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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

By Tina Gasperson on September 07, 2007 (9:00:00 PM)

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Mindbridge didn't start out as an open source company -- far from it. "We had a predominantly Microsoft-oriented shop," says David Christian, Mindbridge CTO. But the company, which at the time offered an "intranet in a box" application, began hosting the software for its clients. "That required us to get a good handle on Linux, because Linux was the only inexpensive, cost-efficient way of handling that in a scaled environment," Christian says. "And I didn't want to add Microsoft to our customers' overhead." The more Christian worked with Linux, the more he liked it. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Mindbridge has repurposed itself as an open-source-friendly company, and revamped its infrastructure to run completely on Linux and other open source software. "Having deployed [Linux servers] to our customers, we turned around and said, we can do the same thing internally and save bunches of money. We began a systematic but slow flipping of servers from the Microsoft world over to predominantly Linux -- although there are a few BSD boxes around as well," Christian says. "It's to the point that today I only have two production Windows servers left, out of 15 or so."

CEO Rick Puckette is enthusiastic about the change. "When we were using Microsoft, we had a lot more than 15 servers," he says. "We had upwards of 50 or 60 that were becoming difficult to manage. So as part of this open source initiative, we also chose a virtual machine called Xen, which allows us to put multiple machines on one physical server, to consolidate." Puckette says that Mindbridge evaluated other virtual machine software, including VMware, but Xen was "very cost-efficient and pretty bulletproof. We also use Hyperic to monitor the health and happiness of the servers," he says.

Even though Mindbridge now delivers its security monitoring solutions mostly on a Linux platform, some customers still want Microsoft. "We're willing to accommodate them, for a price," Christian says. "It costs us significantly more to support a Windows box than a Linux box. It's almost like Microsoft is now an afterthought."

The transition to open source has had its share of challenges, Christian and Puckette say, but nothing that they couldn't overcome. For Christian, the biggest deal was sysadmins who had to learn Linux. "It's people's learning curves, no doubt," he says. "They had only ever administered Microsoft boxes in the past, and had to get used to the idea of command lines. The interesting thing is that a number of our developers came from strong Linux or BSD backgrounds, and they helped the sysadmin people make the transition." To aid the process, Christian looked specifically for new hires who were eager to learn. "The people I like are pretty inquisitive type people. I tried to filter out the others in the interview process."

Puckette says it takes some extra time to get an open source infrastructure configured the right way. "The challenge as opposed to buying solutions from one vendor is that when you buy from Microsoft, you can assume it works with other Microsoft products. With open source you have to take more time to make sure all the products interact and all the pieces fit together. But the cost benefits clearly outweigh going with all Microsoft."

Christian likes the flexibility of open source. "We always find that at the end of the day, when we hit a problem, there was almost always a configuration file you could tweak and make it work the way you want it to work. The management of the systems, the flexibility in the vendors -- even within our infrastructure we have three Linux vendors. We pick and choose based on the best tool for the job."

Mindbridge has also transitioned its development environment. "We use it for all our development of new services that we sell to our customers," Puckette says. "We bring in as much open source software as possible, and we integrate that software to solve business problems, get to market faster, and focus more on our customers." Puckette likes the fact that the development community is self-motivated enough to continuously update open source software applications. "I don't have to fund new features."

Christian appreciates the benefits of the open source community too. "You get your problems solved easier," he says. "You put out an email to a user mailing list, and you may get a response from the developer. Try doing that with most commercial vendors. It's hard to get access to those people. In the open source world, it's relatively easy."

For other companies that might be considering a switch from a proprietary foundation to an open source one, Christian has some advice. "Choose a small project and don't try to flip your infrastructure all at once. Choose something with a high probability of success," like a Web-based application, "and go for that first. What you'll be doing is allowing people to learn about the operating system and how to hook that operating system into your existing infrastructure -- for example, hooking Linux into your Active Directory structure."

Puckette says choose something "non-mission critical" to start with. "Put your toe in, pick an application that, if it does go down, the CEO won't scream about it. Get smart about that one, then take on a mission-critical. Once you cut it over, you're not paying the big guys."

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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on Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.37.240.62] on September 08, 2007 04:18 AM
It appears that they are not gpl2, gpl3 or other gpl licence respecting. Quote,Puckette says. "We bring in as much open source software as possible, and we integrate that software to solve business problems, get to market faster, and focus more on our customers."

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Re: Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.211.39.154] on September 08, 2007 05:15 AM
The GPL only applies to distribution - as such, you can mix code from any license if it's just for internal use.

