Linux and the Enterprise Desktop: Where Are We Today?
PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe's second-largest automobile manufacturer, will one day have at least 20,000 of its 72,000 workers running Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. Novell's Guy Lunardi credits Peugeot's move to Linux on its hard-nosed asset management system that identifies internal resources, leading its IT managers to question conventional wisdom and make the best strategic decision for the company. Lunardi also points out that “Novell was able to not only remove technical barriers that stood in the way of adoption, but it also was able to offer superior solutions in areas such as VPNs.”
One unique facet of the Peugeot project is its organic nature, whereby users are allowed to choose which desktop they prefer, Linux or Windows. The firm is finding most users choose Linux and become Linux advocates in the process, which further builds internal support for the OS. Furthermore, most new employees are encouraged to adopt Linux, which has allowed Peugeot to cap its number of Windows licenses and thus save on IT costs, despite the additional growth in IT infrastructure.
Another convert to desktop Linux, in this case Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, is the auto-rental firm Europcar Asia Pacific. Europcar CIO Scott Allen explains how he originally looked to desktop Linux “to deliver a fit-for-purpose platform at a reduced price point”. Allen added that this goal has been achieved through significant reduction in licensing costs and the ability to extend the life of otherwise obsolete hardware. Europcar has implemented Linux on a variety of different hardware in its finance department, national call center and branch network, which spreads across Australia and New Zealand. Allen's team customized the Red Hat desktop to deliver a simplified interface, offering many Microsoft Windows applications to users via the Citrix client, as well as Web browsers natively to the Linux desktop. Using Citrix “makes the solution an overall lower cost option but still a great fit against business needs”, said Allen.
A key factor in Europcar's expanding its Linux usage to the desktop was quality support. Because the firm had good, long-term experiences with Red Hat's support for its servers, it felt comfortable diving into the desktop space too.
Thus far, CIO Allen says, his firm's experiences with desktop Linux have been very positive. “The work done to deliver a customized user interface was worthwhile and has meant that very little end-user training has been required.” He adds that “the only negative—and it is only a minor one because of our relationship with Red Hat—is the availability of Linux skills in the market. At times it has been difficult to recruit people with in-depth Linux knowledge.”
Allen's advice to firms trying to decide whether to adopt desktop Linux is to “start with the needs of the end user and evaluate Linux desktop against these needs”. He says if users require Windows applications 100% of the time, Linux desktop probably is not the best solution, even when using something like Citrix. “But if your business applications do not rely on Windows or your users only require part-time access to Windows applications, I would at least include Linux desktop as an option to evaluate”, he added.
Though the Howard County Maryland Public Library is not the largest or most sexy desktop Linux implementation, it was the first example to proudly roll off the tongue of Canonical's Gerry Carr. In 2006, the library had 300 aging PCs whose licenses for Windows XP were about to expire. Realizing it didn't need Windows for its staff and public computers, it became the first public library system in Maryland to use open source. When additional machines are needed, the library can purchase used ones for around $100 that offer the needed functionality. The system estimates that it saved more than $300,000 of public money by not having to upgrade licenses and hardware. Monies saved were used to upgrade computers, purchase software customization and expand library collections. Amy Begg De Groff, the library's Technology Services Department Head, stated that “Because open-source software is available free or at a very modest cost, the library can provide public computers at a fraction of the cost using comparable commercially available software.”
As an example from the not-for-profit world, the organization Mosaic is in the process of implementing Ubuntu Linux thin clients running on the NoMachine NX Server for its 39 offices in 14 states nationwide. At the time of this writing, 13 offices serving 1,900 users have been migrated, with the remaining offices to migrate by 2009. More than 5,000 employees are projected to be using the system. Users have access to a full Ubuntu desktop, which offers OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Mosaic's corporate CRM and Web-based e-mail applications. Mosaic's two main reasons for switching to Linux were dramatic cost-savings and security. The organization has re-utilized older PCs to run as its thin-client terminals, which precluded the need for large investments in new hardware. Regarding security, Mosaic is able to keep sensitive data centralized in its data center to ensure that all data access is controlled and monitored to meet HIPPA regulations. Wayne Victor, Mosaic's Director of IT Infrastructure, said that “the NX Server is able to handle as many as 100 users per server.”
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal