Linux in Government: The End Game for Vendor Lock-In

Open-source and standards compliant Linux quickly is becoming the enabler in today's complex IT infrastructures.

Enterprise transformation appears to exist in a continuous loop. Every three to five years we have to deal with new jargon and new technology. The jargon de jour differs from that of 10 years ago, when we spoke of Total Quality Management, ERP, Business Process Re-engineering, Activity Based Accounting, Best Practices and IDEF. If you do not recognize these terms, don't worry; we now have a set of new issues on the table and organizations have started responding accordingly.

Technology has the ability to enable business success, and some executives understand that. Once they "get it", you can see decision-making moving from IT departments to executive suites and board rooms. Today, a CEO has to understand much more than a few IT terms. He or she has to understand how technology owns everything from profits and losses to the serious potential liabilities associated with an oppressive regulatory environment.

CEOs cannot simply turn the problem over to the techies anymore. So, we can say that IT has moved from the data center to the executive suite, the legal department, assurance specialists and the board room, and we would be correct.

If you ran an enterprise, revenue growth and cost containment would occupy every waking and sleeping moment. In government, that also means increasing appropriations and grants and operating more efficiently. You have to use your money more effectively. Flat appropriations persist in economies such as the one we have now and what looks like the foreseeable future.

Add the increasing burden of regulatory compliance to the mix, and your costs have grown 30% for document retention alone. You have to increase your ability to store documents, retrieve them and share them appropriately. In many cases, retention of documents has gone from a statutory requirement of three to five years to 25 years. Consider what retrieving documents 25 five years from now might require. Your descendants may not have the technology available to produce the documents an auditor or attorney might want a decade from now, much less in 25 years.

Why Linux?

Not long ago, an enterprise could erect walls around its IT infrastructure. It safely could contain the outside world, and if it had problems, security could contain it. Value added networks, or VANS, provided private pipes with which to do business with EDI partners.

Today, IT infrastructures stretch beyond the firewall. Vendors and supply chain management touch one end of the value chain, and customers and business partners touch the other end. The regulatory environment touches your infrastructure because of requirements stipulated in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Sarbanes Oxley, DoD 5015.2, Patriot Act, Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, Consumer Product Safety Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, SEC Rule 17a-4, NASD 3010 and 3110 and much case law, to mention only the main ones.

The regulatory environment alone demands resources we did not consider necessary five years ago. Now, even small-to-medium size businesses have to make investments in storage area networks (SANS), back-up facilities and redundant architectures. Requirements for open standards and application security can bring heavy fines and penalties for non-compliance. In February of this year, the SEC levied fines totaling $2.1 million against J.P. Morgan Securities for failing to produce all of the e-mail requested during an inquiry.

Linux fits the needs of the new business environment. It provides open standards and access to its source code. It allows an enterprise to provide revenue growth and cost containment. It also provides stability, security and interoperability among disparate operating systems and software applications.

More importantly, the spread of Linux to the corporate infrastructure itself creates a need to manage heterogeneous environments. Companies have to deal with Linux, and they no longer simply can turn to a Microsoft island. Business partners, vendors, customers and service providers in the global community utilize Linux among other disparate systems. Enterprises have too much at stake to stick with a limited IT environment, and finally people have come to realize that this is for their own best interests.

The days of putting up with frozen screens, viruses, worms, unpatched systems and applications and bad system management practices are coming to a swift end. All of the marketing hype in the world cannot make Microsoft a better system. It's time finally to admit that you can search the Internet faster with Google and its Linux technology than with your own desktop. Enterprises might consider that fact when starting to think about consolidating their business processes.

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Silos and licenses

Ralph's picture

I enjoyed reading about silos. I have often wondered about call centers that act this way. I never really thought about it being caused by lack of integration among systems. This seems like a problem that open source systems would have a big advantage in solving. Closed systems want to protect their interfaces, but open source systems can't and that is to the user's benefit.
The point I did not see mentioned was how vendors try to lock you in to their solutions with abusive licensing terms. The GPL is really the users best choice when it comes to flexibility of how you use your system. Some developers like BSD better for reasons I understand. They have their own interests to further. The user is the class that benefits from the GPL. And, that is one big reason that I think Linux has succeeded.

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