LinuxWorld preview: What's up with Linux and ERP?

Once sadly lacking, now ERP is ready to go on Linux. Consultant Ken Milberg analyzes open source and proprietary products and Microsoft's plans to head off moves to ERP on Linux.

For the past few years, chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) have responded to

my Linux evangelism with this question: "If Linux is so great, why aren't there any enterprise resource planning (ERP) apps on it?" Until recently, I only had SAP -- a Linux supporter since 1999. I told CIOs and CTOs that ERP companies are historically very conservative and don't usually port their applications until there's a huge demand.

This year, that's changed, and I can finally say that Linux is so great that ERP vendors had to have a piece of the action. Even better, there are open source ERP alternatives for midsized enterprises today.

Yes, SAP, the first major ERP vendor to get wise to Linux, is finally getting some real competition. PeopleSoft wants a piece of the action, too. Last month, PeopleSoft brought out a new tools package that will allow its Enterprise One suite (version 8.93 to run on Red Hat Linux, using BEA WebLogic infrastructure/software. Additionally, PeopleSoft promised in May that all its business software will be available on Linux.

Getting the backing of PeopleSoft, the world's second largest provider of enterprise application software, is a coup for Linux. PeopleSoft has over 12,000 customers in over 25 industries and 150 countries and leads the human resources management applications market.

 

PeopleSoft has IBM's support, too. Besides test PeopleSoft apps, IBM has published a Redbook to help customers work with PeopleSoft on Linux. The Redbook is geared to help plan, install and configure PeopleSoft Enterprise with PeopleTools 8.44 on xSeries systems running DB2 and WebSphere on Linux.

Now, I think that PeopleSoft should quickly take the next step, following SAP's lead in supporting Red Hat and SuSE enterprise distros. SAP is aggressively pro-Linux, as demonstrated by its move to support Linux for its certified output management solution on the new IBM S/390 eServer ZSeries. SAP has also been working with Dell and Oracle to bring the failover capability of the Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters to the scalability of the SAP R/3 system. PeopleSoft has some catching up to do!

So what's new on the open source side of ERP?

Compiere is the most comprehensive ERP open source package available, with applications in customer relations management (CRM), partner relations management (PRM), supply chain management (SCM), ERP and online analysis processing (OLAP). These modules provide inventory management, order processing, accounting and more.

 

The Compiere software is written as a Java J2EE application under the Mozilla license and is geared to small and midsized companies. So, if you are a Fortune 500 company, I wouldn't throw out your SAP or PeopleSoft just yet. That said, I've evaluated the product, and it is a very good one. Also, there are lots of success stories out there and certainly the price (free) is right.

For companies that needs some handholding, Compiere partners with about 30 companies that provide consulting services. Some companies don't feel right about implementing enterprise solutions without spending several hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, and you can probably do that with Compiere just as easily as you can with SAP and PeopleSoft.

Knowing from personal experience how PeopleSoft and SAP consultants throw their hooks into you, however, the overall consulting costs should be dramatically cheaper with Compiere. If nothing else, you'll definitely save on the licensing and product fees. The folks that directly develop the software (led by their founder and CTO Jorge Janke) even offer a support contract for only $1,500 per year (10-user license). That's a drop in the bucket compared to the humongous support costs that are charged by the commercial vendors.

Perhaps the best part of an open source ERP solution is that you're not locked into a vendor. You can implement it yourself, or work with one of their consulting partners. The latest "stable" release is 2.5.1c, though R2.5.1d is also available on the site. It requires Java Version 1.4.2 and Oracle 9i. Compiere is compatible with Linux, Unix and Windows 2000 server.

With its 2.5.1 release, Compiere implemented a voluntary registration program, which it hopes will give the community a better understanding of who is actually using the product. There have been over 600,000 downloads to date, but only about 50 folks have signed up for direct support from the company, so it has been hard to tell who is actually using the software.

Compiere is also working hard on database independence, which I hope can be achieved so there is less dependence on Oracle. If you're not afraid to do a little more work and like the flexibility that open source gives you, then Compiere is definitely a viable enterprise solution for small to midsized companies. Hey, only one way to find out if it's for you: Download it for free.

So, at LinuxWorld, you see SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and open source ERP applications on Linux. That should provide plenty of ammunition to overrule CIOs' and CTOs' objections!

The best news is that ERP-for-Linux puts more pressure on Microsoft. In fact, PeopleSoft CEO Craig Conway said in May that "Linux will break the dependency on Microsoft." I like the sound of that.

On the flip side, Microsoft is putting the pressure on, too. Last month, Microsoft Business Solutions unveiled plans to enhance its entire ERP line, which offer financial management, SCM, CRM and business analytics functionality. Beefed up versions of all Microsoft's four ERP product lines (Axapta, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon) will make the marketplace, shall we say, very interesting.

I think that the variety of offerings available on Linux, added to the value proposition of Linux in general, should give Microsoft a run for its money. Now, Linux ERP packages have the functionality demanded by corporate IT shops. Nothing's missing.

I believe the future is nothing but bright for ERP on Linux. After all, the Meta Group has already predicted that Linux will grow its current enterprise server market share from less than 10% to approximately 30% by 2007. The competition between PeopleSoft and SAP at the Linux level, and the availability of a good open source alternative, can only help increase that market share. At the same time, this competition will put added pressure on all ERP vendors, including Microsoft, to put out better products to the consumer.


About the author: Kenneth Milberg is a Unix and Linux consultant and president of UNIX Solutions. Ken has worked with HP, SCO, Linux and Solaris operating systems for 15 years and holds multiple certifications, including AIX Systems Support, Solaris Systems Administrator, CCNA and OCP-DBO.

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