Unix-to-Linux migration: A Unix past, A Linux future

"Linux is the wave of the future while Unix is the workhorse of the past," says Michael Palmer, the co-author of Course Technology's Guide to UNIX Using Linux, Third Edition. While Unix may have set the foundation

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for modern operating systems, it now resembles a patchwork of traditional code combined with updates for modern capabilities, says Palmer.

More on Unix-Linux migrations:
Should you dump Unix for Linux? 

Linux or Unix: Making the right decision 

Porting criteria: Migrating apps from Unix to Linux 

In this interview, discover why software and training issues are the key factors for evaluating ROI and why organizations that base their business strategies on software systems should consider moving to Linux.

Why should shops consider using Linux over Unix?

Michael Palmer: Linux is the wave of the future while Unix is the workhorse of the past. Unix has a fine history as the first true network operating system and has set the foundation for modern operating systems. Today, Unix resembles a patchwork of traditional code combined with updates for modern capabilities.

Linux is a fresh start that takes the sound fundamentals of Unix to build an ultra modern operating system. The advantages of Linux include:

  • Linux systems are built from new source code to deliver stable Unix-like functionality with modern features
  • Linux is open source.
  • There is a rich array of top quality open source software available for Linux.
  • Emerging computer professionals are learning Linux instead of Unix.
  • Many users are migrating to Linux from Unix and from Windows.
  • Software of the future is being written for Linux.
  • Linux environments can offer a lower TCO and a higher ROI.
  • Linux runs on all types of computers, which makes it highly scalable.
  • Linux is user-friendly, fast, reliable, secure and extremely network compatible.
  • Linux is supported and used by many user groups, corporations, educational institutions and government agencies.

What are some factors to consider in evaluating the potential return (ROI) of Unix-to-Linux migration?

Palmer: For many organizations, software and training issues are central to evaluating the ROI. Software is what adds value to an organization and it feeds user productivity.

Central to any migration is determining which software applications are vital. Can those applications be ported to Linux? In some cases, important applications are proprietary to a specific Unix vendor or to a specific commercial Unix operating system, which means they cannot be ported or the cost of porting is prohibitive.

If the migration involves major changes to existing software, it is important to have a realistic cost estimate of the changes and a timeline.

Some organizations add a third of the estimated cost to the total as a safety factor. If new software is needed, the cost of that software should be determined -- including the time spent evaluating the software. Beyond software costs, there are costs for retraining users. There is also the issue of finding migration tools and how much they cost.

Another factor to consider is the cost of propriety Unix software and operating system licensing. Occasionally, an organization can save significant money by eliminating yearly licensing fees with a migration to open systems software and a Linux distribution.

Besides proprietary licensing fees, an organization should consider whether migrating to open source systems could streamline software operation and offer more frequent, timely software updates. For example, a payroll system needs updates at least once a year to match income and social security tax changes.

From the perspective of a systems programmer, another factor would be operating system features and updates. Linux distributions offer many technical features that empower the systems programmer (and applications programmer) to do more with less work.

Linux systems also can be easier to update than some Unix systems, which translates into hours and dollars saved in programmer and user time. In fact, the process of updating a Unix system can be more involved and more expensive than migrating to a Linux system.

For those concerned about hardware expenses, migrating can mean the purchase of new hardware. The cost of the new hardware should be measured against the anticipated savings from increased speed, reliability, better maintenance and new software adaptability.

Are there certain scenarios in which moving from Unix to Linux is preferable?

Palmer: Some organizations base their business strategies on software systems. For these organizations, a migration to Linux is vital in order to take advantage of new software. A migration is also necessary when an organization's software vendor moves to Linux and discontinues support for Unix systems.

Another scenario is if an organization is comparing the cost of running a mainframe Unix shop to running a server-based, Linux operation. The total cost of operation (TCO) is typically much less when comparing mainframe to server-based operations. The TCO encompasses factors such as ongoing licensing, vendor support, user support, database costs, hardware costs and other costs.

A third scenario is if the company is concerned about security. Because the Linux kernel is newer and based on very modern programming techniques, it is generally regarded as more secure. Security is high stakes in the banking and investment industries, which makes migration to Linux a sound move.

What did you think? Do you agree with Palmer's assessment of Unix? Email us and let us know.

This was first published in November 2006

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