Even the most mission-critical, Unix-based central business systems are being replaced by Linux running on commodity hardware, according to delegates at Linuxworld 2006 conference and expo in Sydney yesterday.
Only last week the company behind Steggles chicken, Bartter Enterprises, went live with its order management, shipping, and inventory applications on an Oracle and Red Hat Linux cluster, and later this year it will add in its supply and demand planning applications.
Bartter had previously used HP's Alpha-based Tru64 Unix systems, and despite initial concern, the company decided to migrate to Linux "based around Oracle", business systems director Janelle Endacott said.
"The concerns [about Linux] we had were too great, but [because of] benefits like scalability and cost we investigated it further," she said. "I didn't see Linux as a true enterprise solution. I was concerned about reliability and speed [as] we paid an awful lot of money for Unix and how could Linux compete? Was I going to need to up-skill the IT team to support the environment, and how much would it really cost?"
However, after a phased implementation, Endacott soon discovered the benefits of commodity, standards-based computing. Bartter did a proof of concept in 2004 with HP and Rich Computing, which copied the live system from one SAN to another, clustered four servers, and did functional and performance testing. Failover testing was also done by turning some servers off at random.
"The outcome was very successful; when we powered-off a server the rest continued to run," Endacott said. "The new system was 10 times faster than the old system. We were more than overjoyed. And we found that it [possible] to add another node within a day with no outage."
Endacott said the support and upgrades were a "turning point" for her with Linux, and entering into an agreement with Red Hat was no different to a proprietary agreement for its legacy Unix environment.
"We have six servers instead of two so it does involve more support effort [but] the Unix guys transitioned easily to Red Hat with some training," she said. "And we are achieving a 20 percent saving. We were heading for 30 to 40 percent, but 20 is still a good result."
With one-third of all chickens eaten in Australia supplied by Steggles, Bartter's transaction volumes are not -trivial.
"We are a national company which distributes 2.4 million chickens a week," Endacott said. "We have 3500 customers, 4500 inventory items, more than 100,000 sales items per week, and distribute 600,000 cartons, so scalability was a must and cost is always a consideration."
Endacott said most of the challenges so far were around the Oracle applications.
Cybersource CEO Con Zymaris also detailed a Unix to Linux migration which took place at Melbourne's Chisholm Education College which has some 37,000 students.
The main backend was Oracle 8i on HP-UX, the hardware cost was set to quadruple and adding necessary disks would cost around $50,000.
"The school didn't want to lose functionality and decided Windows just wouldn't cut the mustard," Zymaris said. "It is now running Novell SuSE 8 for core applications including payroll. The school had worked with Novell so the migration was relatively painless and was done overnight."
Zymaris said a big plus for Chisholm was the ability to standardize hardware suppliers as the existing system's maintenance was "quite substantial" at $360,000 for three years.
"The new cost is $17,000 over three years so the ROI was nine months," he said.