March 30, 2005

Ogilvy Worldwide says OSS is OK

Author: Tina Gasperson

The Ogilvy Group, whose clients include IBM, Cisco, and Pitney-Bowes, has made the switch from Windows to Linux and BSD.The change started three and half years ago when Ogilvy brought Andres Andreu onto the IT staff. His department was responsible for business applications such as client-facing collaboration, financial, portal, knowledge management, and timesheets, as well as digital asset management systems and core services including LDAP and the corporate directory.

Andreu was "not a fan of Windows" because of his history and experience with that operating system. He could see Microsoft-related problems, such as having to bounce servers on a weekly basis, from the start of his tenure at Ogilvy. For him, the right direction was clear: open source.

Andreu says he really didn't have a problem convincing Ogilvy executives that they should do an overhaul of the IT system. They were sold on his "sales pitches" because, he says, they trusted his military and government IT background. "They were willing to take the gamble," especially when they realized that by using Linux they would be saving money not only in licensing fees but also in increased server uptime and reduced hardware needs. "I drove for optimal performance from the least amount of hardware," he says.

Andreu felt his choice was between Unix and Linux, but he opted for Linux because it gave him more "flexibility and power than Unix could." Between Andreu and the four other engineers in his department, they have coding abilities in C/C++, Java, PHP, and Perl - and of course, SQL.

With that "deep skill set," Andreu wanted more than what he calls "black box" technology. Instead, he looked for software that would allow his staff to use its knowledge to customize the platform and develop its own applications to run Ogilvy's business systems with optimum efficiency.

"Probably the coolest coding stuff at Ogilvy Worldwide IT is the Web services and federated ID work we have done. All of the code is written in-house in J2EE technology and is hosted on a farm of JBoss 4 servers," Andreu says. Ogilvy also had its own certificate authority and signs its own X.509 certificates, all based on OpenSSL and entirely coded and built in-house.

Not only that, but Ogilvy's global corporate directory is based on OpenLDAP and built in-house at zero software cost.

"I wanted the deep assurance that whatever we used to build our technology would be patched in a timely fashion as needed. I also wanted to keep that patching need to a minimum, so from a stability and security perspective, open source was the only way to go for us."

The differences in power and stability were immediately obvious. With Windows, Andreu says the department had a quad-processor server running one Internet Information Server-based application. "Now on two dual-processor servers I run at least 15 Web-based applications," he says. "On Windows that just doesn't work."

The switch to Linux and other open source software didn't come without challenges. "At first, Oracle did not play nicely in the Linux world," Andreu says. "Our first attempts were with Red Hat, and Oracle was a bear." The company changed direction and went with SUSE, and finally managed to get some clean Oracle installations "all the way down to the client level."

For Andreu, everything else was straightforward. "The Linux aspects of it have been successful from day one."

"I am fortunate because I have a solid team. I am a totally hands-on director. My team knows this stuff inside out. I have yet to see us ever make a support call. Since [Linux] is the underlying operating system it gets almost no face time. The applications and the code are what gets the face time."

"We've leveraged open source to the max."

Category:

  • Migration
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