Investing in the Linux client

The Allied Irish Bank expects to see solid returns on an 8,000-system migration to Linux

User experience, application availability, ease of maintenance, and stability are often chief concerns when deciding whether to deploy Linux on the desktop. For the Allied Irish Bank, however, the decision to move the 8,000 clients in the company’s U.K. retail banking network from Windows to Linux had more to do with the server than anything else.

That’s because AIB’s decision to upgrade its aging Windows 3.1 workstations with new systems running Sun Microsystems’ Java Desktop System ultimately sprang from a decision to centralize all of the bank’s data through Web-based applications running on a J2EE framework. “We are predominantly using [Linux] as a platform to deliver the Mozilla browser,” says Michael Bowler, the bank’s IT architecture manager. “The client operating system doesn’t really matter from the perspective of delivering line-of-business functionality.”

The rollout, slated for 2006, is now in the testing phase. AIB developers have exposed the bank’s core financial applications, which run on a mainframe, as Web services. They are also developing systems management, document management, Internet, and directory services — all of which are being written to deliver an OS-agnostic application platform that can be used with Windows or Linux clients interchangeably.

This architecture will give the bank centralized control of data, but Bowler believes it will also deliver improved security, stability, and manageability for the client systems and their applications. “We have lots of flexibility and lots of choice, and we’re very much in control of our environment,” he explains.

Although the choice of client system may not matter from a technical perspective, going with Linux clients will save the bank money on licensing costs and will help ensure that its developers “think in more vendor-agnostic terms,” Bowler says. It also gives AIB access to a large variety of open source components. AIB engineers were already able to use open source software to create a custom-built software upgrade system.

As for user experience on the Linux clients, although it may not match the glitz of the latest Mac OS X or Windows XP desktops, Bowler isn’t concerned. “We do not perceive there to be a significant risk there,” he says. “We’re talking about users coming from a Windows 3.1 base.”

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