Cost pushes airline to Linux

IBM wasn't alone in pitching Linux to Air New Zealand, says acting information chief Andrew Care.

IBM wasn’t alone in pitching Linux to Air New Zealand, says acting information chief Andrew Care.

Care, interviewed at Linuxworld in San Francisco last week, says two of the airline’s other IT suppliers, Telecom and Gen-i, were also trying to sell it Linux systems.

Air New Zealand’s decision to replace 150 Microsoft NT servers with Linux on an IBM mainframe was trumpeted by Big Blue at Linuxworld. Care says the change, which will take place over the next year, is part of an effort to reduce the airline’s IT costs.

Air New Zealand plans to consolidate applications and data from about 150 Compaq servers on to an IBM zSeries mainframe running a Linux partition and IBM’s WebSphere application server. The move will allow the airline to retire some 4000 Microsoft Exchange email and file and print clients and replace them with Bynari, an open source email application.

Care says the airline needed to replace its current mainframe anyway because it required more capacity, and since IBM offered the Linux software as part of the package it decided to make use of it.

“Like most IT organisations we’ve been having issues with Microsoft’s licensing fees,” Care says. “About a year ago we began thinking that Linux had started to mature, so we decided to take a look.”

Air New Zealand won’t say exactly how much it expects to save by using Linux, but Care did say the company expects to reduce total ownership costs of the applications involved by “at least 30%”. Much of that will be achieved through savings in hardware and maintenance costs, he says, adding that “the software licensing is actually one of the smaller components”.

Air New Zealand initially didn’t believe IBM that the cost savings would be so great. But it ran several feasibility studies and is now confident that the savings will be realised. The work to replace the servers is being handled primarily by IBM Global Services.

Linux doesn’t run natively on the mainframe, he says; rather, the software runs in partitions on top of IBM’s MVS operating system.

Several factors led the company to use Linux. Air New Zealand has been running WebTrends, a performance management application from Net IQ, on a Linux server for the past year and was impressed with the stability. “With Windows NT you have to reboot every month but the Linux software kept running all year.”

Having the backing of a big vendor like IBM gave the company added confidence to work with open source software. “I know where they live,” jokes Care.

It also helped that Air New Zealand’s other two main IT partners, Telecom and Gen-i, were also pitching Linux-based systems at the company. “When all your partners are talking about the same thing you have to take a serious look at it,” he says.

Looking ahead, the company is exploring the possibility of using Linux on the desktop.

“We’re constantly looking at total cost of ownership, and we look at all platforms,” Care says.

The airline uses Sun’s Solaris in the midrange but Care doesn’t suggest plans to make a change there any time soon. Nor does he outline a timeframe for investigating Linux on the desktop.

“We’ll continue to look at the desktop. We’ll look at thin clients on Linux and Citrix.” But he adds: “Probably not Citrix because you still have to pay Windows licensing.”

During a press conference at Linuxworld, IBM was asked if customers are showing much interest in Linux on the desktop.

“You’ll see more energy on the client side, probably not this year but in the 2003, 2004 timeframe,” says IBM’s Linux general manager, Steve Solazzo. “We’ve had some wins in government, but in terms of broad-based commercial acceptance, not yet.”

Air New Zealand has also chosen PeopleSoft in a project to upgrade its finance, human resources and payroll infrastructure systems.

The airline has begun a two-month design process that will run throughout August and September with resulting recommendations going to the Air New Zealand board for approval.

At the end of the initial phase a decision will be made whether to proceed with a full implementation. It is estimated that the entire project could cost $37 million over six years including software, hardware and all related costs.

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