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What are my options?

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Scott M. Morris

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Posted: 2 Feb 2005
 

A top-notch executive in the IT world must be an excellent decision-maker. Part of this is knowing the options that are available, and weighing them very carefully. There are many multinational organizations that have some insight that gives them an immediate edge. They are learning about open-source software, and the mountains of benefits it brings to their doorstep. Questionable studies and research have proven effective at keeping many in the dark about these open-source options. A lot of false information is being presented as the truth. I'm sure this is due to a breakdown in communication; surely the actual facts are able to speak for themselves. This is the first of a series of articles that will cover the viability of open-source software, such as Linux, as server and desktop solutions in the corporate environment.

Governments on the Move

The trend really hit home when a news article had been sent to me about Venezuela. Having lived there, the news held personal interest for me. The headline read "Venezuela's Government Shifts to Open Source Software."

How many other government or corporate entities worldwide had made a similar jump or had considered doing so? Is Linux really a viable solution in the corporate environment? One IT expert, having been in the computer industry about three decades, exclaimed, "I can't believe that many big government groups are going to Linux!"

Just within the last two months, there has been an eye-popping migration to Linux. Those making the move consist of the U.S. Navy; the Venezuelan Government; Czech Postal Service; New York's United Federation of Teachers; the City of Vienna, Austria; as well as Schools in Chile. China, Korea, and Japan have even joined forces to create their own distribution of Linux, called Asianux.

Counting the above organizations, the list grows to include national governments in South America1, Europe2, Asia3, and several others4. Just in the United States, the agencies eyeing Linux consist of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Postal Service, and everything from the State of Massachusetts to Hollywood Studio Dreamworks. In a few minutes, I found nearly 50 city, state, and national goverments, organizations or multinational companies considering or currently making the shift to Linux.

Every conceivable argument has been offered for choosing a proprietary operating system over Linux. Very few of these arguments hold much water. For example, let's look at why the organizations I've listed have either considered Linux or transitioned to it completely.

Total Cost of Operation

Of all the organizations listed, 30 had explicit reasons for making the transition to Linux. While some gave multiple reasons for switching, cost was the major reason. 25 of them made the switch or considered doing so because of the total cost of operation, or TCO. Many of them performed their own internal testing to see which operating system was indeed the most economical for them to select. The TCO of Linux was cheaper in every instance where this type of internal investigation was done. Many firms also explained that current licensing requires them to pay yearly fees for upgrades. They said that the upgrades had minimal new features or that these features were of little use to them.

Giancarlo Fornari, director of the finance ministry's department for relations with the public in Italy claims that Italians could save approximately $650 million if they made the switch. Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal, the Chief Technology Officer of Bergen, Norway, explains that the city made the switch to Linux because of cost benefits. David Peters of Country Energy explains, "In our organisation Windows is not a threat as we get to see both sides and Windows is not cheaper at all."

What is reason number one for switching? The total cost of operation for Linux is decidedly lower than that of Windows.

Security and Stability

Another reason that these companies and agencies were interested in Linux is because of security. According to recent research, Linux is very much more secure than Windows. In fact, in tests where a default installation of Linux is left unprotected on the Internet, it lasted for an average of about three months before it was compromised. A Windows computer left in a similar environment lasted hours, if not minutes, according to the report. It is also interesting to note that the study found that the time it takes to compromise a machine is increasing for Linux and actually decreasing for Windows. According to The Honeynet Project & The Honeynet Research Alliance:

Recent data from our honeynet sensor grid reveals that the average life expectancy to compromise for an unpatched Linux system has increased from 72 hours to 3 months. This means that a unpatched Linux system with commonly used configurations (such as server builds of RedHat 9.0 or Suse 6.2 ) have an online mean life expectancy of 3 months before being successfully compromised. Meanwhile, the time to live for unpatched Win32 systems appears to continues to decrease. Such observations have been reported by various organizations, including Symantec 5, Internet Storm Center6 and even USAToday7.

