CIOs express caution over Linux

CIOs express caution over Linux

Summary: UK Tech Summit: Chief information officers say they are yet to see the benefits of open source outweighing its lack of accountability

As the Linux Expo got underway in Olympia's exhibition centre on Tuesday, across town at the UK Tech Summit some of the UK's most prominent CIOs gave the idea of open source a decidedly cool reception.

Speaking at a panel debate at the influential gathering of technology vendors and CIOs, they said that although Linux does figure in their organisations, they still do not feel it is ideal for mission-critical operations.

The views are likely to inflame the sensibilities of Linux advocates, who cite the stability and security of Linux as a major advantage over Microsoft's operating systems.

At the London Stock Exchange, where CIO David Lester has an annual budget of £100m, Linux has a "pretty minimal share" of the annual IT spend. "We like having a supplier we can touch and shout at and kick when something goes wrong," said Lester. "With Microsoft we have a partnership that goes all the way up to Steve Ballmer. At HP, we have a partnership that goes all the way up to Carly [Fiorina]. If anything goes wrong with our systems we will point the finger very publicly at them, and that makes them good suppliers."

Although HP is aggressively promoting Linux -- the company is offering users of rival Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system £15,000 worth of free services and equipment as an incentive to switch to Linux-based HP systems -- Lester said he does not yet feel comfortable with Linux. "We're a FTSE 135 company," he said, "but sometimes it feels like a FTSE 5 company -- if anything goes wrong here everybody talks about it."

At British Airways, one mission critical system is run on Linux, but CIO Paul Coby said it had been an expensive exercise. "We use Linux for crew rostering, which is mission critical," said Coby. "But we were tied to a supplier and when they went to Linux we went with them. We found we had an additional overhead in understanding the technology and the total cost of ownership has risen."

Coby's comments echo recent research -- conducted by Giga research and paid for by Microsoft -- that showed companies could save up to 28 percent by developing certain programs with Windows instead of Linux,

The study compared the likely costs over four years for a dozen medium-sized and large businesses that were developing Web-based portals. Giga examined the costs of creating a portal using Microsoft's Windows operating system and related development tools as compared with those of Linux-based systems using Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) tools.

Simon Post, group director of IT and Strategy at broadcaster BskyB, said he would not count Linux out, but was not sure it is ready for mission critical operations yet. "At BskyB we have one Linux platform, but that is all, because we are risk averse," said Post. "There are issues around how well Linux is supported, and whether it really is as solid as we are led to believe. We would only go for Linux in a big way if there was some price advantage, but we just do not see that at the moment." However, Post stressed that the company may well move over to Linux "at some point in the future, but we don't feel it is there now. There are things like Open Office which we are looking at because that is not mission critical," he added.

Despite the reluctance of these CIOs to embrace open source, others are forging ahead. Speaking separately at a small gathering of CIOs in London last week, the IT director of a major bank expressed disillusionment at Microsoft's licensing practices, and said the software giant would not be used on desktops. "We got an interesting email from Sun the other morning," he said, referring to Sun's Java Desktop operating system, which is based on Linux. Another major bank is believed to be scrapping Windows on the desktops of its trading floors in preference for Linux.

Linux also continues to gain market share among a number of large companies. A recent survey by research firm Netcraft showed that large companies are increasingly using Linux for their Web sites. In the last two months, Linux had a net gain of 100 places among 24,000 Web sites run by 1,500 large companies across the globe, Netcraft said. Companies that have switched to Linux include Charles Schwab, Royal Sun Alliance, Deutsche Bank, SunGard and T-Online.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

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  • Linux is comming in from the bottom, the same way that PCs moved in. FOr the longest time, PCs were littile toys not meant for serious work. But they're here. Once Linux oozes in it will become the standard, they will be comfortable.

    And not using Linux for "Mission-Critical" work is rediculus (sp). It has been shown to be able to stand up for years. As long as you have power to a Linux cluster it should NEVER break. What about the companies that DO depend on Linux and IT WORKS. And the company next door CAN'T get it to work?

    I have seen messages on the internet. "I've been an IT manager for 20 year and I can't get Linux to work?" But then how can this simple high school graduate get it to work?

    Option 1 Linux runing for years. And nobody to blame but yourself.
    Option 2 Other OSes breaking and being able to blame somebody else for it. It sounds like a lack of talent to me.

    You need to spend alot of $$$$ on it to make it good. Sounds like SNOBBERY to me.

  • Politely putting the term Mission Critical to the side for a moment, as it is used in such a blanket manner as to almost be inane, one can say that there is a vast difference between a CIO that views the deployment of software "as a product" and a CIO that views the deployment of software "as a process".

    In the face of competition, organisations have to constantly present unique optimising capabilities to both the market and their working environments, the type of which can only be achieved throught the "proactive" use of software facilities. This requires a deeper understanding of and a deeper level of responsibility towards working environments than was formerly the case.

    If a CIO is looking from the standpoint of ensuring that his delivery is used agressively within "the market" or "his or her organisation" in order to optimise all aspects related to transaction based opportunities, she/he would usually pick an option that requires a lot more from his/her staff than seeking to pass the responsibility up a chain -the latter takes too much time and does not let workers deal with the type of problems that ensure that they remain innovative. (Here said with the knowledge that there is a vast difference between innovation and recklessness).

    If the CIO is a "classic Manager", who views software from a management perspective, and takes the name "Administrator" a bit too seriously, seeking safety as opposed to opportunity, he would of course choose the safer option.

    One wonders what environment the best performers would choose to work in from the options above. The world is certainly changing, demands on staff are changing, and the demands for unique skills are rising. It is now easy to move a whole exchange to India if the skills derived in India are comparable to skills present at home. The days of running around like a confused Homer Simpson shouting "Oh God the systems down!!!! What do we do? What do we do? Do you have your credit card?... Call Microsoft!!! Call Microsof!!!"... are quickly going.

    Linux based systems, because the demand a lot more, will continue to produce an elite force in the market, with unique capabilities and advanced abilities.

    Anyway the folks at Amazon do not seem to think in a naive way. Neither do those at Pixar or the French Tax Office... Or Reuters... The list is endless... So I guess there will always be some traditionalists in every bunch...
  • Comments like these crack me up, one of the commonest comments I hear from CIO type's is "If anything goes wrong with Linux we have no one to sue" to which I reply "How many times have you sued Microsoft?, and would you want to?".
    People who make comment like this are stuck with one or two vendors and are scared to change, talk to an IT director who came up from a Unix based environment and they are incredibly open to Linux.
    I would suggest that anyone that needs to "shout at" the company supplying services to them then they have serious problems with their IT already; besides there are plenty of companies like IBM and HP which will take this kind of responsibility if you pay them
  • Lack of IT skills is the real problem with adaption of Linux and the problem propogates through the school system to university to corporate level where (MS) brand loyalty is taught and accepted as a matter of fact.

    In fact "IT" is a misnomer - one should actually rephrase IT as MT for Microsoft Technology in many "IT" departments.

    Although most responsible management regimes advocate spread of risk and choice in vendor/product/supplier - in the corporate IT environment these sound principles are often ignored.

    In my experience - "IT managers" would rather let their companies and share holders foot the enormous bills for the comfort and luxury of expensive proprietary and "user-friendly" software which "makes it easy" for them to disguise their genuine lack of any real IT skills.