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In 2005, when Slumberland faced end-of-lifecycle replacements of its proprietary Unix platform, its warehouse management system (WMS) vendor suggested a move to Red Hat Linux and commodity x86 servers. Seth Mitchell, the infrastructure team manager at the large furniture retailer, gladly agreed. Upper management wasn't quite as quick to jump on the open source bandwagon, but once the cost savings started rolling in, everyone agreed that it was a profitable decision.
Slumberland is a multi-store furniture retailer in the Midwest United States, based in Minnesota. When the Sealy mattress distributor's four-way RISC server was approaching the end of its lifecycle, Mitchell assumed that WMS vendor RedPrairie would replace it with something identical. He has found that many times the application vendor "more or less dictates what platforms" customers can use, and typically the vendors want high-end proprietary Unix platforms. However, "they suggested the idea of looking at Red Hat as an option, and we were very pleased about that." Although Slumberland hadn't used Linux before the migration, Mitchell was familiar with it from a previous job monitoring the network for a law firm. During that time he became a Red Hat certified technician. "I saw a lot of what Red Hat could do."
Mitchell says the migration from the four-way RISC server with Oracle 8i to a two-way x86 blade server running Linux and Oracle 10g went smoothly. "We really didn't experience a lot of challenges with it. We needed to get some additional staff trained on Linux and Red Hat specifically, in order to have some redundancy. But honestly, the process was very smooth."
Even so, Mitchell says "there was a fair amount of concern" about migrating to an open source platform, "due to publicity surrounding the possible legal liability of open source software. Some of our management team expressed concern, asking how we were protecting ourselves. Red Hat's indemnification agreement helped with that, and then also the fact that this option was dramatically less expensive."
Mitchell says Slumberland saved $88,000 in hardware expenditures and software licensing costs the first year after the migration. "We also saved a significant amount of money on professional services, because we didn't have people on staff who were trained to work on proprietary Unix, so we had to farm that out. Now, we've got one person trained on Red Hat. We also save $3K a year on power and cooling costs, because the blade server is so much more efficient. So in subsequent years we are saving about $35K each year in software licensing, power, and professional services."
Not only that, but Mitchell has found that RedPrairie's warehouse management application runs just as well, if not better, on RHEL and the new blade server compared to how it did on a Unix server with twice the CPU power.
Mitchell enjoys the flexibility that open source software on a commodity platform provides. "It's a little different in terms of how we look for support. Traditionally, we would contact a proprietary vendor, but with Red Hat we find that a lot of times the newsgroups are very useful in tracking down critical issues and finding good solutions. Of course, we can also go directly to Red Hat for support."
Open source is also good for morale. "It offers more options to dig into some of the nitty-gritty elements," Mitchell says, "where other proprietary operating systems don't let you see that level of technical detail. If someone is looking to do some research on a system and understand it more, we'll have them take a look at open source."
Mitchell says he's begun using open source in other areas of the company. He recommends it to colleagues. "There's a perception that proprietary platforms perform better than open source. It's one of those things that if it costs more, it must be doing more. But from what I've seen, this is one of our highest performing systems, especially in disk I/O. And it's better because you can get objective support from the newsgroups. You're very well supported."
Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.