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Linux a BIG hit in India
Leslie D'Monte
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April 08, 2006

It has been over a year since UTI Bank [Get Quote] set up its call center that handles over 7,000 calls per day. The bank was looking for a robust platform that could guarantee it "high availability of services and uninterrupted call traffic". It had options but finally decided on Linux for its core business applications.

"Today, we are really happy with Linux that has delivered 99.99 per cent uptime so far," says Pritesh Thaker, AVP, IT, UTI Bank. The bank, in fact, is now planning to base its credit card-based system on Linux too.

UTI is not the lone player to swear by Linux. Eveready, a leading manufacturer of dry cell batteries and flashlights in India, has built a mission-critical resource system to automate all functionalities of its daily business using the Oracle e-business suite running on a Linux platform. Central Bank of India [Get Quote] has implemented Linux in nearly 3000 branches.

The Penguin (official mascot of Linux), it appears, has finally marched into enterprises like IDBI Bank, Canara Bank [Get Quote], New India Assurance, LIC [Get Quote], BSNL, IRCTC, ABN Amro, Airtel and even the governments of Maharashtra and West Bengal. The list, of course, is not exhaustive.

In most cases, though, the implementation of Linux in Indian enterprises is by Red Hat (primarily since Red Hat Linux has been popularised by the media and offers support for Linux which, being open source, can be downloaded for free and has no upfront licensing fee).

Otherwise, one can choose from the hundreds of other Linux distributions - Mandriva, Debian, Suse, PCLinuxOS, Knoppix and Ubuntu to name a few - for desktops and enterprises.

"All verticals are ready for Linux adoption today. However the banking, financial and insurance services (BFSI) and government markets have been pioneers of sorts in adopting Linux. The retail segment is also gaining ground quickly, along with verticals ranging from telecommunications to media and entertainment.

"In India, we are increasingly seeing corporates running ERPs and mission-critical applications on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform. Large databases and blade servers are being powered by Linux to run online share trading and lottery applications," says Javed Tapia, CEO, Red Hat.

The Indiabulls [Get Quote] group is a case in point. Indiabulls runs its Internet trading platform - Oracle 9i  - on Linux. This system, which handles 40-45 per cent of Indiabulls' revenue transactions - nearly 10,000 customers are online at any point of time and transactions are in the range of Rs 1000 crore (Rs 10 billion) - runs on Linux. The online share trading infrastructure at Indiabulls generates close to 150000 database queries per minute.

"Linux has become prettly stable. We never considered Windows because of the perception that it has a lot of vulnerabilities. Hence, we adopted the Linux route and are satisfied with the results," says Tejinderpal Singh Miglani, CTO, Indiabulls.

IDBI's Sanjay Sharma, Head IT, corroborates this view. IDBI has been using an Oracle HR management and financial accounting system, which runs on Linux. From Sharma's perspective, this is a "mission-critical" application. "We did evaluate options like Unix and Windows too. However, we did not want to be tied up to resource-hungry applications and any particular vendor. Besides, you hardly have a problem of viruses with Linux," he says.

Linux, indeed, is doing reasonably good business. IBM's business built around Linux, for instance, was worth $16 billion last year and is projected to be worth more than $50 billion, says the company's global head of public sector Linux sales, Mary Ann Fisher, who recently spoke at LinuxWorld, Australia.

She added: "Governments worldwide are spending more than $3 billion a year on Linux hardware, software and services, and this is growing at 35 per cent a year. But it's the US military that is spending the most."

"Mission-critical" debate

Now, mission-critical applications, among other things, need servers. And for the first time, the server market in India is expected to cross the 100,000-unit mark in 2006. Servers are powerful networked machines for tasks such as handling e-mail, financial transactions, airline reservations and file storage.

Based on the price, vendors classify servers as small (anywhere from Rs 40000 up to Rs 500,000), medium (from Rs 500,000 to Rs 1 crore) and large (over Rs 1 crore). They are identified as Intel (or X86 processor-based), Unix (or non-X86 processor-based) and Blade servers. Linux and Solaris are flavours of Unix. Windows and Intel form the loosely-termed "Wintel" brand.