This is not to mention the overwhemlingly huge percentage of viruses, worms, and other malicious software that is written to exploit weaknesses or outright blunders in the design of current proprietary software.The editor of Italy's InterLex Web site warns:

The defects of Microsoft's programs are astonishing. There are an enormous number of bugs and security problems. When the source codes are public you have hundreds of thousands of IT professionals working on them in complete openness. There aren't viruses for Unix and open-source software because they would be unmasked in five minutes. It's evident that open-source software is now spreading like wildfire.

Further, many IT experts reveal that in cases where stability and uptime is critical to a system, they almost universally employ Linux on such systems. David Peters of Country Energy says, "I wouldn't have a job if there was two minutes of downtime and I wouldn't trust Windows for that." Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal also has concerns about stability. "I really find Windows not to be very suitable for that kind of core task, where you really need it to be dead stable and secure," he explains.

What's the lesson here? If you want security and stability, use Linux.

The Future of the IT Industry

What if you had an accurate predictor of the direction that your field would take in the future? You'd know where to focus on increasing your marketable skills. The experts in technology-related fields seem to opine that the use of proprietary software is on a decline, and open source software such as Linux is on the increase. A recent survey declares Linux mainstream. Another article even says that you may find yourself without employment if you don't learn Linux now. The future outlook of open source operating systems looks incredibly bright.

Czech Post Embraces SUSE

In many cases, there's hesitation because Linux is perceived to be difficult to learn. Having used no fewer than 26 versions of 5 major operating systems over the past 20 years, SUSE Linux is among the easiest that I have used. SUSE is also inexpensive, very stable and secure, and is growing rapidly in strength, as noted by James Ogley, of planetsuse.org. He says, "Nice to see on this Ask Slashdot a lot of people saying SUSE, and almost entirely for good technical, non-religious/emotional grounds."

These are several of the reasons for which the Czech Post of the Czech Republic has recently migrated to SUSE Linux. The employer is the second largest in the nation, with 3,400 offices and 40,000 employees. It only took about 10 months to move 4,000 servers and 12,000 desktops over to the new system.

APOST is the software used by the Postal service. Josef Svoboda, Project Manager for APOST at Czech Post says, "SUSE Linux attracted our attention and won our admiration because it is not only reliable, but also offers great customization capabilities so we can tailor it to our business." The article featuring this story cites numerous additional reasons Svoboda decided to make the switch. Several deciding factors include flexibility, customization and the freedom from being dependent upon a single software vendor.

The United States Postal Service has been using Linux for over six years, as mentioned on Network World Fusion.

The Czech Post is not the only organization to consider SUSE for its transition. Ole-Bjorn Tuftedal in Bergen, Norway, has also selected SUSE for deployment. Centrelink, the Australian government agency responsible for distributing social security payments has decided upon Novell's Open Enterprise Server, due out this year. Deutsche Bahn, which manages the German railway system, is giving SUSE consideration, as well.

Conclusion

In recent weeks, an article has surfaced claiming that Windows is more secure than Linux. Surely, for Microsoft to peddle this myth to the world, they are a convincing marketing firm. Perhaps they should stick with marketing; the world is realizing that their insecure software is way too expensive.

The reality of open source versus proprietary operating systems is perfectly clear. Linux is more secure, cheaper, much more stable than its alternatives. For a Microsoft executive to say that Windows is less secure and more expensive to implement would be bad marketing practice. Unfortunately, that is the reality. If ever you or your organization were considering making the transition, there is no time like the present.

Join me next week, where the discussion continues. If you have something you'd like to see made part of the discussion, please let me know.



1 These countries include Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, and Peru.

2 Local and national governments in Europe consist of Kurdjali, Bulgaria; Munich, Germany; Bergen, Norway; Schools and Government Agencies in Italy; Moscow, Russia; the United Kingdom; Canary Islands; Denmark; Barcelona, Spain; Dundee, Scotland; Central Scotland Police; France; Iceland; Poland; and Portugal.

3 The list includes Israel, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Philippines.

4 This consists of part of the Australian Government, Europcar, Deutsche Bahn, Country Energy, the State of California and South Africa.

5 Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, January 1 June 30, 2004

6 Internet Storm Center - http://isc.sans.org/survivalhistory.php

7 USAToday - "Unprotected PCs can be hijacked in minutes" http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/technology/2004-11-29-honeypot_x.htm


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