Replacing high-end Unix with enterprise Linux? Not so fast.

Some customers are finding that they have a place for both and that Linux isn't necessarily an economic no-brainer

Migrating from high-end Unix-based systems to commodity x86/Linux platforms has been a popular idea for the last few years, at least in theory. But it turns out that not everyone thinks going full-on with Linux is the best solution -- at least not yet.

Dan Blanchard, vice president of enterprise operations at Marriott International, is serious about Linux. He says his company's transition from HP-UX and IBM AIX is ongoing -- and inevitable. "We're migrating and we have a strategy to continue deployment of Linux," he says. "A 100 percent transition will take place over several years and will be completed as technology is refreshed and as other opportunities arise."

Tony Iams hears that refrain from IT executives frequently. "Companies have had a long-term goal of consolidating all of their Unix systems onto Linux," says Iams, senior analyst with Ideas International, Inc. The most oft-stated goal is to adopt industry-standard technology across the board, and that usually means Linux running on x86 hardware.

But Norm Fjeldheim, CIO at Qualcomm, decided to take a pass a Solaris to Linux migration. The company does use Linux for some applications, but Fjeldheim's IT team concluded that migrating its industrial-grade Solaris systems to Linux was a dubious business proposition. "We're not moving from Sun to Linux. We haven't been able to make the economic case for it," he says.

While it appeared at first glance that Qualcomm would save money up front on hardware and operating system costs by migrating, the price comparisons offered by vendors were based on retail prices. "We don't pay retail [and] when we figured our discounts [with Sun], the price advantages went away for Linux pretty fast," he says.

But that wasn't the only issue. His team was not satisfied with the quality of the administrative tools available for the Linux environment. At the time Qualcomm's IT staff did the assessment -- some 18 months ago -- the things that make an administrator's job easier "really didn't exist to the same degree in Linux as they did on Unix-based systems." And that, he says, would have translated into larger administrative costs.

As director of IT, Matthew Clark was part of the team that reviewed the Linux option. The company's ratio of administrators to users is currently 500 to 1 (although he plans to lower that to about 450 to 1). "With Linux it would have been 150 or 175 to 1. We would have had to hire three additional administrators for every administrator we have right now working on Unix," he says.

Iams isn't surprised to hear that assessment. "That's traditionally been one of Suns' strong points. They've optimized their systems for that metric," he says.

Clark acknowledges that the administrative tools have improved since Qualcomm last reviewed its Linux options, but he still thinks Linux would be more costly. "If we started today with the new [tools] coming out we might be in the neighborhood of two [admins] for every one." While the numbers didn't add up for Linux as a Solaris replacement today, Clark is impressed with Linux's overall capabilities and says it will continue to have a place at Qualcomm. "We like the performance and we recognize that throwing a whole bunch of little boxes at things can work really well in certain applications."

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