Suncorp envisages Linux, ODF for 20,000 desktops

Suncorp envisages Linux, ODF for 20,000 desktops

Summary: Suncorp's CIO, Jeff Smith, says he would like the banking and insurance giant to use open source software for its 20,000 desktops, which currently run Windows XP.


Suncorp's CIO, Jeff Smith, says he would like the banking and insurance giant to use open source software for its 20,000 desktops, which currently run Windows XP.

Open source software is set to play an increasingly important role at Australia's sixth largest bank, according to Smith, who said that Suncorp will look to use open source "wherever we can".

"Our real vision is that we're going to use open source wherever we can, unless there's some capability that warrants the premium to buy software," Smith told

"I think in a lot of cases, the open source technologies are simpler, better and you end up getting better support from the community than you do with a lot of commercial products," he said.

Smith's views on open source software stand in direct contrast to the CIOs of key Australian government agencies, such as Defence, the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink, who recently cited support as a key barrier to its use.

Microsoft has been concentrating its efforts to prove that open source has a higher total cost of ownership compared to its proprietary solutions but Smith believes this is not where the real advantage of open source lies.

"If you look at Web and application servers, the open source environment is fine. But that's not where the real advantage is. The real advantage is in the capabilities that are being built now — identity management, access management, and even messaging. There have been some phenomenal open source technologies for that.

"So we're driving that quite hard and we've actually deployed a number of applications, not just with open source operating environments — Linux, Tomcat and Apache — those are the easy things. Where you really get the value is taking a look at things like underwriting engines, or pricing engines — things that are open source components and you plug into your environment," he said.

In the next few years, Smith might also put Microsoft on notice for Suncorp's 20,000 strong desktop fleet but the company is still in the throes of migrating 10,000 Windows 2000 desktops to XP, which it gained from its acquisition of insurance and finance company, Promina in 2006.

"We've done about 3,000 [desktops] and so you have to get a standard environment to do that. So our first course of action is to use that standard environment because it's incredibly productive, but in the next few years I think we will look at the desktop and what can be done there," he said.

Ironically, Smith's decision to bring open source to Suncorp's desktop rests heavily on Microsoft's decision to support OpenDocument Format (ODF) in Office 2007 — Suncorp's current office productivity suite. Smith said the two key factors that will determine how open source can be used at the desktop are legacy applications and the portability of documents.

Microsoft recently announced plans to add support for Open Document Format (ODF), Portable Document Format (PDF), and XML Paper Specification (XPS) in Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, due in the first half of 2009.

"The real biggest issue has been interoperability ... as soon as you have interoperability of documents — because it's really tied into Office — then you have a real opportunity to have open source at the desktop," he said.

Topics: Open Source, Apps, Banking, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Security, Windows

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • huh?

    Can someone please tell me what running "Office with ODF support" has to do with running Linux based desktops??? Boy has this guy "got it wrong" about open source!!
  • It does matter...

    He doesn't want to run MS Office on the open source desktop, but wants to ensure that his employees have document portability (assuming they are using openoffice or the like) when working with others outside the organisation that do use MS Office. The addition of ODF support goes helps enourmously with the portability.
  • Laymens Terms

    In other words if they are using open office and they send a file to a company using office 2007 they will be able to open it.
  • We'll See...

    Jeff Smith probably wants a reduction in licensing costs from Microsoft and as such has released that canny little tidbit on the stream with hope that it's amplified and reaches MS.

    It seems that those big spenders who publicly threaten mass exodus from Microsoft are soon visited by the angel of volume licensing mercy and that's the last we ever hear of their open source/Linux etc aspirations.

    Bottom line: If yer gunna do it ,do it already, Jeff. THEN tell us about how much you saved and how well it's going.
  • We Will, or probably not

    So Jeff tried at Telstra to push the Linux desktop, and where is that deplyoment today? So lets try again at Suncorp hey Jeff? Gonna throw out 10 years of desktop development, and re-train the entire IT support stafff?

