Small Business Introduction to Linux
By Mark Rais, author of the Linux book
Linux for the Rest of Us. This article published by ReallyLinux.com.
A radical change is resulting
in ever strengthening
momentum to Opensource software use. Most importantly, this beneficial change
is happening in significant numbers not only here in the United States,
but through out the world.
Ultimately, cost savings is one key factor. The other primary
factor is freedom from licensing dominance that occurs in any non-Opensource
environment. Linux is enabling large and small corporations world
wide to end one of their most significant overhead costs with relative
ease. Although a Microsoft sponsored study suggested that Linux is
still too immature to realize true cost savings, reality doesn't support this.
More companies today are migrating to Linux from
other Operating Systems than ever before in history. No matter what some
statistics try to convey, few are persuaded by the strange notion that
Linux costs more.
All this having been said, this article is a brief summary of
many dialogues and migrations I've personally been part of in order to
help those who may be evaluating Linux for their small business.
Step One: First Things
Before any business or venture should ever consider moving away from
their current OS to Linux, a clear focus must be defined.
There are three principal categories of Linux use as applied to business
environments. These three categories should be evaluated separately
and distinctly rather than all together since any wholesale movement to
Linux is bound to fail initially.
All business environments tend to include these three distinct uses
for computers: Servers such as email servers; Workstations including graphic intensive
PCs or number crunchers; and Desktops for basic PC use including checking emails,
writing documents etc.
Any movement to Linux should begin by first defining
which systems fall into which categories and doing a bottom
line cost assessment for the category itself. In many cases
the most expensive category will be Servers. However, I've
consulted a number of businesses and non-profit organizations where the most
significant cost is in Desktops as a result of upgrade costs, licensing
fees, and new staffing overhead.
business that tries to tackle all three categories simultaneously in a
move to Linux
fail at both cost cutting
|Fundamental to any move to Linux is the absolute requirement to define
which category has the highest current costs, and then to focus on that
single category. A business that tries to tackle all three categories
simultaneously in a move to Linux will fail at both cost cutting and streamlining.
Biting off more than we can chew has become a common step in the process
of business, but only because leadership consistently refuses to acknowledge
that slow, meticulous change is often more successful than hurried, broad
Of course everyone hates change, especially the employees who are directly
affected. Therefore, leaders should avoid adding gasoline to this fire by throttling
up a sudden, wholesale change to Linux. Linux succeeds undeniably when it is
part of focused and specific planning, not when it's some executive's bright
idea that will end up creating corporate pressure cookers.
Step Two: Clean Up Terminology
I keep bumping into people who talk about "migrating" to Linux.
In fact, even a few of the editors at reallylinux.com wanted me to use the term
in my title so it would convey what most people are thinking. However,
it's a misnomer at best.
Before we overuse or misuse the term "migration" any more, I suggest
that in almost all instances, most small businesses want to perform a move to
Linux rather than a migration to Linux.
Any true migration deals with data transfer, which in most
cases is data in a database or data stored in certain data structures.
Therefore, there is no direct correlation between changing to the Linux
Operating System and migrating data from one database to another.
From a strict standpoint, since the layer in-between is a database or the
interpreter for the particular structure, migration is usually a more complex
task than an operating system change. Keeping this in mind then a business running
on NT Servers with an Oracle 8i database will have a relatively easy change
to using Linux running an Oracle 8i. In fact, in some cases, almost
no migration work needs to be done. Instead it is a transfer of data
that can occur with relative ease if database design was standardized to
get moving to Linux mixed up with migrating
may be sequential steps along an overall plan, but they are not directly
|Take the other extreme and we see that real serious and painful migration
occurs when data is stored in several Microsoft Access databases that then
need to migrate to an Oracle 8i DB running on Linux. Although, for
obvious reasons such a change would offer significant benefits, it must
also be considered a real migration rather than simple OS change.
I've been part of six major data migrations in my life.
One migration project included the conversion of 650 databases at the Terabyte
level and made tortures like fingernail ripping and electroshock appear more enjoyable.
It took my team the better part of a year just to ensure the current data
structures made sense to us! On the other hand, we also had a project
to migrate electronic commerce data (some 100,000 records). Although the
stress of error was still high (we were moving records for brand name partners)
the number of records and the actual data base changes were very basic.
The main point is that NONE of this had much to do with Linux. Certainly we would
be moving to the Linux platform, and inevitably the operating system nuances
played some role, but little impact to the actual migration occurred.
Therefore, it is vital we stop using the word migration when we are talking
about OS change, and vice-versa, leaving the term to the serious transport
of data from one data base to another.
As I mentioned earlier, lest we seriously misuse the term "migration,"
I suggest that in almost all instances, most businesses want rather to perform
a move to Linux.
Migrations at the data and database level are substantially more significant
and need to be evaluated beyond the scope of operating system changes.
