Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Nov 19, 2003
Plumping for the Penguin
Vipin V. Nair
Mr Geomoan Kurian
WINDOWS or Linux? Licensed software or open source? IT managers in every company are tossing up these options as the open-source software movement catches up across the world. Even proprietary software firms such as Sun Microsystems, Oracle and IBM are championing the use of Linux-based applications as the Penguin is spreading its wings faster. More than the obvious cost advantages that Linux offers, there are a host of other benefits open-source software brings to the table. EKA Internet Technologies, which runs an online bookstore and an Internet magazine named Puzha.com, recently shifted to the Linux platform.
The Ernakulam, Kerala-based company has developed and is managing dcbookstore.com, the online store of DC Books, a publisher in Malayalam, and has sold 15,000 books in two years across 24 countries. The company, with a turnover of about Rs 10 lakh per year and seven employees, is a typical small enterprise that is trying to leverage the Linux advantages. EKA's co-founder, Geomoan Kurian, talks to eWorld of his experiences while switching to Linux:
Why have you shifted to a Linux-based platform? What benefits do you see in this?
We were using the SUN Solaris platform (a variant of Unix) for the servers. It was more expensive in terms of hosting and application support. We wanted to enhance the application support, but at the same time didn't want to spend a lot more for the same. Hence we decided to migrate to Linux.
So the primary reason why we shifted to Linux is cost. Our estimate is that our monthly expenses of hosting and application support for the site would have come down by at least half because of this migration. We had made an investment of about $5,000 to $10,000 or so for our e-commerce service with dedicated services. This includes hosting and application support in the first year. We'd been spending about $4,000 on maintenance every year and now that we have moved to Linux, this cost should be halved. It is difficult to quantify the investments we needed to make the shift, because we had done many applications already compatible with Linux. Plus, our in-house team did all this work.
In any business, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) would be the primary method to determine what systems were purchased. All the factors that contribute to the actual costs of a system — from initial licensing costs, development costs, formal training costs, to time spent by IT staff troubleshooting problems — are added up to this cost, leave alone the application support and development costs. A comparison of Internet hosting charges for an e-commerce business can tell you the cost difference. For example, Superb.net, an e-commerce server provider, charges $65 per month for Windows servers and $50 per month for a Linux server.
Security is a major concern for e-commerce as there is a chance of financial information leaks such as the credit card number or bankcard number. Linux is proved to be more secure in a default install than any Windows system. Windows can be made more secure than its defaults, but it is a labour-intensive process, while it's relatively easy to make Linux much more secure than the defaults. Also, we have moved into a dedicated server with US.Net with increased bandwidth and server capabilities. This also enables us to offer hosting plans to their customers. When it comes to offering services to others, it's necessary that we should support them with applications that have minimum cost.
What are the problems you faced in migrating to the new software? Is it a complete change or do you still use the older software?
We had to undertake additional development to make the existing Web-based applications work from the Linux platforms. In some cases like e-mail and documentation applications, we have totally changed the applications. We still use some of the older software as they are compatible with all Unix flavours.
Linux had all the necessary applications and much more to run our business and it wins all the other cost comparisons. Like many other true tech-supported companies such as Amazon.com, we have also leveraged on the open source applications so the cost advantage was compounded. For example, the mail management system we use is Open Webmail, the shopping carts are developed from a Perl-based open source system.
Who is providing the support for Linux? Who helped you develop the modules that you required?
US.NET, a provider of Internet servers, is our service provider. We had a dedicated server with advanced security features installed with redundancy and back-up built in. All software installation required at the server side was developed, configured and installed by Puzha.com's in-house technology team.
What kind of transactions do you do every day?
Puzha.com has 30,000 original page views a day with 100,000 hits on its servers. The number of e-commerce transactions at our sites would be 10-20 a day.
Do you fear any problems in using Linux? Are you really convinced about its robustness and reliability?
It is `110 per cent reliable and secure.' It's time-tested and proven among Internet servers than any other platforms.
How big is your technical infrastructure?
We have incorporated the most sophisticated software practices in Internet development, within the constraints of security and reliability. Its Architecture is a Perl, XML, MySQL on a Linux platform. The software can be ported to any language in the world without any changes in the code. As mentioned earlier, puzha has dedicated servers with high bandwidth and back-up options. We rate our total software infrastructure nothing less than $100,000.
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