
  • Web server software
  • Operating system supporting the Web server
  • Applications running on the Web server
  • Investment in hardware and software
  • Employees relying on the Web server
  • Customers relying on the Web server
  • Partners relying on the Web server
  • Administration time charged to the Web server
  • Performance (time per transactions served)
  • When possible, include outsourced servers in the report

When this information can be massaged within a report format, sort for Apache Web servers running on Linux. Company executives will be surprised to see how much their company already relies on Linux systems.

Yes, you can get the same information for existing Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services) servers, although reporting limitations of the platform may make it more difficult. List comparable Web servers hosted by Linux and Microsoft IIS side by side on a spreadsheet and let the numbers do you talking for you.

Better yet, make a pie chart for managers who can't read. Linux will have the largest slice of uptime, while Microsoft will have the largest slice of administrative overhead. If that's not true, you haven't found all the numbers for the Microsoft IIS installation, because service calls and patches can be hidden throughout help desk, maintenance, security, and infrastructure budgets.

Small servers and utility servers

Linux systems may be in branches (small file and print servers), at outsource providers (Web and e-mail service providers), or in the guts of the network (DNS or e-mail servers).
Search through inventory records of remote offices for all-in-one servers and NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes. These small servers are almost always Linux-based. Ask your network administrators about their DNS, DHCP, and e-mail servers, because many are Linux as well. Firewalls also belong to the "almost always Linux" class as well.

Once you find those existing Linux servers, make a report showing:

  • Installation date
  • Uptime
  • Packets (or files, or emails, etc.) processed
  • Investment in hardware and software
  • Maintenance time necessary
  • Administration time required
  • Users supported (or servers supported if applicable)

Clusters and supercomputers, and big iron

High ticket purchases for clusters, supercomputers, and mainframes happen rarely. However, a quick survey of operating system options for clusters and supercomputers show a strong common thread: Linux.

Linux isn't rocket science, but rocket scientists trust Linux.

The Linux High Performance Computing lists over 25 Linux cluster vendors waiting to supply products from a single quote form. Another source of information is the Linux Clustering Information Center.
Supercomputer tire-kickers will see the Linux name on many of the Top 500 Supercomputer Sites information paragraphs.

Nothing says enterprise-enabled more loudly than big iron from IBM. Years of zSeries and S/390 mainframe support for Linux as a platform for enterprise applications to super-computing answer concerns about whether Linux can scale in the modern enterprise.

The list of IBM supported mainframe applications is long and grows every day. Arguments concerning the ability of Linux to support enterprise-level applications will stop after perusing the IBM solutions pages for mainframe Linux applications and services.

Lest executives believe IBM's Linux applications are driven only by a desire to sell their zSeries hardware, keep the link for independent software vendors (ISV) handy. Hundreds of applications for Linux-based mainframes are available from third parties.


Help your executives understand that Linux is A) well proven in the enterprise, and B) already in place somewhere in your own company. Once management understands Linux performs critical but low-profile services today, adding higher-profile installations will be an easy next step.

After all, some VP somewhere up the line in every big company authorized the Linux installations already in place. The decision has been made to utilize the performance, reliability, and cost efficiency of Linux systems, so current management should continue forward with the same winning strategy.

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