October 12, 2006

Red Hat Linux rises over Chicago

Author: Tina Gasperson

The City of Chicago had
always been a Sun shop, but when it was time to begin a hardware
replacement cycle two years ago, platform architect Amy Niersbach knew
the city needed to reduce costs without sacrificing quality. That's
why she turned to Linux.

The City of Chicago is a web of 42 different departments, each with
different functions but similar technology needs. Niersbach and her
colleagues at the Business Information Services department oversee the
IT needs of them all. It is her responsibility to make sure the dozens
of servers that connect government offices provide the information and
computing power needed to run a city as complex as Chicago.

In 2004, when Niersbach started looking for replacements for some of
the city's Solaris servers with end of life issues, she looked at Red
Hat and SUSE Linux. "We were looking at the support aspect and the
Oracle certification," she says. Since most of Chicago's city
departments rely heavily on Oracle databases, Niersbach viewed Red
Hat's status as an Oracle-certified platform as a better choice than
SUSE.

After tentatively making a decision to go with Red Hat, Niersbach
began the transformation from Sun to Linux slowly. "We started out
with a pilot. We were looking to replace some of the old Sun A6500
servers with less expensive hardware." Convincing the department heads
that Intel hardware and Red Hat Linux were the way to go wasn't too
difficult. "Some of the business owners were skeptical because it is
so new," she says. Business owners are the city departments' different
application users. Before embarking on the transformation, Niersbach
made sure the business owners were on board. "We needed some down time
to change the platform. We discussed this downtime with them to make
sure all the users were notified."

"The first pilot we did was with one of our main applications. We took
our time with it." Niersbach obtained some loaner hardware from
Hewlett-Packard and gave Red Hat a call. "We said that we really
wanted to test our Linux to make sure it was safe and reliable and
that we'd get the support we needed. Everyone wanted to know, 'does it
really work?'"

Niersbach and her staff upgraded one database server during that first
pilot. "We added in other tiers, and then interfaced the application
tier with the database tier and did all our testing." Eventually, they
tied that server in with the mainframe and the remaining Solaris
servers, completing the pilot in about two months. "It was very smooth
and painless," Niersbach says. "If anything, [business owners] were
impressed" by the speed and flexibility of the new infrastructure.

As much as Niersbach loves Linux, she's keeping some of the Solaris
servers for now. "We have some applications, like Oracle Financial
Suite, that are only certified on Sun. We are probably down to about
50 [Solaris] servers. But we do have plans to try and move some of our
Sun E4500 servers to Linux. The hardware is on end of life, and it's
time to replace it."

For Niersbach, the biggest benefit of using Linux is the money saved
on hardware and maintenance. "The only thing you have to plan for is
the Red Hat annual maintenance contract. Now that we have 60 servers,
we have to plan for that in the budget. It's about $60,000, but we
date synch the maintenance, spread it out, so we don't have to pay it
all at once."

Niersbach has some advice for other city governments considering a
move from proprietary infrastructures to Linux. "Do a proof of concept
so that you feel completely comfortable. Some people just need to see
it happening, as opposed to hearing from other people that it will
work. We were very satisfied with the results."

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