The business case for desktop Linux

By 2007 Linux will have 6 percent of the desktop market, IDC predicts

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

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."


In search of the bottom line

Linux on the desktop might mean freedom from software-licensing costs for some IT departments. But when it comes to evaluating desktop Linux's TCO, it's the human cost that is most important. According to industry research company IDC, the staff-related costs of system administration, support, development, and training typically amount to between 50 and 70 percent of the costs of the average enterprise application, when measured over a five-year period. By comparison, software costs for both client and server software total only 8 percent to 10 percent of TCO, IDC reports.

The heavy impact of staffing costs may be an impediment to client-side Linux adoption, says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software at IDC. "There's a concern, whether it's true or not, that injecting Linux into the environment may increase staff-related costs," he says.

According to Kusnetzky, even savings of $50,000 to $100,000 per year on software or hardware can be nullified if one new employee must be hired to administer the new software. "Anything in the organization that increases staff costs quite often submerges the savings on an individual item, even if the item was free," he says. "That's why companies tend to stay with the status quo."

A June 2003 TCO study by Gartner found that, although the move to Linux on client desktops could save enterprises $154 per user per year on hardware and software acquisition costs, these savings would often be offset by the cost of migration applications from Windows to Linux. "Because all Windows applications must be replaced or rewritten," Gartner found, "migrating desktops to Linux only makes sense in a very narrow, limited range of situations."

Time spent learning the new Linux environment and dealing with Windows compatibility issues could also reduce any cost savings, Gartner said. It found, however, that Linux had a more favorable TCO when compared to unsupported versions of Windows, such as Windows 95.

The report recommended a Linux migration only for a select few tasks, such as data entry or platform automation, and warned, "Migrations that are made mainly for political reasons or to spite Microsoft can be costly."

Some who have made the switch to Linux on the desktop say they believe that its stableness and remote manageability have actually saved on administration costs, but reliable data on the TCO of the Linux desktop is hard to find. Companies looking to make the switch will need to keep a close eye on staffing costs.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
How to choose a low-code development platform