High costs were the "coup de grâce" that forced the change, Harper says. "But it was more than just that. Microsoft has so many bugs, so many security openings. And we also had issues with memory leaks. The servers had to be rebooted. And the forced upgrade cycle was a constant issue. With Microsoft, we had two occasions where servers went down and we could not recover them. We had to totally reload, and once it took five days to rebuild it. We just said, 'This is for the birds.'"
Harper had a couple of Red Hat boxes; one for a VPN and the other a firewall. He was familiar with the stability and security of Linux. "We didn't look at anything else," he says. "It came down to two choices: Microsoft or Linux." Harper decided to standardize on Novell's SUSE Linux. "We didn't have anything against Red Hat, but we've had a longstanding relationship with Novell."
Over 18 months, Harper migrated all but two of Hines' companies to Linux. "We weren't focusing on the time," he says. "We had to continue to support the current environment. It was fairly painless -- we already had a couple up and running. We certainly had to do some work getting Samba set up correctly."
Harper says that the transition hasn't disrupted workflow at all. "Our companies do not know that their servers are Linux instead of Microsoft," he says. "And now we don't have to reboot our servers. We just put them in, and haven't touched them since."
Harper still has some consolidating to do. "We had to keep some proprietary operating systems because of the ERP applications," he says. "We're going to phase those out. It takes about six months to do an ERP conversion. The plan is to migrate those companies off their AS/400s to Linux with a Web-based ERP application called Open Pro. It's written in PHP and uses any database."
Harper says that moving to Linux has saved Hines almost a million dollars on ERP costs alone. "Say if we went with Microsoft's ERP application, compared to what we have today, just the initial cost would be $1.2 million, compared to $400,000. When we proposed the Microsoft solution to corporate and they saw the price tag, they said something I can't repeat."
He says transitioning to Linux has been easy on his team. "Because we had a Unix background, it wasn't such a leap. If you have a whole staff trained on Microsoft, it's gonna be tough. You could see why people are willing to pay the ongoing costs. But if you have some people who are willing to make the change, who aren't Microsoft bigots, once you make it, that's it."