Back in 2000, India was primarily a Unix market in the enterprise. With the entry of certified and supported Linux solutions, Unix users in India found Linux an attractive proposition to migrate to. IDC has consistently reported Linux as the fastest growing OS in the world and predicts that the overall market revenue for Linux will exceed $35 billion by 2008.

Globally, Windows narrowly overtook Unix in 2005 to claim the top spot in server sales for the first time, according to IDC. Computer makers sold $17.7 billion worth of Windows servers worldwide in 2005 compared with $17.5 billion in Unix servers. Linux came third. The Unix market, though, is still huge. Sun is trying to restore Unix fortunes as well by making Solaris an open-source project and bringing it to the x86 servers.

The battle for Unix customers (traditionally, the server King) is not new, with IBM, HP and Red Hat all pushing Unix-to-Linux migration plans. This definitely has hurt Sun's profitability. Sun, in turn, released Solaris 10 last year as a free download (it has close to 5 million downloads).

Praveen Sawkar, country manager, Solaris, Sun Microsystems India, admits that "Linux has gained some traction in the x86 server space and has managed to break Wintel combination's stronghold on this segment of the market".

However, he adds, that most mission-critical applications in the world "continue to be deployed, almost without exception, on the SPARC platform".

He opines it will be a long time before the industry will start basing their mission-critical applications on Linux. "In the BFSI industry, one of the largest users of mission-critical applications, Linux is used for end-user banking, algorithmic and analytical work (derivative analysis and risk portfolio assessment). It is yet to be used in core banking environments, something that can be classified as being mission-critical," asserts Sawkar.

Microsoft concurs with this view. Sanjiv Mathur, director (customer and partner experience), Microsoft Corporation India, notes that according to IDC, 42.3 per cent of mission-critical applications worldwide run on Windows server platform.

"With a 69.5 per cent market share, Microsoft has a strong foothold across all verticals including BFSI and government. Linux has a much smaller share of the market, which is limited to specific areas of high-performance computing and other workloads like security and edge servers, which have traditionally been on the Unix platform. So this whole perception of Linux posing a threat to Microsoft does not hold true. Linux growth is more from the re-platforming of Unix," he adds.

Frost and Sullivan (India) - director ICT, Alok Shende, too, appears to be in agreement. "Linux is definitely getting into the enterprise. However, enterprises today need end-to-end solutions. Second, the price of the OS is a small part of the end-to-end solution. People should look at the total cost of ownership, which included long-term costs like services and people availability. Linux has to create a whole market around the product. While it has matured as a technology, it is wanting from a business perspective. And that will take some time," he opines.

However, there are major companies that stand aggressively by Linux. Sandeep Menon, director, Linux Business, Novell West Asia, opines that Linux is increasingly being used as a platform of choice for mission-critical applications.

"Several mainframes and super computers are running Linux. Linux is also been embedded in routers and telecom equipment. It is used by some of the largest banks, airlines and Internet engines in the World. What else can be more critical?" he asks.

He adds that with proprietary software, the customer is totally at the mercy of vendor. If the vendor discontinues support for any reason, the customer can't do anything. In the case of Open Source Linux, even if the vendor stops support, the customer can go to anyone else for support or even support it using his/her own resources, given that the source code will be available.

Ashutosh Dhanesha, country manager, Linux Business, IBM India, concurs: "Linux gives customers choice. Our philosophy on "Freedom of choice" for software, hardware and services and leadership in industry standards provides customers with security, flexibility and control of their IT infrastructure and applications. We see Linux moving to mission-critical applications such as ERP and even high end applications such as Seismic data analysis."

"Linux is the most proactive as far as security is concerned. With a million eyeballs looking continuously at the code, bugs are fixed faster than they can be exploited. As opposed to a licensing approach that proprietary platforms follow, we sell subscriptions, wherein customers are automatically covered for upgrades and updates," says Tapia.

Experts opine there is a Rs 600-crore (Rs 6 billion) market for open source software which is growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 35-40 per cent. A sharp rise in enterprise-wide adoption of Linux or Open Source is one of the primary reasons for this optimism.

Gartner predicts that by 2008, 95 per cent of Global 2000 organisations will have formal open-source acquisition and management strategies. The Penguin, it appears, will give its competitors an icy path to walk on.

Penguin facts

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