Therefore, please don't get moving to Linux mixed up with migrating to new databases.
They may be sequential steps along an overall plan, but they are not directly
linked. Instead, a preliminary and foundational step to future improvements
is an initial move to Linux.
Step Three: Keep Focus
I had a business leader who became extremely excited about changing
his company to Linux as a result of a simple evaluation that showed cost
savings. He was enthusiastic to the point of insanity.
His desire was for all of his staff to get retrained, for his infrastructure
servers to be wholesale moved to Linux, and for "every machine in this
place including the coffee maker" to run Linux.
persuaded this leader
slice his grand Linux visions into reasonable chunks
apply Linux initially to the most expensive or needy areas."
|Now, I don't doubt that Linux is up to the job, and indeed every reasonable
application and function for computers in this particular corporate setting
could gain from Linux use either in terms of performance or cost savings.
However, the concept that all of this change should come overnight with
beneficial results was ignorant at best. I persuaded this particular
leader to slice his grand Linux visions into reasonable chunks and apply
Linux initially to the most expensive or needy areas.
In a few short weeks (it was actually four days, but his staff were
working over time to make the change quickly) they had converted all of
their desktops and several intranet servers including print servers to
Linux. Training had been minimal and was supported by the exceptional
training and support benefits of SUN Microsystems which kindly provided for the great and popular OpenOffice.og
program they chose to use. Now they were running all of their PCs with an operating
system that was free to own, free to manipulate, and free to upgrade combined
with running office productivity software that was a quarter the cost with
far lower future upgrade prices. All of this AND they also gained
the benefit of better performance from their intranet server, mail server,
and print server.
Reality Check Time
Okay, what's the catch you ask? Can it really be this good, and
if so why isn't every small business converting to Linux?
The answer to this is a combination of FEAR
Fear represents not only the emotional concerns about change
and I mean ANY type of corporate change. Even when the type of coffee
that is brewed changes it is bound to cause someone some kind of negative
response to the change. But fear also includes the fear of the unknown which results in passive resistance.
How much is your company or institution paying in dollars for this fear?
In many cases we find that people are not willing to change software or
the OS out of personal fear of change that will inevitably cost the company
thousands of dollars... and I'm referring to a small company not a mid-size venture.
Fad represents the hooks that other companies get into us when
they embed their applications so deeply into our lives that to disconnect
ourselves from their product will cause pain and discomfort at the least.
Let me give two personal examples that may help convey this idea:
Microsoft Exchange Server is a very complex system... and if you've ever
had a crash and tried to restore from tape or other backup you know full
and well what I'm talking about here. It is complex and
ultimately costly to maintain. Yet many corporations use Exchange Servers all
over the place. This is a result of what we can call ingrown apps. Another example is
the popular Outlook that has it's own demands of what it prefers to run under
and with. I've had more than four companies in the past few weeks
contact me with an "emergency" related to their Outlook email handling.
I usually try to help and then ask why they are using Outlook? The
answer almost always is "because that's what we've been using forever."
Is that a GOOD reason? Is it a reasonable enough excuse
to explain thousands of dollars in upgrade costs, maintenance costs, and
ultimately daily inefficiencies? How often I've tried to help
someone work out a solution to another Trojan or Spam hack that used Outlook
as the door. It's remarkable what some people decide they are willing
to live with regardless of the pains and costs. Yet, this strange
FAD to stay with a certain product line and company also results from
many small business IT departments simply existing day to day in fire fight
mode and not giving planning a thought. This is not the result of bad IT people so much as bad leadership decisions.
I mean to be serious here. I have personally witnessed one
IT director and his staff running from server to server, room to room all
day long, several days a week just trying to keep their stuff alive.
There I sat in the same office but next to a perfectly good Linux server handling about the same
number of users with an up time of over 120 days. I assure you I
was not doing daily maintenance, worrying about failures, or running around like this.
What can possibly be the reason some do their jobs running
around like chickens with their heads cut off? Job security?
No. It's related to the inability to come up for enough air to actually
be able to reevaluate infrastructure, corporate policy, and for that matter
longer term IT goals.
To plan requires stability. If they did
have the chance, inevitably almost all of them would choose to do things
significantly different and Linux would absolutely be popping up on the
list of best available options.
Today, well over a decade since the
Linux revolution began, many small-size institutions are turning
dramatically and with beneficial results to Linux solutions.
For those that are not, neither FEAR nor FADS are reasonable excuses for clinging
to ideals and not applying realistic plans for incorporating Linux.
People, whether with entrenched fears or not, will inevitably turn to what
I'm convinced that in less than a decade,
more computers will run Linux than any other operating system in the world.
We can choose to embrace this or cling to our fears and fads. Choosing
to move to Linux now is an important business decision -- both for the
short term and long term.
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