Linux just a blip: integrators

Disgruntled Microsoft customers might be talking about Linux - but that's pretty much all they're doing, say some of the country's largest systems integrators

Disgruntled Microsoft customers might be talking about Linux — but that’s pretty much all they’re doing, say some of the country’s largest systems integrators.

Linux is still a minor blip on the radar for most corporate accounts. Although some suggest disenchantment with Microsoft licensing is creating a groundswell of interest, Linux customers are rare among large integrators.

Axon managing director Matt Kenealy says some customers are looking at Linux as an alternative to Microsoft but it’s more talk than real movement.

Axon marketing manager Scott Green agrees that in the corporate market customer discussions about Linux tend to be more driven by a Microsoft licensing backlash than the technical merits of the operating system.

“Linux has made some great in-roads and will continue to do so, and we’re certainly upskilling to support that, but once the Microsoft licensing question is put to bed and people become comfortable with the new programme, the discussion will turn back to what’s really important — whether it’s the right platform and issues around whether it’s supportable.”

Gen-i head Garth Biggs is concerned about the open system support structure — or rather the lack of one.

“There’s some real possibility there, but also some issues where you would be nervous about using those capabilities in a large environment. There are some utilities that promise real advantages but there’s no supporting structure underneath. You have to go into a chat line and hope whoever has written the app has logged on to answer your questions.”

An example Biggs gives is the authentication utility in Samba, an open source tool for connecting Unix and Microsoft Windows platforms. “The latest version at the time we looked at it was supported on a best-endeavours basis by someone called Tpot, which upholds our contention that you have to be careful that there is a support capability behind an open source product.”

Biggs estimates the company’s open source business is very small — less than 5%. While gen-i comes across open source software in some customers’ infrastructures, mainly in areas like security, firewalls and gateways, Biggs isn’t aware of any running applications on Linux. A couple of customers are piloting Linux applications, though they aren’t yet in production.

Biggs says gen-i has a “fair amount” of Linux expertise but he won’t give staff numbers. “We hire technologists. We have a process where we watch emerging technologies, interpret what they’re going to mean for customers and build virtual practices around those. So we’ve done that for security, mobility, thin client and open source rather than Linux.”

Although gen-i is largely a Microsoft shop, Biggs describes it as “loudly agnostic”, having Sun Solaris, AS/400s and some open source systems among its customer base.

Kenealy says Axon has a long history of working with Unix in a variety of flavours so it already had Linux expertise and is building it further. “It’s something that we have to take seriously when we see major manufacturers like IBM, Compaq and HP supporting it.”

However, Green says Axon isn’t being inundated with customers switching to Linux and estimates that the company’s Linux business would be in the low single percentage figures.

Unisys, another substantial Microsoft partner, isn’t doing anything substantial enough with Linux to comment, says spokeswoman Joanna Grochowicz.

Eagle Technology marketing manager Flora McGuire puts Eagle’s open source business at around 2.5%.

Eagle’s Linux installations are mainly for non-critical applications such as departmental email service, intranet and internet web services, departmental file servers and print servers. Some customers are looking seriously at open source, but it’s a small number, says McGuire. “Obviously there is some interest out there. We have Linux skills, especially among the younger ones who came to us with them already. When you talk to the techos their eyes light up when you talk about Linux. It’s something that turns them on.”

Backing the caution of integrators is solid research. Linux is lowest on the list of CIO priorities in New Zealand and Australia according to an annual review conducted by Gartner Group released in February. However, those New Zealand IT managers likely to implement Linux were also unlikely to outsource it, Gartner found. Meanwhile, a study of New Zealand’s top 100 business users of IT by Fairfax Business Research found a 14% installed base for Linux but suggested it was mainly being used for point solutions ratherthan running back-end systems.

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