Lithonia Lighting promotes itself as North America's largest manufacturer of commercial lighting equipment. With $1.3 billion in revenue, growth is inevitable, and information technology is expected to scale accordingly.
Primarily a Windows shop, the Conyers, Ga.-based enterprise runs 15 plants and six distribution centers in North America. Windows 2000 ran smoothly on Lithonia's Dell hardware until February 2002, when administrators attempted to expand Lithonia's use of the Oracle application suite and install its enterprise resource planning and manufacturing software in one of its smaller plants.
"We started experiencing stability problems with the memory mapping of Windows," said director of technical services Phil Kilgore. "It didn't work well. We were at a scalability impasse. It was not an option not to deploy the Oracle software. We had to figure out what to do next."
Looking for options, Kilgore looked at Oracle implementations on Sun Solaris and HP-UX, despite no Unix presence in the Lithonia data center. "Unix did not excite us much," Kilgore said.
Already a Dell customer for 12 years, Kilgore looked at using Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters on Dell hardware that was running Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server. Kilgore examined the options with the Dell-Oracle-Red Hat troika, including the ability to run a cluster environment on Windows or Linux.
"Understanding the memory management of Windows, we know we were better off doing Linux in a RAC environment," Kilgore said. "Linux's memory mapping is better suited to the way Oracle works."
Kilgore decided to purchase new Dell hardware and train his staff on Linux. Within 90 days, Lithonia was in production with the new Oracle software running on Linux at what Kilgore estimates to be one-third the cost of what a Unix system would have been.
"Since then, we've followed the Linux wave. There's always improvements to the kernel, and we reap the benefits as they happen," Kilgore said. "We are to the point where we've implemented Oracle ERP at a third lighting plant, and the system is not stressed at all. We're at 99.9% availability."
Kilgore admits to some growing pains during the first eight months, but Lithonia is a leading-edge company and has to tolerate hiccups, he said.
"Unix shops running on the big iron sometimes tend to be afraid of Intel servers. They're not sure the Intel servers can process at the rate they want them to," Kilgore said. "Ask their staff. They'll be surprised how many on their staff know Linux. Most of my tech guys have Linux loaded and they're running it at home."
Kilgore said that, as a result, training was not a big issue. In fact, most of his admins are currently MCSE certified and are now preparing for Linux certification.
"Linux lives with Windows very well, and that's important to us because we are predominantly a Windows shop," Kilgore said. "Our Windows boxes can access our Linux boxes and vice versa. In fact, our Windows boxes read our Oracle database through our Linux box. It's a nice coexistence."
Kilgore said Lithonia spent $250,000 on the hardware for the production rack and figures it may have been at least three times that amount for a Unix environment.
"We've got the scalability we need using Linux, and we can buy Intel servers and add them on the fly," Kilgore said. "That's the beauty of a cluster, that and the redundancy. It's a much more stable situation right now. The OS doesn't crash. There hasn't been anything bad about Linux for us. In my shop, we have 20 Linux servers right now and 200 Windows servers. Linux doesn't dominate my shop, but it's very reliable."
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