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SAP on Linux fits for university

Michael S. Mimoso, Editorial Director

Enterprises frustrated with their proprietary systems can find solace that many of their IT brethren at universities have taken the leap of faith to Linux.

The College of Business at California State University in Chico, for example, provides an SAP hosting environment on Linux for its students and for 13 other universities in the United States. It also has plans for global expansion into India and Mexico in the works.

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SCO is on their mind

The College of Business at California State University in Chico may be in the throes of a successful Linux implementation, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have a close eye on legal wranglings of the SCO Group and its impact on Linux.

SCO recently filed separate suits against AutoZone Inc. and DaimlerChrysler Corp., citing, to some degree, their use of Linux in the claims.

As a SuSE customer, the college receives indemnity from Novell Inc. under its Linux Indemnification Program. That program, system administrator Gino Edinger said, enabled the school to safely proceed with Linux.

"We are keeping aware of it," Edinger said. "We've received some indemnification. We are watching it closely, but we can do so from the sidelines."

It runs the SAP applications on SuSE Linux Enterprise Servers and Oracle databases after years as an HP-UX shop and a brief stay on Red Hat.

"We weren't happy with the updates on HP-UX and we weren't happy with its progression," said Gino Edinger, a system administrator at the university. "We were at a licensing period with HP and that required some evaluation. At that point, Red Hat was free and they supported SAP. The systems were stable and easy to use."

When Red Hat announced it would end its free support for its Red Hat Linux products and concentrate on its enterprise products, the university sought out SuSE.

Currently, it's running 20 systems on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 with SAP R/3 and all the peripheral analytical applications, including CRM, SEM and SCM, Edinger said.

"Our feasibility tests were so strong that once we moved into the implementation, there was no looking back," Edinger said. "The stability of the operating system compared to HP-UX is far superior."

Last summer, SuSE signed a deal with SAP to offer support services for its customers using SAP applications. SAP also inked a development deal with Red Hat last year to bring more applications to Linux. SAP has been shipping R/3 on Linux since 1999. Support is a major issue for enterprises, and a Forrester Research report released a year ago said that half of the IT managers it surveyed pointed toward support as a barrier to more Linux migrations.

As an SAP hosting and support center, the university is intent on 24x7 uptime, Edinger said.

"For us, uptime is the main concern," Edinger said. "We have to be up 24x7 because we support universities throughout the United States. We saw tremendous benefits in Linux."

Cost savings may be the most eye-opening aspect of the university's implementation. Edinger said he has been able to scale his shop's use of Linux and still save money. How? Well, Edinger calls it "good coding."

"The ease of adoption was the most outstanding thing for us. We are able to run Linux on several old HP boxes that no one could believe we run it on," Edinger said. "We have got a couple of very good coders who did some tricky compiling for us. That's the thing about being in an educational environment -- we're surrounded by very talented people.

"We didn't have to go through a major hardware conversion. It was done at almost zero cost," Edinger added.

Security was the other piece of the puzzle for Edinger, who said the university had recently lost three Windows servers to hackers.

"The writing was on the wall," he said. "Someone had hacked three of our file servers and was using them as a porn server in France. That was it."

Windows haven't been totally shut in the university's data center. Edinger said they're still running SAP CRM apps on Windows 2000 servers and R/3 on an XP Professional server.

Edinger admits to a slight Linux learning curve once the implementation was complete, one that was softened by prior Unix knowledge and the fact that some admins run Linux at home or on test environments at the school.

Edinger said any negatives about the experience have been kept to a minimum. He pointed out some availability issues with some SAP applications for Linux that they are working with SAP to fulfill. In fact, application availability is an issue in the university's deliberations to move Linux into other areas.

"As soon as we see more applications able to run on Linux, we will do so. Our labs have specific applications for different disciplines; if we can find those, we'll make the jump," Edinger said. "We're also looking at the possibility going to Linux on the desktop."

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