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In Context: Linux in the Enterprise; Where the Rubber Has Hit the Road

Sep 15, 2000, 21:16 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Wolley)

The world probably doesn't need another "Linux in the enterprise" story, looking down the road to see where Linux is going in big businesses, but a review of the stories in the Linux Today archives about major Linux enterprise deployments over the past two years paints a very interesting and impressive picture of where it is right now.

by John Wolley, Linux Today

It seems like every few weeks there's another story about "Linux in the Enterprise." A year ago these stories tended to pose the question: is Linux ready to move out of its web/file/print serving niche and take on mission-critical applications in the business world? And the answers, even when an article described a major Linux deployment, tended to hedge, tended to focus on the shortcomings of Linux and how it's not for all businesses, but only the most adventurous ones that have the in-house technical expertise to deal with it.

Some of the stories a year ago qualified as hardcore FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt -- ignoring the reality that Linux was already being used for mission-critical applications by a number of companies and focusing only on reasons to support the author's opinion that Linux still was "not ready for prime time."

Current stories tend to be considerably more positive. "Linux in the enterprise" stories today typically point out how Linux has rapidly evolved, note that it's now capable of taking on tasks beyond at least some "mission critical" tasks, and describe the recent announcements of major vendors like IBM and Oracle which have launched programs to promote and support Linux in the enterprise.

But what is Linux actually being used for in enterprise settings today, beyond its historic stronghold as a web/file/print server? A tour of the Linux Today archives shows quite an interesting and impressive array of applications. The information below is arranged by industry groupings, within which it's in order by the name of the company doing the deployment.

Worth noting:

  • Announcements of Linux deployments have been pretty steady over the last two years.
  • More Linux deployments are taking place in the retailing sector than in any other industry grouping.
  • This is not an exhaustive list of all the Linux deployment stories in the Linux Today archives. Those that were not related directly to large businesses have been omitted, as have those that focused on the web/file/print server niche.


Allegiance Global Investments (AGI), based in Guilford, England, is a commodities broker that is running "a proprietary application for forecasting the movement of highly volatile derivatives markets called DNX Trading Technology" on a Linux Beowulf cluster. Beowulf clustering worked for AGI "because of the way it works with lots of independent modelling pieces that interact". AGI "migrated from a Windows NT platform to a Linux cluster has seen a five or sixfold boost in performance when running its derivatives market forecasting application." (ZDNet/UK 9/99)

Hill House Hammond, "one of the largest insurance intermediaries in the United Kingdom -- is deploying Pick Systems' D3 Linux DBMS server for Red Hat to their 250 branches. ... The rollout has already started, with close to two dozen branches already installed. Staging at the head office in Bristol, England for servers and related software has been completed." (PRNewswire 8/99) "Hill House Hammond is now proudly running Linux on IBM Netfinity servers as its network platform, and has integrated the OS with its sales and services database, developed by Pick Systems." (ZDNet/UK 9/99)

Noridian Mutual Insurance Company, with about 1800 employees, selected Linux, Sendmail, and a variety of open source programs to replace their outdated cc:Mail email system. Their conclusion: "...our Linux-based solution for e-mail has been a tremendous success. It is difficult to determine an exact dollar figure saved compared to the other solutions considered. The amount saved on client licenses alone has more than paid for our solution. We are distributing mail servers based on this configuration to all of our offices throughout the U.S." (Linux Today 11/99)

Reliance Mutual Insurance, based in Kent, England, is "is overhauling its IT infrastructure by rolling out about 200 desktop PCs on the Linux operating system." Reliance is replacing VT220 terminals, "using low-cost PCs running Linux to give users access to HP-UX software and applications running on an ICL mainframe"--and the total cost of a Linux workstation is less than the replacement cost for a VT220 terminal. "Reliance Mutual's data processing manager Steve Hnizdur told Computer Weekly, 'We... did not want Microsoft's horrendous licensing and management costs. "Reliance first conducted a trial with 20 PCs, and now "plans to deploy Linux in a phased roll-out starting in October and due for completion in December 2000." (quotes from Computer Weekly/UK 9/99; additional coverage in Computer Weekly/UK 10/99)


