Linux Consulting and Microsoft: Sleeping with the Enemy

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.

By Tom Adelstein, CIO
of Bynari, Inc.

Imagine a situation in which you have won a consulting
engagement to help bring two moderately sized companies’ IT
departments under one roof in a post-merger environment. You signed
the contract. Then you discover that the CIO’s skills deny him
access to technical knowledge. You also discover that you not only
have to deal with the CIO but the package includes the attendance
of his hostile Microsoft MCSE. Also, you find that the firm will
migrate all their servers to Microsoft.They hired you to help.

Call this the engagement from hell. Think of the hostile MCSE as
your worst nightmare. Regard the CIO with disdain. But see if Linux
can win even if you sleep with the enemy.

The Engagement from Hell

When you began negotiating with the Company, the initial inquiry
specified a need to upgrade older versions of Linux to newer ones.
The documentation and purchase order you received indicated the
company deployed Linux servers four years before to handle mail and
web hosting. The Linux boxes went in when the company had NetWare
3.12 deployed in every one of their retirement communities and
their corporate offices.

At first, you couldn’t contain your excitement about finding
such a large deployment of Linux machines. Then the other shoe
dropped. You found the calls excessive from the community managers
to your support line. You fixed problem after problem, updated
security, cleaned up the password files and got the mail working.
Late one Friday afternoon, one of the managers asked if you would
be putting in the new Windows NT machine. You inquired further and
found out that the new CIO had decided to replace the NetWare 3.12
and Linux machines with Microsoft’s Windows NT and Exchange

You felt betrayed. You geared up for this new client. You hired
staff, added a high speed connection to the Internet, bought
workstations and furniture. Suddenly, you see your prize

You then get a call from the CIO wanting to float an Request for
Proposal (RFP) by you. He sent it via e-mail. The client wanted a
quote on moving its Web site from Apache 1.2 running on Red Hat 4.2
to Windows NT IIS 4.0.

Somehow you sensed you were in trouble. You replied to the RFP
and within a few days discovered you won the business. As part of
your commitment to the client you had to fly to Memphis to begin

Your Worst Nightmare

You arrive at the airport only to discover that the Network
manager forgot to pick you up as planned. You take a taxi to
downtown Memphis and sit in the company’s waiting room for two
hours. You feel bored, tired and frustrated.

Through the front doors to the waiting room walks a man dressed
casually smart. He introduces himself as Mickey Magnolia. He
apologizes for keeping you waiting, he had taken a late lunch.
Meanwhile, you hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

Mickey escorts you to a conference room and begins diagramming
his network topology on the wall. He casually points out each Linux
machine which he’s planning to replace. The CIO, Harry Hamm walks
into the conference room and sees your expression. He looks at the
diagram and back at you and you know you’ve been had.


The conversation shifts to Harry and he begins to spout the
Microsoft party line about the enterprise and the seamless
solution. You listen intently with the occasional thought of
murdering the guy. You wonder when the change will take place.
Mickey then asks if you can move the Web site by the end of the
following week. That’s the day all his servers can come on

Can Linux Win?

When we evaluate the situation, the following comes to

1. The CIO has a vested interest in his hostile MCSE. He went on
the line to get him hired. If Mickey looks bad so does Harry.
Everyone has a boss and people have a greater interest in looking
good than being right. You will lose if you go after Mickey and
attack his knowledge.

2. Management charged the CIO with keeping costs low. The golden
thread in this situation is the type of business the company
operates. The patrons of the company live on fixed incomes. “Total
cost of ownership” puts an Achilles heel on the CIO and his hostile

3. Mickey convinced the CIO that having a single OS platform
would reduce costs. The CIO feels vulnerable since he lacks
technical expertise. He wants to insure that he can find and hire
people to administer his network when Mickey leaves. You will lose
if you go after this security blanket.

When you look at Mickey’s topology map, find areas where a Linux
solution can live within the NT enterprise. For example, Linux can
reduce the cost of ownership when you factor in Samba. You will
reach the CIO’s hot button by comparing the costs of licensing
Windows NT against Linux. Prepare a cost comparison for the CIO and
get Mickey to assist you. Or even better, let Mickey tell you which
servers Linux could replace. Let it be Mickey’s idea.

Mickey also feels vulnerable because he only understands
Microsoft products. If he understands DNS, Web services, fireballs,
and TCP/IP we should all be surprised. If he hasn’t worked in a
UNIX environment, he can barely hold his own with these

You can turn Mickey into an ally by training him on simple
administration skills and by gaining his confidence. If you have
cross platform skills, you can tolerate Windows NT and help guide
the network architecture. If you need a good rationalization then
tell yourself that interoperability makes a difference.

Tips and Techniques

By doing nothing, Everything is done
In wanting nothing, You will always have enough – Lao Tzu

If you work in the Information Services business you know that
clients do not like surprises. If a client has an expectation and
you fail to meet that expectation the client will become upset.
Thwarted expectations cause people to become upset.

In the same fashion, if you have an expectation and the client
fails to deliver, you will become upset. In the scenario above, the
client lied to you or at least mislead you. You should feel upset.
You should also feel betrayed.

A Zen Master once told his disciple to catch a bird with his
bare hands. The disciple wondered how he could do such a thing. The
Master told the disciple to stand quietly by a bush and try not to
catch the bird. The disciple stood next to a bush and two sparrows
landed on the branches to eat berries. The disciple held still and
in a motion that could not be seen by the naked eye, grabbed one of
the sparrows.

When you work as a Linux consultant, then learn to manage the
client’s expectation and your own. If you had allowed strong
emotions to sway you, you would have become defensive and angry.
You probably would have marched out through the front door while

In this business many people don’t have time to appreciate you,
since they spend most of their time trying to keep others from
finding out what they don’t know. With Linux in the early adopter
stage of the marketing cycle, we have to develop thicker skin. Let
them have their games.

Conclusion and parting note

Many of us in the Linux world live in a state of denial. We want
Linux to succeed so badly we lose our perspective. We tell
ourselves that we’re kicking Microsoft’s butt. In fact, we’re niche
players in a niche market. Someday, we may have a level playing
field with Microsoft. We have a paradigm that works. I find it
healthy to remember that Linux is not an Apple computer and
Microsoft doesn’t sell Mainframes. Do not expect a mass market
shift just yet.

Many of us start off as rebels and quickly learn that we can
make a difference by working within the establishment. If you wish
to call this sleeping with the enemy, please allow me to call it

Today, it’s a Microsoft world. I started in I.T. when it was an
IBM world and people said PC’s would not last. They said the same
about Elvis.

This article is the sixth in a series on Consultative Sales
and Marketing. Linux Today has published the earlier articles and
they reside in the site’s archives. You can find them by using the
search feature of the Linux Today web site.

Tom Adelstein is the CIO of Bynari, Inc. He’s the author of
several books and articles on business and technology and has
executive management, consulting and hands-on experience in the
Information Technology field.