HP visionary: Next steps to extending Linux in your enterprise

Jan Stafford

Looking for the next step in moving more enterprise applications to Linux? Then, step lively and implement Linux-friendly and/or open source application servers, said Terence Sherlock, Hewlett-Packard strategic technical director. He described the opportunities in and barriers to building a Linux-dominant enterprise infrastructure in this interview during the Open Source Development Labs Enterprise Linux Summit this week. Sherlock's tutorial at the event was titled, "Linux readiness for enterprise deployment, core to edge."

IT managers who started using Linux on the edge of their enterprise environments, as Web and file servers, and then moved their databases onto Linux tell me that they're impressed with the platform. Now, they want to extend their Linux environment. Can you offer some advice on next best steps?

Terence Sherlock: The application server is the next area of interest, the one that we're hearing the most about today. Companies are taking open source application servers and put enterprise Java Beans (a platform-neutral set of APIs that allow Java objects to plug into ActiveX (or COM), Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), and other object models) on that. As virtualization continues, and you start to see more and more things like service-oriented architectures put in place, application servers become more important in that architecture. Now you can spread your risk over many machines. The application servers give

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you the basic middleware to tie everything together, but you can deploy the beans in the appropriate hardware. You can put the big Beans in the big hardware and the little Beans in the little hardware. It becomes much more flexible.

Many IT managers tell me that they want to implement e-mail and collaboration applications on Linux. Are these apps ready for prime-time?

Sherlock: That's emerging. The whole groupware space is just starting. The calendaring stuff hasn't been figured out. For example, how do you organize meetings in an environment that has Linux and Microsoft? How do you replace that functionality that Microsoft offers in a Linux environment? Certainly, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook gives you all of that stuff, so you can, for instance, schedule meetings automatically.

Collaboration is an enterprise application. Linux has come from the bottom up, and there wasn't much demand for those applications at first. As it pushes higher in the enterprise, people are looking for collaboration, for calendaring applications.

Certainly an Exchange replacement is something that is in demand by enterprises using Linux today. E-mail that runs behind the corporate firewall makes a lot of demands on servers and generates so much traffic. There's a great need for a Linux-friendly, open source option.

I've talked to organizations that have moved off of Exchange, but they're holding onto Outlook.

Sherlock: Yes, that's happening. The hold-up is the file interchange question. The users are saying, "I'm used to this. Don't change anything. If half my enterprise is doing Microsoft and half is doing Linux, I have to be able to interchange files between the two worlds. If I make a calendar appointment, it needs to appear everywhere." That's the area that needs a lot more work.

It looks like ERP on Linux is coming of age with SAP, PeopleSoft and the open source Compiere project offering enterprise packages. Do you have advice for those who want to move their ERP application set to Linux?

Sherlock: Changing your ERP world is very difficult. First, you have to look at what you've got. If you're just starting from scratch, it's easier. You don't have to worry about your existing database and your business processes that are designed about this ERP system. To move that to another platform, you've got to delve into business process and IT integration issues. If it's just a database, and you have paper processes that support the database, the ERP transition is pretty easy. If you've gone further than that, if you've got business intelligence hooked up to the ERP piece, it's tough stuff to migrate.

You can do it in stages. You can look at the database on the backend and determine if you can move the ERP piece and the ERP database piece onto Linux first. Then, you move forward with planning based on how big the database is, how many transactions it handles. Then, you have to look at the business integration layer which is probably running in an application server context and say, "Can we do something here if we throw these Beans up and put in an open source application server? Would that work? Would it scale?"

ERP before the bubble was pretty simple. The rise of the Internet and integrating business systems as part of Beans has made ERP and CRM much more complicated. Now, a lot of people are tied into existing applications, and it's not as easy to move as it used to be.

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