Specsavers opts for nationwide Linux migration

Every business-critical application in the optician's 830 UK stores has been transferred to Red Hat software, with positive results

Britain's leading optician, Specsavers, has migrated from Windows to Red Hat Enterprise Linux in all its 830 stores.

The chain says it has already seen a reduced need for maintenance and improved reliability in a radical across-the-board shift from Windows 2000 to the open-source operating system, with some sources quoting a six-figure sum in licence-fee savings alone. The company is also phasing out Sun's Solaris on its head-office servers in favour of Red Hat.

"With our new store system, every single business-critical application is running on Red Hat, from the till to the test-room hardware," said Nigel Spain, Specsavers' global architecture manager. "We were convinced that Linux would have a major positive impact on our business and Red Hat has delivered exactly what it promised."

Although Specsavers won't go into details, online discussion has reported that Vista played a large part in the company's move. While sympathetic to Linux, the company had been wary of the retraining costs involved in moving to a new operating system. Thanks to Vista, the company reckoned it would pay those costs whether or not it stayed with Microsoft, so the move to Linux became less of a jump.

Specsavers' store application, Socrates 7, was built on Windows 2000, but it has been moved to Red Hat Linux, where it now runs on a vendor-independent Java platform. The change is being rolled out in stores across the UK, as well as in Ireland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Spain. The move affects Specsavers' wholesale business in Australia and Hong Kong, where an open-source ERP system is being run on Red Hat.

As well as freedom from vendor lock-in, Specsavers says it is getting "superior performance, reliability and security at a significantly reduced cost in comparison to proprietary solutions". It says it is now "enjoying a reduced need for maintenance, and increased reliability".

The company runs Intel-based Fujitsu Siemens hardware for both servers and store desktops. These are now running Red Hat, and are monitored and updated by a central Red Hat Satellite Server, which has reduced the time spent patching software. "The Satellite Server is strategically essential for our operations," said Spain. "This used to be completed manually, going to every single store one-by-one and delaying the process extensively."

The company still has some proprietary software, but has made a big commitment to open source, also using the Apache web server, JBoss jBPM business-process management software to manage its workflow, and an unnamed open-source accounting package.

"Business users are getting fed up with the restrictions of vendor lock-in that dictate forced upgrade cycles and proprietary standards," said Werner Knoblich, vice president of EMEA at Red Hat. "Red Hat and open source provide the building blocks for a flexible and truly future-proof IT infrastructure, no matter which sector they operate in."

Specsavers moved its email systems from Microsoft Exchange to an open-source system provided by Scalix, with much of the integration done by Linux services company Sirius Corporation. The move also swapped out Microsoft's Active Directory for the OpenLDAP directory, and employed Samba instead of Microsoft's file and print services.

Specsavers has been voted Britain's most trusted optician by Reader's Digest, and claims to be the market leader in contact lenses. It is also the largest provider of home-delivery contact lenses in Europe. It was founded in 1984 by Doug and Mary Perkins, when opticians were deregulated by the UK government.