Cendant Corp., "the world's largest franchiser of hotels, is rolling out Linux [Caldera OpenLinux] servers at about 4,000 hotels to run the company's hotel management software. ...began the massive rollout early last year and expects to finish in September..." (ComputerWorld 3/99). "At a cost of $75 million, ...is installing the open-source operating system to run reservation management software at 4,000 locations"; the Linux systems were initially rolled out in eight hotel chains, including Ramada and Days Inn, before Cendant committed to equip all of its franchisees with Linux (PC Week 7/99). " 'We didn't make a conscious decision to move to Linux,' says Cendant VP of IT Scott Gibson. 'But the cost of the software and the fact that we could run it on inexpensive hardware were attributes of Linux that made the product itself attractive to us.' " (Planet IT 11/99)


B.F. Goodrich's "Richfield, Ohio, aerospace parts manufacturer became an early supporter of Linux. At its Grand Rapids, Mich., office, the open-source operating system replaced a Banyan Systems Inc. VINES network... Linux's role at that location has expanded to Web server and DNS (Domain Name System) applications. And it will probably continue to expand, at least as long as Linux sticks to its open-source roots, said Tom Stoddard, systems and database manager for the Midwest office." (PC Week 6/99)

Kaiser Aluminum "...decided to use Linux in the manufacturing process when Kaiser reengineered its computing architecture several years ago. ... There are more than 20 Linux systems in the plant's production environment... They track quality control, manage machines, monitor the production process, and produce quality reports. ... Kaiser is also using Linux to run Oracle database software that tracks chemistry at the mill. In addition, many of Kaiser's manufacturing systems engineers are running Linux on their workstations and Kaiser uses Linux servers for sharing files. The company is using Linux boxes from Interlogic Industries Inc., and VA Linux Systems Inc." (EarthWeb 8/00)

Spanco, an international manufacturer of industrial cranes, headquartered in Morgantown, PA, with offices in the US, Canada and Mexico, enlisted LinuxForce to complete the "design, construction and installation of a high-end file server as the first step in the migration of Spanco to Linux-powered computing systems to support their world-wide operations." (LinuxPR 9/99)

Motion Pictures

Weta Digital, of Wellington, NZ, found that their "ability to process work on the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy has just dramatically improved - with big savings to boot" as a result of replacing their multi-processor Unix servers costing over $1 million with 16 dual-processor SGI 1200 servers funning Linux. "It's high performance with low overhead and low cost. It's all about bangs for bucks. ...[Weta chief technical officer Jon] Labrie said being able to run this on Linux drastically reduced the costs involved, and was a watershed for the animation industry." (New Zealand Herald, 8/00)

Petroleum Exploration

Conoco "has built a Linux-based supercomputer for finding oil and gas beneath the Earth's surface, saying the machine costs a tenth of the average price of a conventional supercomputer. ... The machine can perform 500 billion calculations per second... Conoco decided its Linux machine was a good idea, even accounting for the $4 million cost of rewriting its software. ... Another advantage of Conoco's system is that it can be split into several independent pieces that can be taken to different parts of the globe where seismic research is being conducted... (CNET 8/00)

Amerada Hess Corp. (New York-based, $6.6 billion global oil company) recently saved "millions of dollars" by replacing an "IBM SP2 system running AIX that the company paid $2 million to lease for three years" with a 32-PC Linux Beowulf cluster--for $130,000. Moving to an NT cluster would have saved only "hundreds of thousands of dollars" (ComputerWorld 5/99). PC Week (7/99) pegged the total cost at $400,000 for 96 Dell workstations (apparently in three 32-PC Beowulf clusters), but noted that "cost wasn't the only reason the company decided to go with Linux; reliability was also key. Each job on the system runs for two to three weeks." An article in Planet IT (11/99) spelled out the magnitude of the price-performance advantage Amerada Hess got with Linux: " 'Our mainframe cost us about $2 million including maintenance fees, and our Linux system cost us about $400,000,' explains senior systems programmer Jeff Davis. 'But we get three times the processing power now, so the overall price/performance improvement is 15X.' "


