In Brief-Bank of Canada relies on mixed environment

Four analytical departments at the Ottawa-based Crown corporation are affected by the project, which also includes Linux compute servers running in parallel and a host OS for VMWare. The Bank of Canada has traditionally been a Sun Microsystems shop, according to senior technical analyst Christian Boutin, but the need to make use of specialized financial applications pushed the organization towards open source.

“We would have liked to run on Solaris — there wouldn’t have been as much for us to learn,” he said, “but the third-party tools weren’t ready.” Boutin made his remarks at a media briefing held during the LinuxWorld/NetworkWorld Canada conference and hosted by IBM, which is supplying the Bank of Canada its xSeries (recently rebranded System X) servers. The bank still runs Sun servers in parts of its network, however.

The Linux cluster, which is being deployed and administered using a toolkit called Xcat, was set up last December.

Besides making decisions about interest rates, the Bank of Canada deals with funds management, retail debt and other aspects of the country’s monetary policy. The organization sees the Linux OS as an “enabler” of applications such as MatLab, which are used to develop and run complex economic models, Boutin said. “You’re not running Word or even an Excel spreadsheet,” he said.

On the other hand, the bank needs to communicate with other organizations, which means the Bank of Canada has to phase out its Unix workstations for more general-purpose Microsoft desktops. With Windows Vista recently delayed, the bank plans to use Windows XP Professional edition, Boutin said. “We used to give them tools to work with the Unix workstations to exchange documents with other people. Now they want the real thing.”

Chris Pratt, IBM Canada’s manager of strategic initiatives, said the Bank of Canada provided a good illustration of a mixed open source and proprietary enterprise. “The fact that they’re running Windows on the front end and Linux on the back end — that’s normal,” he said. “The applications on the Linux cluster that do the modelling analysis don’t exist in the Windows world.”

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