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LinuxWorld Summit: Quantifying value of Linux no easy task

Jack Loftus, News Writer

Many firms today profess a desire for the price/performance, security and reliability associated with Linux. But, Novell strategist John Dobbs points out, most are still only experimenting with the open source operating system while proprietary offerings hum with life on the majority of their desktops and servers.

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Many organizations already work with Linux, but in pockets.
John Dobbs,
strategistNovell Inc.

Dobbs, a featured speaker at the recent LinuxWorld Summit in New York, used his time in front of conference attendees to highlight data from analyst firms that show the financial and operational benefits of making Linux and open source software a more active participant in the enterprise software stack.

"Today, it's about identifying and quantifying Linux opportunities," Dobbs said. "Many organizations already work with Linux, but in pockets."

In what was perhaps as a subtle pitch for the newly and jointly announced Oracle/Novell/JBoss Validated Configuration Program, Dobbs said a key driver of Linux's adoption is the desire among companies to avoid vendor lock-in. That desire has led to more and more instances of companies combining proprietary software with open source applications, he said.

The first product bundle released under Novell's Validated Configuration Program is designed to persuade more companies to use open source software across their systems. The bundle comprises Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 (SLES9), JBoss Application Server 4.0, and Oracle's proprietary database and Real Application Clusters software.

Mind your P's and Q's -- and TCO's too

It may seem likely that every IT industry analyst has a total cost of ownership (TCO) study comparing Linux to Windows, and vice versa, but Dobbs suggested that users be a bit wary of studies that claim to have discovered the TCO of anything.

"Who's TCO to believe? Nobody's. [TCO] is quite hard to pin down," Dobbs said. "The standard answer I give is 'it depends.'"

With the multitude of different versions of Linux available to enterprises today, Dobbs said it takes a large amount of work to figure your TCO. With so many versions, customizations and configurations to be had, he even went as far as to say a valid TCO report is almost impossible to obtain with Linux.

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According to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, TCO information can be further polluted because many companies don't have a clear grasp on what they're spending. Forrester found that fewer than half of the companies surveyed had a formal process in place to measure the financial impact of their open source choices.

"It is an inexact science because any TCO analysis is based upon assumptions; the uncertainty of TCO decreases with each stage of analysis," Dobbs said.

However, even with Dobbs' lack of confidence in TCO comparisons, several analyst firms have proceeded to produce a parade of TCO comparisons in recent months.

The Robert Frances Group concluded that the TCO of open source typically produced appealing return on investment (ROI) regardless of the scale of the deployment.

In a Unix versus Linux comparison, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC found that for Internet/extranet functions and collaborative services, Linux showed considerable TCO advantages over Unix. And, in what amounts to bad news for Sun Microsystems, the Sageza Group found that it's a good idea to replace Solaris, a flavor of Unix, with Linux.

IBM has taken this information and run with it, going as far as to announce a special Solaris to Linux migration program to try to lure customers away from Sun.

IBM has reportedly already completed over 3,000 Solaris to Linux conversions. Sun has seen a 40% drop in server revenues since 2000, and a significant amount of that decline can be attributed to conversions to Linux, according from research conducted by Sageza analyst Jim Balderston.

Dobbs advised that system administrators and executives looking to begin the migration process examine their people costs as opposed to salary costs. The cost of changing to another system is not just an issue of salary, he said, but is also an issue of salary over workload.

"There is a big difference between acquisition costs and software acquisition and licensing costs," he said. "Despite higher salary costs of Linux administrators, the workload is less."


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