Case study: Penguin-flavoured poultry

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Case study: Penguin-flavoured poultry

Most of the noise surrounding the success of the open source Linux server software in business comes from the anti-Microsoft brigade cheering on the sidelines. However, since Linux is basically an open source version of Unix, logic would suggest the first converts to the software with the penguin logo might not come from the Microsoft Windows camp.

Perhaps administrators of other Unix systems would be easier to convert to the almost identical Linux offering. Indeed, the cost advantage when comparing Windows Server to Linux Server solutions is literally the price of the Microsoft code, since both run on identical hardware.

However, when comparing Linux with Unix, most often the hardware under the Unix hood is proprietary kit from the likes of Sun, IBM and HP, although all those vendors now offer their hardware in Linux-capable flavours. But if you’ve already got a significant investment in Unix servers, it’s likely they are mid-sized iron rather than Intel or AMD-based commodity servers.

Such was the case at Bartter Enterprises, the company behind the famous Steggles brand and Australia's second largest poultry producer, employing more than 4,500 employees throughout its farming, processing, distribution and marketing and sales operations.

The company was using some serious rock-solid Unix kit for very good business reasons – very high transaction volumes and a non negotiable requirement to avoid ship fresh product daily.

“Many vendors have underestimated our needs when it comes to transactional and processing requirements,” said Janelle Endacott, business systems director for Bartter. “We are a daily fresh business and our product needs to go out on the day, so our order entry shipping system – and the reliability of it – is critical to our business.”

When the time came to upgrade the system, Endacott was faced with the difficult task of predicting exactly how much upgrade was needed. “With Unix you really only get one shot – if you oversize it you pay too much, yet if you undersize you get into trouble,” said Endacott.

The same could be said for a Linux solution, unless you take advantage of clustering, allowing you to deploy a server farm, with all the servers working as one virtual server. If there isn’t quite enough power, sprinkle in a few more servers. If there’s excess capacity, send a few of them back to the shop. And since it’s Linux, the extra cost for the necessary software is non-existent.

Because the Linux cluster would be using off-the-shelf commodity servers, the price of the hardware versus a large Unix-based box was an added attraction. “Using the Linux operating system was clearly a better cost proposition,” said Endacott. “In fact, it initially enabled us to save around 20 percent on our overall spend on hardware and we expect to continue saving through the reduced maintenance requirements. With Unix we would have been paying for features like redundancy, which were already a given with multiple servers. So really, we would have been paying more for Unix, for no added benefit.”

Bartter could now grow its hardware as it rolled out its Oracle E-Business Suite application – only deploying hardware on a needs basis, and Red Hat’s clustered version of Linux was a good match for Oracle RAC, its clustered database solution.

“Understanding how Red Hat worked and delivered technology from a wider community of dedicated developers and enthusiasts was the real turning point for us,” said Endacott. “We could see very definite benefits in the community having a hand in developing and perfecting the technology, and likewise, in Red Hat’s subscription-based business model which ensures reliability and security are not compromised.”

“The Linux model offers more credible guarantees around how the technology is going to perform, especially in terms of ensuring the technology is quality-controlled and robust,” said Endacott. “While proprietary systems still offer upgrades and patches, Linux offers this and more in a cost effective manner. Being responsible for an enterprise technology infrastructure, that gives me a lot of confidence.”

Of course the theory needed to be proven and extensive testing showed the Linux solution could offer 10 times the performance speed of the previous Unix offering, which was proof enough for Endacott who went ahead and installed the clustered Oracle and Red Hat combination. “The next step for us is to move towards using more open source tools, making a gradual departure from our use of proprietary tools,” said Endacott. “In doing so, I expect there are more cost savings to be had.”

The seventy-odd Microsoft Windows based servers at Bartter are now also being evaluated against the Linux alternative. “Who knows, we may even end up extending Linux to our desktops in future refresh programs” said Endacott. The future of poultry distribution is indeed looking decidedly penguin-flavoured.
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