Burlington Coat Factory first evaluated Linux as an alternative to thin-client systems, and found that "PCs running Linux deliver all the benefits of thin-client hardware and more"; that led Burlington to plan to "port its Solaris in-store, line-of-business applications to Linux to let the company have the same operating system across clients and servers, as well as extend the life span of about 300 aging Sun Microsystems SPARC servers"(Internet Week 12/98). Then in April '98 Burlington committed to "the largest Linux retail installation announced by a U.S. company [at that time]", a "$1 million-plus deployment at the $1.8 billion Burlington, N.J., discounter". Linux was selected because of "better price/performance than NT". (ComputerWorld 2/99). The Linux Rollout involves 1,250 Dell Optiplex desktop PCs to be used in 264 stores in 42 states "for office management and to administer its Baby Registry, as well as to handle its back office shipping and receiving functions." (InfoWorld 4/99). The story made headlines in CNNfn 4/99. Michael Prince, Burlington CIO, gave a keynote presentation on the Linux rollout at LinuxWorld Expo in San Jose, in August 1999 (Business Wire 6/99). Additional coverage on this very successful Linux deployment appeared in ComputerWorld (8/99a), ZDNet (8/99), and ComputerWorld (8/99b).

Home Depot, which "expects to operate 1,600 stores by 2002 and have 90,000 remote PCs and PC-based cash registers to manage by then", has embarked on a pilot project to prove the feasibility of using Linux to manage its mushrooming population of in-store PCs. "Linux would allow support engineers at the company's Atlanta headquarters to manage the basic settings of each machine from within a Web browser. ... Although Home Depot could have eased its Windows remote management problems by putting a Windows NT server in each store, that move would have been very costly." (ComputerWorld 6/99)

Jay Jacobs, apparel retailer, "...will replace all their check-out (DOS-based) systems with Linux. ...will deploy an application suite on Linux in its 115 stores and at the company's Seattle headquarters... ...will save around $1,000 per site by using Linux... But cost savings represented just part of Linux's appeal... 'As we drilled into Linux, we found it to be a very solid, reliable andhigh-performance OS...' " (InternetWeek 11/98). Jay Jacobs, apparel retailer with 130 stores, "...is on the verge of implementing one of the most cutting-edge and cost-effective systems around: Linux as the operating system in the stores, running Apropos retail software with an Informix back-end database (InfoWorld 12/98). "Jay Jacobs is spending $1.7 million this year -- about 2.5% of its revenue -- to replace the ancient DOS-based systems at its headquarters and in its 120 stores." (ComputerWorld 2/99). Unfortunately, Jay Jacobs folded (Linux Today 9/99) before their Linux implementation could be completed.

MVC, a major UK music retailer, has installed Linux throughout its stores in the UK. "Over 900 Electronic Point of Sale (EPS) devices in MVC stores will operate across a network of IBM Netfinity servers running Linux. ... 'Measured against all our key requirements, Linux beat the competition hands down. We believe it to be the fastest, most cost-effective solution, especially for our new IP-based EPoS terminals,' said Steve Jarvis, store systems manager at MVC Entertainment." ZDNet UK, 7/00)

RFM Corporation (Philippines) "wasn't impressed with the way MS Exchange performed when its IT group tested it", and so rejected "...the P28 million [US$730,000] proposal from Microsoft Corp. to install a whole gamut of MS Exchange-based solutions, and instead spend only P300,000 [US$7800] for a compatible server and consulting service to run Linux. ...RFM has upgraded its Red Hat Linux for the fourth time -- and always for free through the Internet. ... the company is now looking at other areas where it can implement Linux..." (ComputerWorld Philippines 7/99)

