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Western & Southern Financial Group provides insurance and investment advice for businesses and consumers. The conservative nature of the business means that Western & Southern needed the most secure and reliable infrastructure available. After years of running the Sybase database on Sun's Solaris servers, IT Systems Manager Paul Jackson recognized the need to get the platform "up to speed." When he checked on the cost to replace the proprietary hardware and operating system the company had relied on for so long, it was so expensive that he began looking for another solution.
Jackson wanted to keep Sybase, in part because of the familiarity factor. "We looked at other databases like MySQL and SQL Server for Windows, and even considered just upgrading Sybase and running Solaris again. It made sense financially and from an ease of implementation standpoint to stay with Sybase, but with a much more current version running on Intel and Linux." While MySQL is free, Sybase allowed Western & Southern to port its current licenses to the new infrastructure. Besides, MySQL didn't pass Jackson's evaluation with flying colors. "It just wasn't good security-wise," he says. "It's not even close yet. It was missing a lot of the functionality that we needed."
Even though MySQL didn't pass muster, Linux was just fine. "We took Linux through the trials. We installed, we tested, and made sure everything matched up the way we expected it to. We had big concerns on the database side -- moving the data is pretty easy but the key is the code. Anything that has database-specific code in it is a concern when migrating. By staying with Sybase, we didn't have to rewrite the code, and that saved us hundreds of hours."
Western & Southern reports an 80% decrease in batch cycle times on the new database servers running Linux, as well as a 60% reduction in the number of servers needed, which further reduced both hardware and software license costs.
Jackson's biggest challenge with migrating to Linux has been version matching. "It becomes kind of sticky with all the different pieces. Versions are changing so fast now, you have to make sure vendors match the version between the database, the applications, and the operating system."
Jackson's experience with Linux has been so good that the company is now looking at other areas in which it could use the open source operating system. "I can't say a whole lot about it, but we're looking at some open source Web technologies and workflow software, and some other things."
For other IT directors looking at migrating to an open source platform, Jackson recommends thorough testing. "They've got to be able to have a good test bed," he says. "It helps to have a good understanding of how the application functions as it is now, and will it be able to bring the functionality you expect. That goes back to having people who are familiar with the application and how it will work. Especially with a database, it's good to have people who can understand the code. Being able to play with it and experiment and get comfortable with it yourself, before you commit, is key."
Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.