Global Online Promotions has been using Linux as the platform for its Kachingo rewards scheme, though it is considering moving to Unix if it expands to the UK.
In the two years Kachingo has been operating, Red Hat Linux has proven to be a cost-effective and reliable platform, says Noel Duckworth, Kachingo technology manager at CSI, the Wellington IBM reseller which developed Kachingo and manages it for Global Online Promotions.
Duckworth says Linux was chosen as the development platform and operating system for two main reasons.
“As project director, I insisted on software that had a minimal licensing component because we saw that we would potentially be deploying many thousands of systems which would add up to a lot of money.
“We also wanted to deploy software which remains in service without on-site maintenance or software upgrades for a minimum of three years.” Duckworth says this pretty much meant a Unix solution, which in turn went to Linux because of cost.
He says initial costing for combined Windows plus a database client access licence would have been something in the order of $300 to $500 per remote server. There are 500 remote servers at retail premises so there have been potential savings of $150,000 to $250,000.
Nor have support costs for Linux been an issue, probably because it is a specialised application developed from scratch.
“It doesn’t need a lot of the services that Windows systems need, such as support for Excel and word processing applications or the internet.” Citrix was considered, but under the project’s design points, the designers wanted to use the same operating system for host servers and remote servers.
The remote servers support 1700 point of sale (POS) terminals. They sit in each retail outlet and receive application software, promotions, game lines and ticket numbers from the hosts in Wellington. They collect all transactions from the POS terminals and analyse them in real time. Data is sent back and forth between the host systems and remote servers in dynamically configurable time frames.
Duckworth says although Linux is satisfactory for smaller geographies, the expansion of Kachingo beyond New Zealand and Australia may mean a move to Unix.
The company is in the process of negotiating licensing Kachingo to the UK.
Duckworth doesn’t think it will continue to use Linux on the host server if that’s the case.
“We have to consider scalability, management tools and performance. We probably expect to go to a commercial version of Unix, perhaps IBM’s AIX, as we are an IBM remarketer.” A possibility would be the migration of the host to Unix, but to continue having some functions running on Linux. “The host has quite modular functionality so that we can get scalability. Some of the functions could remain with Linux on Intel, such as the servers that perform the distribution function or all the communications out to remote servers.
“However, the core application server — which generates all the games and promotions, and collects transactions and updates them — that’s where the heavy load comes about.”
Another possibility would be to run a partitioned mainframe environment with Unix and Linux. “Virtual partitions have a lot of appeal because they can share resources.”
Duckworth says the database server, which is Microsoft SQL Server running on Windows 2000, seems to be capable of scaling to cover New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
“Lots of people are using it in larger warehouses across the US now, so it seems to be getting a bit more commercial exposure.” At the moment Global Online uses a combination of IBM NetFinity servers for the host and Compaq servers for the database.
“Probably for UK we would have to go to RISC, although we could have a combination. Some remain Intel and Linux, and the heavier used database servers and main application servers could be RISC.” Apart from using the main application for Kachingo, Global Online is investigating the possibility of selling it to other companies with promotional or rewards schemes.