Wherehouse "...is testing Linux on IBM Netfinity Servers, which will store up to 36G bytes of compressed audio clips that customers can sample in listening booths, said Brad Barrish, [Wherehouse] director of special projects.... The 580-store chain said it's testing the system in its Texas stores and will roll it out to 15 top stores later this year." (quotes from ComputerWorld 8/99; other coverage in SRO 8/99)


For Gannett Co.'s Offset Telematch unit in Springfield, Va. Linux's low cost was just one factor... The unit processes demographic and contact data for marketers and fund-raisers. Linux cost the company $300 per server vs. $1,500 for a Data General Corp. Unix system, and it runs on cheaper PCs... The unit will use Linux as the operating system for its data servers to run Informix database software. ... the decision to switch to Linux, as well as the unit's widespread use of Linux elsewhere, is also driven by its reliability..." (ComputerWorld 2/99).


Canadian National Railway is running web, email and DNS applications on 100 Intel servers distributed around Canada, all administered from Montreal; Linux reliability and ease of remote administration were key reasons for its selection (PC Week 5/99).

GetLoaded.com is using Baymountain, Inc.'s Linux-based services to "bringing together truckers with empty trucks and companies with loads to move. ... Getloaded.com provides truckers with real-time access to an average of 15,000 loads a day, 24 hours a day. With huge amounts of time-sensitive data and a large number of users, Getloaded.com requires a scalable IT infrastructure that is accessible and reliable." (LinuxPR, 8/00)

Northwest Airlines "...is spending about $34 million to convert its 23 flight simulators from various older platforms such as VAX to Pentium II-based systems running Linux..." (ComputerWorld 5/99)


Southwestern Bell "relies on 36 computers running Linux... to keep a close eye on its telephone network in" Kansas and Missouri. "Since April of 1998, technicians at Southwestern Bell's Kansas City, Mo., network operations center have been using Linux to keep an around-the-clock watch on thousands of miles of telephone lines and fiber optic cables, as well as on more than 600 telephone routing switches. ... In addition to the 36 primary systems, Southwestern Bell bought two extra Linux-based PCs... These are kept running as hot-standby systems, ready to be used at any time if one of the monitoring systems should fail. But the hot standbys 'have never been placed into service'... because none of the Linux systems has ever failed." (Datamation 8/99)