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Re: Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.143.240.60] on September 08, 2007 04:06 PM
What does that have to do with respecting of licenses? An example of integrating a bunch of open source software would be taking, say, postfix, samba, openldap, mysql, apache, and a few other things, writing some code that installed them and configured them correctly as an "intranet in a box" with maybe some extra glue code in between them, and an http-based front end for centralized management. It doesn't matter whether those pieces are GPL2, GPL3, BSD-licensed, etc.

License differences only matter if you want to include code from one project in another, which doesn't seem to be what they are talking about.

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Re: Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.189.65.169] on September 08, 2007 05:58 PM
That statement doesn't sound like they are coding any software. Just installing and configuring.

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: unknown] on September 08, 2007 06:34 PM
Can Mindbridge share how they integrated Linux into their former Active Directory environment? Perhaps this is a small way they can give back to the community that has given them so much and is saving them "bunches of money".

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.35.239.50] on September 09, 2007 02:39 AM
We're gradually switching our company's infrastructure over to Linux. When I took over as manager of Internet related stuff in January they were an 100% Windows shop. I made some attempt to do something useful using their existing Windows/IIS servers and quickly decided to go with a LAMP system I typically used. We set up a dual quad-core Xeon server running Linux and VMWare and moved the majority of our existing servers into virtual machines and setup several new servers as virtual machines also. With Linux and VMWare it is much more affordable to isolate specific services into their own virtual machines which makes development and maintainance easier and makes it easier to keep things secure and reliable. We no longer have a growing stack of server boxes to manage. We've gradually been replacing Windows servers with Linux (and sometimes BSD) servers because they are so much cheaper, use less resources, and are more flexible. A webserver that was using 2GB of RAM under Windows serves the same websites in 512MB of RAM under Linux and is more flexible. We switched Windows file servers to FreeNAS and it went from a couple gigs of RAM to using 128MB of RAM and it lets us access files using CIFS or SSH (SCP/SFTP) which the old server didn't.

So far we're down to two servers still running Windows. The one is used mostly for the security system and the other has our enterprise management software (inventory etc) on it. Both use proprietary software which makes switching them difficult. We do plan to upgrade the enterprise system to AIX in the near future though. We expect that to be a lot faster and easier to manage than the clunky Windows system.

The desktop is an area I'll be looking at next. I've been working on replacing some of the proprietary desktop apps we use, again part of our enterprise systems, with custom written web-apps that will allow us to use fewer licenses and have better usability. Once we no longer use those apps it'll make a lot of sense to switch those desktops to Linux. Doing so will make our support costs go down as there will be far less issues with security and stupid mistakes by users.

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Excellent

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.93.15.50] on September 09, 2007 04:37 AM
That was another great article. Just goes to show you what can happen, if you have people willing to give Linux a shot.
The main problem with companies, is that there network administrators and IT staff, get to stuck in thier ways using Windows. Even to the point of closed mindedness, because they have spent so much of thier hard earned money going towards Microsoft Certs every few years.

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No, only if it's done right

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on September 09, 2007 06:41 AM
Introducing free-software solutions the wrong way will just cause aggravation and entrench Microsoft even further. These people have some good advice. Useful article.

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.135.25.33] on November 04, 2007 04:16 PM
Even though Mindbridge now delivers its security monitoring solutions mostly on a Linux platform, some customers still want Microsoft. "We're willing to accommodate them, for a price," Christian says. "It costs us significantly more to support a Windows box than a Linux box. It's almost like Microsoft is now an afterthought

www.ayi.org

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves "bunches of money"

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.135.25.33] on November 13, 2007 11:47 PM
<a href=http://www.ayi.org target=_blank title=ayi>ayi</a>

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves &quot;bunches of money&quot;

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.240.202.105] on November 25, 2007 03:57 AM
The article mentioned getting used to the command line. This makes me wonder how Windows Server 2008 will turn out with the new command line only install option. If shops decide to go this way then you have to question their reasons for not going linux in the first place. Either option would require GUI loving admins to learn the command line. If you don't go the command line only route then do you really care about resources? It seems to be that MS's latest moves actually validate linux and erase some of the reasons for opposing change.

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves &quot;bunches of money&quot;

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.141.3.17] on November 28, 2007 08:07 AM
I personally use Linux for a long time. And I will certainly use it for future. So use linux, save money, make your job easy, be yourself.

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves &quot;bunches of money&quot;

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.108.0.89] on December 08, 2007 10:53 AM
thanks you
[Modified by: Anonymous on December 09, 2007 10:15 PM]

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Mindbridge switches to Linux, saves &quot;bunches of money&quot;

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.103.3.159] on December 10, 2007 10:40 AM
thanks you
[Modified by: Anonymous on December 11, 2007 11:28 AM]

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