Linux to do lot at Housing

Housing New Zealand is committing itself further to Linux, as it shifts its core database from Unix.

Housing New Zealand is committing itself further to Linux, as it shifts its core database from Unix.

By next year, says technology head Rob Herries, the agency will have dispensed with all its HP-UX-based property systems.

While cost is typically given as the main reason for adopting Linux, Herries says the open source OS also solves a technical problem.

“Linux is the only way we could work out to deliver our core applications to small office environments.”

But he says pressure to reduce total cost of ownership is also playing a part in the choice.

Herries was outlining Housing’s Linux experience at the CIO Conference 2002 in Auckland last week. The agency has been a Linux user since 1998, but Herries says the organisation’s “low-risk profile” has kept it from talking about the OS choice until now.

“It’s taken four years to get where we are and it hasn’t always been easy,” Herries says.

The first Linux steps were taken as Housing prepared its systems for Y2K. It opted for a thin-client network between computer centres in Wellington and Manukau City and 60 branch offices. It uses Oracle to track its 60,000 properties throughout the country.

Herries says when Linux was first implemented, such was the organisation’s aversion to risk that use of the OS was kept quiet from users. However, resistance came from those within the IT department with HP-UX and Microsoft skills, whose “power bases were being undermined”.

“Hardware suppliers could also see their leverage going,” Herries says.

What they didn’t realise was the arrival of Linux represents a fundamental shift in the way systems are supported, he believes.

“The application provider — rather than the hardware supplier — increasingly supports the operating system.”

That’s a change for the good, as far as he’s concerned.

“Oracle is trying to be the database of choice on Linux so it is making sure its applications run on the OS.”

That contrasts with the attitude of application providers on Windows, for example, who didn’t want to take responsibility for problems they preferred to blame on the OS.

While cost wasn’t all in the agency’s Linux move, Herries quotes some compelling price-performance figures. A weekly report which used to take the agency 23 hours to run on an HP-UX server is now run in eight hours on a “white box” Linux machine that cost a twenty-fifth of the price.

Herries, who has been at Housing for 12 years, says his approach is to build systems for as little as possible to maximise what the agency can spend on the core business of providing low-cost housing.

“It’s not about technology; it’s about principles. We wouldn’t be doing justice if we weren’t putting a lot of effort into Linux.”

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