Vendors see Linux as means to convert Exchange users

TORONTO – Canadian companies shouldn’t migrate from Windows-based mail servers to open source expecting a free ride, executives told the LinuxWorld Expo Wednesday morning.

In a session that discussed alternatives to Microsoft’s Exchange platform, several executives, including

IBM and Novell, said they have started to see an increase in the number of organizations opting for a Linux-based system for messaging and collaboration. Based on a number of questions from the audience, however, they admitted it can still be difficult to convince senior management to make the change.

“Exchange isn’t the devil, but it’s not the only thing out there,” said Ross Chevalier, CTO and CIO of Novell Canada in Markham, Ont. Chevalier used a hypothetical example of a 100-employee firm that pays $20 an hour, and argued that e-mail downtime would cost such a firm $2,000 an hour. As for the net income lost, “that’s a trick question, because you have to recreate everything you were supposed to do in the first place.”

Novell, which last year acquired the Suse Linux distribution, has been touting the merits of running its GroupWise messaging infrastructure on Linux as a way of lowering total cost of ownership and improving scaleability over Exchange. It’s proving to be an area of strategic advantage for Novell, Chevalier said, particularly as e-mail becomes the primary form of communications within the enterprise.

“It’s a dump box,” he said of most users’ inboxes. “What’s the first thing you do each day? Check your e-mail? What’s the last thing you do before you leave? A final check of your e-mail.” 

According to James Gudeli, vice-president of business relations at messaging server provider Kerio, only about 13 per cent of his clients are operating on Linux today. Those that do so thinking the savings will simply come from cheaper licensing, however, are in for a rude awakening, he said.

“Most small or medium-sized businesses don’t have a decided MCSE to keep their Exchange up and running, and it really does need that kind of babying,” he said.

”For us to offer you support, though, we require you to use Suse or Red Hat . . . part of your cost is having someone in your firm who understands what Linux is.”

Another problem are senior managers who don’t realize what support for an e-mail server really means, Gudeli added. “They never say Exchange, they say Outlook,” he said, referring to Microsoft’s e-mail client. “They don’t differentiate between the two.

Ed Bill, worldwide market leader for Lotus Notes and Domino at IBM, said Big Blue saw 1,500 migrations from Exchange to Domino last year, and it has been offering Domino on Linux since 1999. “Even if (IT managers) can demonstrate the value, there will always be some users who don’t want to learn a new client,” he said. “You have to focus on those back-end benefits and show that it will mean a lower cost with minimal interruption.”

Chevalier added that some organizations may be more interested in learning about the Hula Project, a Novell-backed initiative to create a lightweight collaboration server for mobile devices. Hula customers would be able to forego the overhead of more proprietary products, even GroupWise. “Will it be as rich? No, but in some cases you may want something from people who don’t have all that baggage (as other vendors do),” he said.\ 

LinuxWorld Expo wrapped up Wednesday.

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