ITV: Avidly watching Linux

ITV's director of operations Nick Leake has taken the brave move of moving a lot of his company's core systems onto Linux. We ask him how the migration is working out

Dabbling with Linux at the periphery of the network typifies the majority of large company's investment in the open source operating system. However a few brave firms looking to take back some of the control ceded to proprietary Unix vendors have decided to make more significant moves around Linux — migrating critical applications onto the relatively untried platform.

The UK's largest commercial TV company, ITV, is one of those risk-takers. Formed in 2004 through the merger of Carlton Communications and Granada Media, the network has a revenue of around £2bn and has around 6,000 employees across 90 locations in the UK, the US, Germany and Australia.

Following this merger, the company faced the challenge of consolidating large sections of its IT infrastructure and deploying new systems. This included 6,000 new desktops, new LANs and WANs, new email, file and print systems plus new application servers and storage.

Rolling out the new systems also included selecting Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES9) to run in the data centre for applications servers. Most of the management of these systems, together with any remaining Unix systems, has been outsourced to INSL, part of the Concise Group.

Leake has also expressed an interest in potentially migrating some of the company's desktops onto Linux eventually.

ZDNet UK caught up with Leake, at Novell's BrainShare user conference in Barcelona, to find out how the double-edged gamble of migrating to Linux and outsourcing key systems is working out.

Q: What was your main motivator for moving to Linux across your data centre? Surely it’s a risky strategy?
A: I think what this is driven by is the replacement cycle. We found that older systems need to be replaced and the question is, is it better to do like for like or move to Linux. When it comes to proprietary Unix then the move to Linux is very compelling. For Linux the cost of hardware is less than the hardware maintenance costs alone for proprietary boxes. Also the platforms we were using were degrading so to stand still would have been just as risky.

Are you able to move all your core business applications onto Linux, or are there some systems that you are still reluctant to migrate?
Some of the systems we can do now but some we can't yet. But by the end of the year things should be a lot easier

There are a lot of conflicting reports on cost savings from Linux. Microsoft is particularly adamant that they don't exist at all due to the training and migration costs — what has been your experience?
We don't think that is the case at all. We are seeing savings of over 30 percent compared what it used to cost us. There are no hidden costs for us at all as we have chosen to outsource our systems. The cost is what we see on the bill we get at the end of each month.

Do you have any concerns about the long term viability of Linux? Do you think it’s going to be a platform that continues to thrive or could it go the same way as some flavours of Unix?
Any migration has risks. You don't switch applications from one platform to another without risk. But we don't see Linux going anywhere anytime soon. In fact according to figures from analysts such as IDC it's going from strength to strength. Yes, there are some risks but we don't see them as any greater than those of any other major project.

Do you have any concerns about outsourcing these core systems? Don't you think you need in-house expertise in this kind of critical migration?
The outsourcing only happened in the last four months. The first migration was conducted internally with our own people and the second wave also. We have now got the point where we can industrialise the process — scale up the process — in effect creating a sausage machine where we can put systems in one end and take them out the other side. Our long term strategy is to have Linux as one of our core operating systems.

Were you tempted to just hand the migration process over to someone like IBM Global Services to handle it for you?
We did talk to some services companies but our experience is that there is very limited expertise in doing this kind of migration out there.