One Small Stone Causes Big Ripples


As a consultant, my company focuses primarily on sites that are 10-50 users. We have a few that we manage who are larger and have multiple offices nationally and internationally, but our primary customer profile is one office with about 15-20 users, a couple of servers and a few people who want to access their stuff remotely. And it is in these places that I feel the largest impact can be made in the adoption of Linux and open-source software.

I know we have all heard the reasons why not to adopt Linux and open-source. One of the main reasons is “who can we call (blame) when something goes wrong?” Another way to word that is they feel “you get what you pay for”. And while the open-source community is great at communicating with each other, sometimes the answer may not come until a day or so later. Businesses need answers right now, so that is why companies who have a name behind them like Novell are a great way to solve that problem.

So how do we get our foot in the door with Linux? I think we start small and identify areas where there would not be a noticeable change to the end users. Servers are a great place to start. Lots of times all a server does is manage users and host files and printers – maybe a website here and there. Don’t see any reason we couldn’t plop a SLES server into that spot, do you?

One thing we have to do is acknowledge that at this stage Linux and open-source are not the end-all be-all solution to everything. There are a lot of apps that require Windows (mainly small business accounting applications in my case). So let’s not fight this one. But what we can do is get people excited about getting OpenOffice for free and not having to pay $300 a license (in a small business environment volume licensing doesn’t make sense so you end up buying one license at a time). Let’s get them excited about Firefox and Thunderbird (which is already happening). Virtualization is a big thing right now. Why pay for a Windows server license JUST to host the VMware/ZEN software in order to run more Windows servers? Why not make the host OS a Linux distro and save yourself some dough? Because (especially in the current state of the economy) that’s what small business owners care about the most. They aren’t out to fly the flag of open-source. They aren’t out to try the newest technology necessarily. They are out to save money and cut costs.

One of the services we offer our customers is what we term “preventive maintenance visits”. In this visit we do a top-to-bottom analysis of the server and critical processes. We examine backups, server logs, hardware logs, RAID stability, antivirus, UPS health and a few other things. This covers most of what our customers rely on. So, my plan for the next few months is to learn how to do this on Linux. I will admit that my knowledge of Linux borders more on the low/intermediate side. But what I lack in knowledge I make up for in “fired-upness” and excitement on how we can get this rolling where it is needed most.

One of the hurdles I have to overcome is getting people (other engineers in our office mainly) who know nothing about Linux to be able to manage and do everything with the Linux server that they can do on a Windows server. They need to be able to check backups, check disk space, check logs, etc. And it needs to be as easy and familiar as possible for our company to adopt it as a standard. For example, we use Backup Exec as our main backup software on customer servers. And while there is a remote agent for BE on Linux I have not found where there is a native install of the software that will support the tape drive being in the said Linux server and doing local backups. So I might need to find an alternate solution here. I need to find a corporate antivirus solution that can be run from and managed by/on the server. And yes – I know there are open-source products that can do these things but business owners want to know that they can get help when they need it and spending a little money – or having a reputable name – makes that easier. I’m not advocating go open-source all the way. We are a major Lotus Domino shop so that is my preferred collaboration platform of choice. Not free but certainly worth the price.

So wish me luck. Keep up the fight. And I’ll report back with my progress.

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  • tsimpson says:

    I have run into the same mentality. But for the most part, I provide support for my customers, and they are happy with that. There are web interfaces to allow administration of a Linux box as well, so it doesn’t take much to get someone from the Windows world to be able to perform daily tasks with some simple training.

    I have yet to need to call Novell or Redhat or any other Linux vendor for support of any kind.

    And for what that is worth how many times have you (or a customer) had to call Microsoft for a support issue? I made several calls to MS myself years ago, and every time I called them, it would end up with them not helping, but telling me I had to format/reinstall the system I was calling them for. That just proves that you don’t get what you pay for. At least with Linux based systems there are alternatives for support, including possibly going to Linus if it got that far with a problem with the kernel.

    Just by buying a product from a commercial entity does not guarantee GOOD support. Hardware manufactures are the same way, they outsource support and give the operators scripts to read, the days of getting quality support from an OEM of any kind are far and few between.

    For example I called HP last year with a problem with my personal laptop battery, when they found out that I had installed Linux the guy on the phone refused to help, telling me I had violated the warranty by removing Windows! Only after escalating the issue and asking to speak to someone with HP in the US did I get the issue resolved and get a new battery shipped to me.

    As far as Anti virus goes, I have had good luck with McAfee on Linux systems, I use it on all the Windows based systems I support as well. Symantec has a product as well, but I have issues with paying for a product that can find a virus but you either have to download a separate tool from them, or download a trial version of McAfee to remove it. Plus I have had so many performance issues with Norton installed, I just try not to use it. Anti virus software is probably the only commercial software product I use/recommend on a recurring basis. It is also one of the few products I have had good results for support on over the years as well.

    And with backup software, I have used Backup Exec (I prefer it in a Netware environment), Arcserve, HP data protector, etc. Lately I have been playing around with Commvault mainly due to a customer asking about it after they received a cold call from another vendor so that I can answer questions from the customer on what it can do for them that the current backup software can not do.

    I have setup some nice backup systems using Open source (rsync, tar, bzip2, ssh and dd just to name some of the tools I have used for systems) with very good luck. I can restore a Linux box from bare metal in less time with the Open source applications than I can with any Commercial backup system. And they are part of the system I install, and not a separate application I have to worry about reinstalling or upgrading when the OS on the servers or workstations get upgraded to another version of the installed distro.

    And by using the Open source applications for backups. It just means one less license number and/or disk I or my clients have to keep up with.

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