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Vendor Support Key To Big-Business Adoption Of Open Source

Open-source software and operating systems are increasingly touted as a way for companies to take greater control of their IT environments, in the process controlling the cost and content of their operations. Yet it's clear that open source represents different things to different companies, depending on the company's size and the investments it has already made in information technology.

At a LinuxWorld event in New York on Wednesday, three companies laid out the different reasons and ways they've pursued open-source strategies.

E-Trade Financial Corp. was a star customer for Sun Microsystems technology in the 1990s but moved to open-source Linux on Intel-based servers beginning in 2001 in an effort to cut IT costs, said Joshua Levine, chief technology and operations officer for E-Trade Clearing LLC. Sun's 4500, 6500, and E10K servers, plus the Solaris operating system, had allowed E-Trade to consolidate its IT operations, but at too great a cost. When the online brokerage company needed to cut costs, IT infrastructure fell into the crosshairs. "We wanted to improve our operating margins," Levine said.

One obvious way to trim costs was a move to an Intel-based server architecture. As for the corresponding operating system, "we looked at Windows, but it would have been too expensive," Levine said. "Linux was the only other logical choice." The result was a series of $3,800 dual-processor Linux-based servers that could operate at twice the speed of a $250,000 Sun 6500 running 10 processors, Levine said. Sun of late has made a number of overtures--including offering its Solaris operating system running on lower-cost x86-based servers--designed in part to court Wall Street.

At about the same time E-Trade was making its move to Linux, Cendant Corp. was going through the process of migrating its airline fare-calculation and ticketing applications from a mainframe to a Unix platform and then to a Linux environment. The travel-services provider has saved about $100 million since the move to Linux, compared with what it would have cost to stay on the mainframe, said Robert Wiseman, chief technology officer for Cendant's travel-distribution services division. The company is still able to achieve "five nines" availability, which translates to about six minutes of downtime per year, he added. In fact, since June, the company has had no downtime, scheduled or unscheduled.

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