CIOs express caution over Linux

As the Linux Expo got underway in Olympia's exhibition centre on Tuesday, some of the UK's most prominent CIOs gave open source a cool reception.
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor
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 organizations, 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 £100 million (US$166.4 million), 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 (US$25,000) 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. ZDNet UK's Matt Loney reported from London.

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