    And if it's just to push down the licensing pricing, it's a strange time to do so, seeing Suncorp only just re-signed their EA.
  • Suncorp could use some flexibility

    Suncorp can have its cake and eat it too simply by deploying a desktop solution from Symbio Technologies ( Symbio provides a stateless desktop, so it doesn't matter if Jeff Smith deploys Linux, XP, Citrix, or all of them at once. Only Symbio utilizes a Symbiont Boot Appliance that boots and directs 250 of the stateless thin clients to their appropriate application server or servers.

    Another benefit to using Symbio's stateless desktop is that there is never any data on the desktop. That could be important to a bank or insurance company. All data stays on the few servers as opposed to thousands of individual PCs. A few is a great deal easier to secure than many.

    A third benefit is that there is nothing on the desktop that requires any support or administration. There is a very simple and very low powered device on the desktop that requires as much service and support as a mouse. There are no operating system, applications, file systems, or network addresses on the desktop.

    A fourth benefit is that Symbio's solution happens to be very green. It has one desktop unit that uses just 4 watts of power. A PC running Linux or Windows uses anywhere from 80 to 250 watts. The electrical savings is like switching from flood lights to night lights. Add to the electrical savings the extended life cycle (there is nothing on board that ages or causes the units to become obsolete) and this solution is a real winner! That should appeal to a banker.

    If Suncorp's CIO, Jeff Smith, is serious about his network and is interested in simplifying and consolidating it, he should seriously consider this technology.
  • Good

    An open mind, a vision and leadership is good to see these days. Too many hide behind a false sense of security with proprietary software. It should be 'best too for the job' rather than going for the best marketed solution.
  • Full Free Movies

    I am not sure how this comment fits in with this article
  • Nitpick

    sorry, but it's 'throes' in that context, never 'throws'. Pet hate of mine
  • Business Card


    you forgot to add your business card and contact details for you job at Symbio, how is Jeff going to call you directly?
  • This guys doesnt learn

    He was a failure at Telstra basically kicked out with his incessant rabid calls for open source software on every desktop. Now he's at it again at Suncorp. Maybe he learnt a few lessons from Telstra but from this vaporware announcement it doesnt seem so. Beware Suncorp a leopard usually ddoesn't change its spots.
  • Another CIO Visionary

    He was also a major instigator of Outsourcing at Telstra. So much for Krudd's clever country...
  • EA

    Which means he is going to be paying Microsoft large amounts of cash each year for three years, posibly 5. I will be interested to know exactly how much Open Source anything has been deployed during this time. Maybe Jeff should take foot out of mouth and get on with his job. I am a shareholder and I am fine with moving forward with what Suncorp does today. I do not want them going backwards!!
  • Blowhard

    But this guy have been a proven blowhard, he talks to many things and delivers none of them.

    He would be better leaving his Exec Assistant to do the fortune telling than leave him gazing at his own navel
  • Poll: Who is the Greatest IDIOT here?

    This article exposes everything that is wrong with our industry: big claims, psuedo facts and no substance! When a Recycled, Attention-Seeking-Zealot comes out to project unsubstantiated-benefits from previously failed vapourware-strategy: paralyses organisation and goes completely unchallenged by the journalist.

    So perhaps it's up to US to do their job and RATE The GREATEST IDIOT. Here are a couple just to get started:
    #1 "Osama-Bin Smith" - For repeating the preachings of his extremist Open-Source religion, while ignoring the humiliation he faced from his failures and grandstanding for headlines at Telstra,

    #2 Everyone involved at Suncorp Recruitment - For not doing their research into the man and the destruction of Business Value in Productivity and unrealised Strategic Business Contributions,

    #3 ZDNet - For allowing a so called journalist to provide such a platform, without asking the obvious questions of Smith relating to the details, like:

    a) Detailed Initiatives - How he intends to overcome the myriad of "Known" Open-Source issues,

    b) Credible Delivery Capabilities - What Capabilities exist at Suncorp that are going to be able to overcome the issues and deliver on these initiatives,

    c) Release the Detailed Business Impact Assessment and Cost-Benefits Analysis - To allow others to validate and appreciate appropriateness of that strategy for their organisations.

    Sadly, instead of improving the quality of the debate, ZDNet through this journalist provides a platform for the "Two-Bob Visionaries" and a haven for the Technology-bigots. Looks like the poor folks and share-holders of Suncorp are in for a rough ride down a road well traveled.

    So go ahead, Rate the Greatest Idiot!