As a state run agency, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency couldn't afford a drastic increase in maintenance costs for its data center.
Unfortunately, the agency's legacy HP-UX servers weren't listening. Year after year, updating the system was becoming more expensive, said network administration manager Sommer "Skip" Holler.
Training Holler's IT staff of 100 employees spread across seven sites on HP-UX was also prohibitively expensive, since HP only offered off-site, out-of-state HP UX training sessions, he said.
Penguins in Ohio
So it was with the aim of saving money that Holler forged a testing and development relationship with Red Hat Inc. in 2003.
"We decided to investigate Red Hat Enterprise Linux when we first started toying with the idea of migrating to Linux," Holler said. "We could get it for nothing and decided to test it out on a few pieces of hardware."
But Holler worried about Red Hat Linux's lack of Oracle support. He did not want to deploy Linux at the production level with his Oracle applications without that endorsement.
Enter Novell. "We were already a Netware shop and we were comfortable with the support we had received from Novell," he said. Furthermore, "by going to SUSE Linux, we were able to perform that training within the state [with Novell], and since  we have been able to buy additional training materials and train our staff in house."
Holler was unable to say specifically how much was saved on support, but he estimated the EPA saved 35% overall by migrating from HP-UX to Linux.
Cheaper hardware equals more hardware
The difference in the purchase price between RISC-based and Intel-based servers was dramatic, Holler said. Additional RISC-based servers would have cost up to $20,000 each. By switching to Linux, Holler paid $5,000 for Intel-based servers from HP Co. or Dell Inc.
The cost savings meant the agency could buy additional servers, increasing its failover options and bolstering its disaster recovery plan, Holler said.
"High availability was our first objective. If a production server went out on us, more servers meant we had immediate failover. The lower cost of Linux," said Holler, "allows us to buy more servers and move our services from one to the other automatically or manually in case of a problem."
Holler said he also enjoyed greater flexibility and choice when it came to updating hardware in his Linux server environment. "One of the advantages of Linux is being able to upgrade to different types of new hardware. In the old days, you could count on hardware being around for a year or two and still run your applications.
Today, there's new hardware out every six months, and you don't want to be stuck on old hardware," he said. "So far, with Linux, we have been able to roll in new Intel processors whenever we want."
When Novell announced in November that it would partner with Microsoft for better Linux-Windows interoperability and IP protection, Holler – who also manages Windows servers -- called the move a "win-win" situation for IT managers.
"My mental picture of an ideal computer room would be a combination of Linux and Windows applications running together," he said.