If you blinked, you may have missed it. At some time in the past year or two, the concept of moving to a Linux
platform for mission-critical enterprise application suites, such as those from SAP, AG and Oracle Corp., ceased to be one rife with agony, stress and doubt.
If you talk to industry analysts, consultants who advise large corporations and those who have done it in the field, the idea of migrating proprietary applications onto Linux has grown into "no big deal."
Experts say that Linux has proven itself as a viable and cost-effective platform for SAP and Oracle users. They say that most rollouts of Linux for enterprise applications involve new implementations in mid-sized companies and point solution applications in large, established SAP and Oracle implementations. But they also report seeing cases of large-scale migrations of ERP applications to Linux, particularly on racks of blade servers. Moving to Linux has become easier, and hardware vendors are making it worthwhile by offering cheap, scalable hardware.
"Porting to Linux is not a big deal. Everyone has been supporting Linux for quite a while," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, Calif.
Greenbaum, who has advised IT organizations on SAP and Oracle implementations, added that Linux ports are aided by the tiered architectures used by most of today's applications and the Posix standard, which was developed in the 1980s to ensure compatibility among variations of Unix, including Linux.
Experts give SAP a slight edge over Oracle in ease of porting to Linux. Derek Prior, an analyst for Boston-based AMR Research, Inc., pointed out that SAP had an easy time porting to Linux because of how it built its software infrastructure in the early 1990s.
Prior and Greenbaum agreed that SAP had an easier path to Linux than Oracle because of Oracle's tighter links between its applications and its database. But Greenbaum noted that the Oracle's challenges at the database level haven't been major.
The interest in Linux support is being driven by the user community and hardware vendors, according to each expert interviewed.
"Linux is more than just another port; it is becoming the prime system port, following the lead of the hardware vendors as much as the customers themselves," said Greenbaum. "Linux is becoming one of the de facto standards. At the server level, at the back office level, Linux is a no-brainer for a lot of companies that I talk to," he added.
Linux is making itself heard in the market. Research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass., recently reported that Linux server shipments have posted 15 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth, and that Linux server shipments now represent 12.2% of the fairly flat server market.
Savings can be substantial when moving major applications to Linux.
Baldor Electric Co. in Fort Smith, Ark., has used SAP applications for more than a decade. The manufacturer, with more than 2,000 users, had grown its SAP infrastructure to more than 50 Unix and Windows servers by early 2005, according to Mark Shackelford, director of information services. The $721-million company consolidated those 50 physical servers into 45 virtual servers running under Linux on an IBM z990 mainframe. Moving SAP onto the Linux platform was very transparent, he said.
"One of the main benefits is the stability of the z-Series platform, along with the performance benefit," said Shackelford. The savings on hardware and reduced downtime issues have helped Baldor slash its IT costs from 1.7% of company revenues to just 1%, he said.
One analyst noted that the rise of Linux does raise new challenges. Cindy Jutras, vice president for Boston research firm Aberdeen Group, Inc., said that the availability of Linux-based and open source products could cause confusion for buyers. She also warned that IT organizations must look closely at what is involved in a Linux port, starting with which Linux distribution is supported by particular vendors in the numerous countries where the user company does business.
"Ask the question, what platforms are you supporting? How easy is it to go from one to another? Is it a question of taking the exact same application, and running it on Unix versus Linux, or does the application actually change? There may be different versions of the application running on different platforms," she said.