MasterTrade marries MS apps to Linux PCs

Building wholesaler MasterTrade has plans for an unholy alliance that will give its 300 Linux-based PCs access to Microsoft desktop applications.

Building wholesaler MasterTrade has plans for an unholy alliance that will give its 300 Linux-based PCs access to Microsoft desktop applications.

The two will be brought to the altar by Citrix MetaFrame.

The company will use the MetaFrame client for Linux, which was released last September, to run applications such as Microsoft Office on Red Hat Linux-based PCs scattered throughout 50 branches. The PCs will link to a Citrix server at the company’s Christchurch headquarters via Telecom’s IPNet network.

The only technical factor potentially holding MasterTrade back was the slowness of its Telecom leased lines linking Christchurch to the branches, but bandwidth has recently been boosted to 256Kbit/s bursting to 512Kbit/s.

MasterTrade data processing manager Neil Helson says the company has been trialling the set-up and hopes to deploy it within the next six months. At the moment it is waiting to see the effect of a takeover of its parent company PDL by French manufacturer Schneider Electric Industries.

Asked whether it’s difficult to find Linux applications for desktop PCs, Helson says so far users have mainly needed a browser, email and an Acrobat reader.

“Netscape is freely available for Linux, we found a mail client called Kmail that came with the Linux desktop management system KDE, and Adobe has a Linux Acrobat reader.”

Helson says not one of the 300 PCs has crashed in the year that they’ve been running Linux. “Linux has basically become a fundamental part of our organisation. We’re virtually running the whole company on it,” he says.

MasterTrade will also replace its Fujitsu SCO Unix branch servers, which are connected via the leased lines to an IBM AS/400 machine in Christchurch, with Linux boxes at the end of the year. All branches conduct transaction processing with the data being consolidated on the AS/400 every three hours.

Each branch does its own financials using a legacy Cobol application which MasterTrade has recompiled to run on a Linux server.

Helson says the recompile, using a recompiler by Microfocus, was very quick and the company didn’t have to alter the application source code.

Standardising on one flavour of Unix, in this case Linux, will help the company’s six-person IT department better support the branches, he says.

“Resources and information for Linux is excellent. If you have a problem, the amount of material available either on web or through Linux communities is amazing.”

Cost is another factor — 50 SCO server licences would cost tens of thousands of dollars but Linux Red Hat 7 is free.

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