Article

Data center makeover, part 2: Challenges of standardizing on Linux

Jan Stafford

Two years ago, newly hired CTO Anthony Hill was charged with overhauling the way-too-heterogeneous IT infrastructure of San Francisco-based Golden Gate University. In part one of his story, Hill described how GGU ended up with almost every platform known to man and how he decided to standardize on Linux, Oracle and Java 2 Enterprise Edition. In part two, Hill describes the challenges of using Linux, how he put Oracle 9i to work and how GGU is testing the waters of Oracle 11i. He concludes by discussing what might thwart his plan to move Linux onto GGU's 1,000-plus desktops.

What is challenging about standardizing on Linux in your data center?

Hill: Software availability has been a challenge in having Linux as our enterprise standard. Most of the big vendors are now supporting it; a lot of that's recent, within the last six months. A lot of the smaller vertical vendors have not yet converted their products to Linux.

I think today in the data center, we're at the point now in our technology plan where we can show a Linux destination for almost every application that we run. But I think other environments that have more dependency on market applications could still find that challenging.

What's the status of GGU's infrastructure makeover today?

Hill: Now, we've set technology standards in place. We have production instances of Oracle 9i running on a Linux platform, and our Web sites are running on that

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today. Our primary internal production database is running on a pair of Linux-on-Dell servers. We've invested in the Oracle 11i application suite, and that's being hosted completely on a Linux-and-Dell architecture at Oracle's data center.

Why aren't you running Oracle 11i in your data center?

Hill: Outsourcing was very appealing to us. We knew we wanted to run Linux in-house, but we were still unsure as to the 11i compatibility with Linux. Oracle had 11i on Linux in their data center, and it's working for us there. So, now, I already know that putting it in mine is a less risky decision. Also, the application technology stack that is being outsourced is the same technology stack that we're going to run in-house. So, when I decide to in-source those applications, I'm looking at only a physical move. I'm not looking at a big conversion here.

Have you had any pleasant or unpleasant surprises during the implementation?

Hill: In general, working with 9i on Linux has been pleasant. We're running Oracle's new feature on 9i called logical DataGuard, which is a system failover tool that helped us move up to the Oracle RAC. That was a lot of work, but it went well.

We have had challenges with the 9i application server on Linux. We're waiting for release 4 of the application server, and then we're going to try it again. That was probably our biggest issue with Oracle's products on Linux. In general, working with Linux has been good.

What is your deadline for this phase of the project?

Hill: We'll be completed in about 12 months. We started six months ago with our Web and ERP implementation. Our Web site and development platforms are already on Linux. Now, we're implementing the new ERP modules onto Linux, and that will largely complete the process. Our remaining big decisions are the LAN and the LAN operating system and our messaging platform.

What applications will you be migrating next?

Hill: We use Novell GroupWise (a cross-platform collaboration suite) today. We're looking at two options: sticking with GroupWise and moving up to GroupWise 6, a well-received product in the market, or the Oracle Collaboration Suite on Linux.

Now, we're moving most of our Novell infrastructure, including about a dozen servers running Novell, over to Linux. So, we'd be running GroupWise on Linux. But our enterprise architectural goal is to get as close as we can to one operating system, one database and one application layer footprint. We've largely chosen Oracle on Linux. So there's some real attraction to choosing Collaboration Suite to consolidate the technology stack. As I said, that allows me to consolidate my staffing model and supporting applications and drive out a lot of cost. Then again, Novell is now showing us a path where we can achieve many of those goals while staying on their messaging platform. But there are trade-offs there at the database and directory level. So we still have some decisions to make.

How has consolidating on Linux affected your IT infrastructure going forward?

Hill: Consolidating on Linux will have ripple effects into my staffing model and into all of the supporting applications -- backup, Web servers, etc. -- that we need to run the operation. We've mapped every one of these platforms into the Linux environment and know how we can achieve economies of scale in every instance using Linux.

Here's an example: We're getting rid of various appliances, such as ones used for firewalls and intrusion protection, which are fairly expensive and have costly upgrade cycles. We can use software instead of appliances. CheckPoint, for example, has very robust security products for the Linux platform.

What about the office functions? Are you sticking with Windows there?

Hill: Right now, we're sticking with Windows on the desktop, and the reason for that is inertia and bandwidth. We don't have the resources today to change the applications that everybody uses on the desktop all at the same time. I think that the desktop migration is harder than the data center migration.

I'm very interested in exploring Linux on the desktop, but that's a year or two years out. And a drawback to switching is that Microsoft has very good licensing programs for higher education. If I was in the commercial sector right now, I would probably be looking at Linux desktops immediately. Commercial firms probably pay eight to 10 times as much to deploy desktops than a higher-education institution does. For us, the lower cost of open-source on the desktop isn't a big deal.

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