Related Stories -- Major Linux Enterprise Deployments:
ComputerWorld: Update: Conoco deploys Linux-based supercomputer for use in oil exploration(Sep 06, 2000)
EarthWeb: Linux in Manufacturing: Building Linux up [at Kaiser Aluminum](Aug 31, 2000)
CNET News.com: Conoco hopes to hit oil with slick [Linux] supercomputer(Aug 31, 2000)
New Zealand Herald: Lord of the Rings [movie] realism moves up a step [w/Linux & SGI](Aug 22, 2000)
LinuxPR: Getloaded.com Loads More Trucks with Help from Baymountain, Linux ASP (Aug 14, 2000)
ZDNet UK: UK music store [MVC] loves Linux(Jul 05, 2000)
Grand Prize Winner: Linux in Business - Case Study Implementation of Corporate E-mail Solution(Nov 07, 1999)
Computer Weekly UK: Linux roll-out proves a winner for Reliance(Oct 07, 1999)
Computer Weekly UK: Reliance gambles on Linux(Sep 30, 1999)
ZDNET UK: Linux cluster cuts cost for commodity broker [Allegiance Global Investments](Sep 17, 1999)
LinuxPR: Spanco Inc. Migrates to Linux(Sep 14, 1999)
Retailer Jay Jacobs Folds -- Early Linux Adopter Files for Chapter 11(Sep 07, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Retailer [Jay Jacobs] Bets Big on Linux(Feb 09, 1999)
InfoWorld: Linux brings Jay Jacobs to cutting edge(Dec 12, 1998)
Internet Week: Retail Chain Buys Into Open-Source Linux OS(Nov 07, 1998)
ZDNET UK: Insurance firm [Hill House Hammond] gets the Linux bug(Sep 21, 1999)
ComputerWorld: The Linux game [at Burlington Coat](Aug 23, 1999)
Datamation: Piecing together Linux [Southwestern Bell](Sep 01, 1999)
ZDNet: Burlington Coat Factory wears Linux well(Aug 13, 1999)
PRNewswire: Hill House Hammond... Pick Systems... World's Largest... Financial... Linux Deployment(Aug 10, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Burlington Coat Factory Finds That Linux Runs Smoothly, Despite Lack of Support(Aug 09, 1999)
SRO: Linux Not Mission Critical Ready? [Wherehouse](Aug 06, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Linux 'Appliance' Serves Music Samples at [Wherehouse] Stores(Aug 04, 1999)
ComputerWorld Philippines: How RFM saved P27.7M(Jul 16, 1999)
PC Week: Linux for mission-critical apps? Not so crazy [Amerada Hess & Cendant](Jul 07, 1999)
PC Week: Rolling down the Linux highway [B.F. Goodrich deployment](Jun 28, 1999)
Enterprise Linux Today: Linuxcare and Netaid(Jun 22, 2000)
Enterprise Linux Today: CarsDirect.com - A Business Case for Linux(Jun 22, 2000)
ComputerWorld: Home Depot Testing Linux For Mushrooming PC Volume(Jun 22, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Linux Takes Flight on Northwest Simulators(May 24, 1999)
PC Week: [Canadian National] Railroad boards the Linux train(May 10, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Linux gushes savings for oil giant [Amerada Hess](May 04, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Cendant Will Book Linux into 4,000 Hotels(Mar 10, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Retailer [Burlington Coat Factory] commits to Linux in 250 stores(Feb 16, 1999)
Internet Week: Progress Report: How Six Web Projects Fared [Burlington Coat Factory](Dec 19, 1998)

Related Stories -- "Linux in the Enterprise" Features:
Enterprise Linux Today: The Open Days Are Just Beginning(Aug 30, 2000)
Linux.com: Enterprise and Linux(Aug 22, 2000)
LinuxWorld: Java brings Linux to the enterprise(Aug 16, 2000)
Enterprise Linux Today: Beyond Religion: How to Evangelize Linux to the Secular Enterprise(Jun 21, 2000)
NetworkWorld: The trek ahead [to the enterprise](Jun 20, 2000)
Network Computing: The Linux Challenge(Jun 19, 2000)
Enterprise Linux Magazine: Open Source Gets Hyper(Jun 04, 2000)
Linux Journal: Linux in the Enterprise(Apr 09, 2000)
Enterprise Systems Journal: Business Intelligence: The Open Systems Cult: Linux and Data Warehousing(Mar 15, 2000)
InfoWorld: Enterprise apps give Linux a shot in the arm(Mar 06, 2000)
IT-Director: Linux at the Top-end - chasing the Enterprise space(Feb 28, 2000)
O'Reilly Network: Linux in the Enterprise -- Getting in the Door(Feb 10, 2000)
TechWeb: Linux Creeps Upstream In The Enterprise(Feb 04, 2000)
ZDNET UK: Linux set for enterprise role(Jan 28, 2000)
PlanetIT: The "Lintel" Value Proposition(Nov 18, 1999)
TechWeb: Linux Scales Enterprise Wall(Jan 15, 2000)
LinuxPlanet: Application Servers and Linux: The Enterprise Awaits(Oct 31, 1999)
Linux.com: Enterprise Linux(Oct 25, 1999)
The Register: Linux beats NT, but Unix is top for enterprise claims report(Oct 19, 1999)
TechRepublic: Across the Republics: Is Linux ready for the enterprise? Users tell all(Sep 17, 1999)
ComputerWorld: Linux In a 3-Piece Suit?(Sep 07, 1999)