"Saving money is the bottom line," said John Merritt, Invitrogen's systems architect. "And SUSE is particularly attractive in the virtualization environment."
With its global IT center in Fredericksburg, Md., Invitrogen has about 600 servers, mostly Hewlett-Packard machines running Microsoft Windows and a few enterprise servers running HP-UX. They primarily run standard, mission-critical applications for e-commerce and enterprise resource management as well as a few specialized scientific applications.
Invitrogen's motivation for change, Merritt said, was the steep cost of the higher-end HP-UX machines and the expense of Windows licensing. So Merritt proposed switching to cheaper, off-the-shelf hardware, primarily from HP, and open source software and pitched it to management. "We did the research and the numbers were very compelling," Merritt said. "It was an easy sell."
Also, Invitrogen recognized that Linux has matured from its "cowboy" roots and become serious about serving the enterprise market, he said. "This conversion to SUSE isn't because we love open source. It's not about what's cool," he said. "It's because it's the right thing to do for the company."
Shopping around for Linux distros
Invitrogen considered Oracle Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well as Novell SUSE and quickly eliminated Oracle because of its small market share. RHEL and SUSE appeared technologically equivalent, but when it came down to cost, Red Hat was 40% more expensive than SUSE; in fact, it was more expensive than Windows, Merritt said. "You have to look at the numbers instead of the hype," he said.
Virtualization restrictions increased Novell's fiscal advantage since a Red Hat license limits the number of VMware virtualized machines to four for every physical machine, while SUSE allows unlimited virtualization, either on Citrix Systems Inc.'s Xen or VMware Inc., he said. This became an important differentiator for Novell, because Invitrogen is committed to VMware, which it rolled out last fall, he said.
Red Hat doesn't support VMware application program interfaces because it wants customers to use a Xen-based virtualization hypervisor (which is incorporated into the Red Hat kernel), Merritt said. According to Richard Jones, a vice president and service director at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, Red Hat doesn't support VMware or Hyper-V because it wants Red Hat shops to be all-open source.
J ones also confirmed Red Hat's VMware pricing for its standard virtualization offering. (Red Hat offers unlimited virtualization for its more expensive Advanced Platform, however.) ."If you want to virtualize Linux guests, Novell is the only way to go," he said. "Red Hat is a whole lot more expensive."
Merritt said that integration with Microsoft's Active Directory is also expected to be easier with SUSE. In addition, Merritt expects the switch from Windows to SUSE will involve less time for IT staff to apply software patches and invite fewer security vulnerabilities, he said.
Another advantage of Novell was Novell's March acquisition of PlateSpin which for about a year Invitrogen has used for physical-to-physical server swap-outs and physical-to-virtual migrations. During a conversion of 180 physical servers onto 270 virtual machines on 21 VMware hosts last September, the company used PlateSpin, which Merritt said is the only tool that will perform physical-to-virtual migrations on Linux. By 2010, 90% of the remaining 400 or so physical servers will be virtualized, he added.
In the future, Invitrogen also plans to use PlateSpin's PowerRecon tool to prevent virtualization sprawl, he added. PowerRecon inventories, monitors and optimizes the use of virtual machines.
The final factor in Novell's selection was its customer support, subscription model and its customer-friendly attitude, Merritt said.
"They treated us like more of a partnership, with a willingness to listen and see our challenges and operations as an IT shop," he said. "They just worked better with us."
As part of the package, Novell will provide seven days of customized on-site training and remain as consultants for eight weeks, he said.
The transition plan
Invitrogen has made Novell SUSE, VMware and PlateSpin the company standard and will implement the three in all future replacements unless special circumstances militate against, Merritt said. But Invitrogen won't migrate everything en masse but instead wait until a new application or upgrade arises. A new e-commerce server, for example, was recently installed on SUSE, and a new human resources and payroll system is being rolled out on SUSE, he said. But Invitrogen will wait to implement Siebel's CRM 8.0 application because it has been on Linux only a short time and Invitrogen doesn't want the headaches of an early adopter, he said.
To date, Invitrogen has moved over about 14 database servers, and about 20 PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning servers to SUSE, he said. A complete conversion to SUSE could take four years or more, he estimated.
Adding to the conversion challenge, Invitrogen recently agreed to purchase Applied Biosystems Group,, a division of Applera Corp., based in Foster City, Calif. But Merritt declined to comment on the potential additional IT workload from the coming merger.
With Invitrogen committed to standardizing on Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise and commodity hardware and virtualizing its data center, it has already eliminated two rows of hardware, with "substantial" power and cooling savings, Merritt said.
"This is our strategic direction: Any new system will be virtualized unless we can't. And any system will run on SUSE unless it can't. We're doing what is smart for our company."
Red Hat and Novell diverge on strategy
Burton Group's Jones said the two top open source rivals have adopted fundamentally different market strategies, with Red Hat committed to all-open source products and Novell adopting a best-of-breed, open or proprietary philosophy that focuses on whatever's best for the customer.
Despite Red Hat's overwhelming market lead, Novell has the advantage of a broader product set and, unlike Red Hat, Novell has considerable revenue sources in addition to subscriptions, Jones said.
Following a CEO change, Novell has begun to demonstrate that it's a force to be reckoned with, and although a major market shift from one operating system to the other could take a decade, Novell could do it, he said. According to Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC , Red Hat had 62% of market share, compared with SUSE's 29%, amounting to a three-point gain for SUSE last year.
But if Oracle were to get serious about promoting Oracle Enterprise Linux, it could pose a greater threat to Red Hat, Jones said, citing indications that Oracle could launch a serious OEL sales campaign this fall. If Oracle goes after the open source market, Microsoft would likely come to the aid of Novell, due to the two companies' 2006 partnership, he surmised. And as for Red Hat, "Oracle could do a lot of damage," he said.