Open source finds open doors in Canadian enterprises

TORONTO — Linux is gaining market share in the server space as enterprise users begin to embrace open source, but the putting the OS on the desktop is still a pipe dream, experts say.

“”We see adoption across every sector we deal in,”” said IBM

Canada‘s manager of strategic initiatives, Chris Pratt, who was part of a panel at the Real World Linux Conference & Expo Tuesday. Financial institutions are using Linux in their branches at an increasing rate, he said, and the server OS is popping up in other areas such as government, life sciences, communications and retail.

It’s also being embraced by the world of high performance or supercomputing, added IBM Canada’s Linux advocate Jim Elliott. “”You can make very large systems using Unix and Linux,”” he said. “”We see large Linux plays with people putting in thousands of nodes.””

Linux is the OS of choice for a number of geophysical and seismic surveys — often when looking for oil. “”People used to use Cray systems for it. Now they just use Linux,”” he said. Financial analysts use it to analyze derivatives and the U.S. government uses it to simulate nuclear blasts. “”It’s not just universities any more, it’s very much in the business world.””

Clothing chain Mark’s Work Wearhouse is in the midst of installing point-of-sale Retek terminals running on Linux in its stores across Canada. Mark’s is now able to do live reporting between its storefront locations and head office, running on a handful of $4,000 blade servers.

“”I have to try to deliver more for less, which is not unusual in this industry,”” said Mark’s CIO Robin Lynas. “”It’s really hard for a large organization to do this, but you can do it in stages. . . . We’re saving money.””

It’s only recently that it made sense for the organization to switch to Linux, now that more applications are available on the platform. Mark’s is now running Mozilla’s open source browser and a Crystal Decisions reporting tool on Red Hat’s distribution of Linux.

The chain’s technology mantra is to use shrink-wrapped product wherever possible in order to save on in-house development costs. “”Open systems are our future,”” said Lynas. “”Just about everything we do needs to be on open standards.””

There are more options available to Linux shops now that a greater number of applications are available on the platform. According to Elliott, 47 per cent of independent software vendors (ISVs) are making their applications available on Linux. “”If they’re already on Unix, porting to Linux is a no-brainer.””

The open source OS is seeing a marked increase in adoption, but IDC Canada analyst Alan Freedman still sees room for growth. “”It’s working its way up the food chain,”” he said. “”It’s early adoption, but not in the majority yet.””

He added that a number of enterprises are still doing proof-of-concept tests with the OS, and rolling it out in parts of their businesses before embracing it wholeheartedly.

But Linux on the desktop is barely on the horizon, the panel concluded. It’s still the domain of open source enthusiasts and teenagers using it to run things like file-sharing programs.

Whether Linux makes play for the desktop market depends very much on the number of applications that become available for it, said Egan Ford, chief architect of Linux clusters for IBM Americas. At the moment, Linux on the desktop is plagued by issues that have long been resolved by desktop mainstays like Microsoft and Apple. No one can agree on a common object model in the Linux community, he said, which overly complicates functions that people take for granted, like cut and paste.

Eventually, those file-swapping teenagers will move into the job market and bring their Linux savvy with them, Ford said. That could potentially herald a shift in the desktop market. “”If anything has a shot at dethroning Microsoft, it’s Linux.””

Real World Linux continues on Wednesday.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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