Originally Published: Sunday, 8 October 2000 Author: D. Clyde Williamson
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Total Cost of Ownership

Hey, folks. The fire alarms started going off in my building this afternoon, and we had to evacuate. More on that next week. For now, check out this week's guest editorial by Clyde Williamson.

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Companies are beginning to realize that Linux is a good investment. Corporations that do true 'total cost of ownership' comparisons are amazed to find Linux numbers blow away proprietary competitors. But who will they buy their Linux solutions from?

Linux is not NT. It isn't simply an issue of buying hardware and software. If I buy a Dell server loaded with NT, it's really no different than if I purchase a IBM or Compaq server loaded with NT. Sure, there may be some hardware differences and there are always price vs. support issues. But, when it comes down to it, NT on x86 hardware is just that, NT on x86 hardware.

It is tempting enough to look at Linux in the same way. Sure, a corporation can call Dell, IBM, Compaq or VA and buy Linux on x86 hardware. That is perfectly fine, it works. If you have Linux engineers on-site, that may be the way to go. Fortunately, the reality of Open Source Software gives you options. Since the code to Linux is freely available to everyone, solution providers can tweak drivers, kernels and code to make the best use of their hardware. Now, it isn't simply Linux on x86 hardware, its Linux on x86 hardware vs. performance-tweaked Linux on x86 hardware.

That's not the end. Linux and Open Source allow a solutions provider to widen their offerings. If you want a web server that will serve high-volume, static web pages, a knowledgeable Linux provider can tweak the server and drivers to do that for you. Better yet, they can give you options about which web server to use. Instead of Apache, they may suggest Boa or TUX or khttpd. In the NT provider world, they can't tweak the system for such specifics, and certainly can't suggest which web daemon would work best.

Open Source providers will be a tremendous shift from the service corporations have come to expect from hardware vendors. Most large corporations must deal with a hardware provider, a Microsoft support contract, and third-party contractors for customizing applications. Usually, corporations find a product that, if customized, will meet 85 to 90 percent of their needs. With Open Source, all of this changes.

Large corporations can deal with one Open Source provider. They can get the hardware, software and support from one place. On top of that, customization is no longer a way to get 80 percent of the required functionality, its a way to get 100 percent of the required functionality. Customization, not only of applications, but even for the kernel itself.

If a corporation purchases 500 Dell servers, and the necessary licenses to run Windows 2000 on these servers, they've tied themselves down. They must go back to Dell and Microsoft, no matter how poor their service or support is. In the Open Source world, things are completely different. If they purchase 500 servers from VA Linux, tweaked for their hardware, and VA provides poor support, they can turn to any other Open Source provider for support. The code is available for review, modification and improvement by anyone.

Any Open Source applications that a corporation decides to use can also be supported by their Linux solutions provider. The corporation may pick Apache for web serving, PHP for dynamic content, Samba for file and print sharing, bind for DNS, etc. Their Open Source provider can support, customize and tweak all of it.

So, when deciding on who will provide you with a Linux server, consider who you're buying from. IBM has proven that they have talented staff in-house that understand Linux inside and out. They've ported their journaling filesystem to Linux, they've ported Linux to their mainframe environment. They've ported Linux to a wristwatch! A corporation could rely on them for all levels of support.

There are many other Linux system providers we could mention, like VA Linux, Penguin Computing or TuxTops. The problem is that for every great company out there, some hardware vendors will continue to simply supply stock hardware with a Linux distro installed. These companies are easy to spot. Dell is a great example. If you purchase a Linux server from Dell, it will come loaded with a stock Red Hat distribution. I have yet to see Dell publish any new source code, or even to employ any known Linux 'gurus.' What value do they add? The answer, in short, is none.

If you're planning on a Linux solution, find a supplier that can support your hardware, software, and custom applications. Don't be fooled by those who simply cry 'Linux, Linux.'

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