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How Novell Saved Millions With Open Source

NEW YORK -- How much money can a large enterprise save by migrating to open source from proprietary? In Novell's case, it's millions of dollars.

During an address at the recent Linuxworld OpenSolutions Summit here, Debra Anderson CIO of Novell, detailed how Novell has transitioned to open source from proprietary for its own operations. It's an effort that is still ongoing.

You would think that a company like Novell, with its SUSE Linux Enterprise platform offering, would be running open source software in its own enterprise. The experience of Novell, which has been in transition over the last three years from proprietary to open source for both its data center and its desktop users, helps illustrate the process. In 2004, Novell's management made it a company wide mandate to move to open source.

The change to open source, Anderson said, was part politics but also had a real return on investment for Novell. "We see real benefit to our bottom line. We've had $900,000 in expense reductions per year versus our prior desktop operating system and office applications. The number is very conservative and it's just the desktop side of things."

Anderson explained that when the transition started in 2004, Novell was running mostly Windows and now has moved to Open Office for its desktop productivity suite. Although the mandate was to switch over inside of three months, in practice, the IT group migrated their own desktops inside of one week.

"We terminated our agreements with Microsoft and that was a substantial part of the savings." By 2005, some 54 percent of Novell's desktop users were running Linux, she added. "We had to understand how to enable existing business applications to run on the Linux desktop," Anderson said. "We've got that nailed now so that's no longer an impediment."

Anderson explained that, with Novell's approach, the company didn't segment out its users at first, which she called a better approach to implementing Linux on the desktop. After all, segmenting users by what they do on the desktop is an important part of the process, she noted. Anderson advised companies to start with transaction workstations, such as end-users who don't create documents as much as just have to read them.

"They use a few applications every day and once they are in them they are there for the day," Anderson said of this user group. "It's the easiest place to make the transition. You just have to enable a few apps and you're off to the races."

Penetration of open source in Novell's datacenter isn't quite as high as the near complete ubiquity that now exists on the desktop. Anderson said about 40 percent of Novell's datacenter is using open source. "When we look at the data center we're in the multiple millions in savings by looking at open source as a viable option," Anderson said.

Among the big cost savers: a move away from proprietary Unix and a move from Oracle running on HP-UX systems, to Oracle running on Linux. "I saved six digits upwards of $300,000 on the switch, let alone what we're getting on better availability and improved performance."

Anderson also cited Novell's issue tracking system as a point point made less costly. Prior to the open source mandate, Novell had been running a proprietary system that cost $1.2 million to acquire, involved consulting costs for initial deployment of $300,000 and an annual maintenance fee $180,000. Novell is now using Bugzilla. Cost: zero.

"My costs have gone down year over year every year we've been at this and my ability to provide functionally to the company has greatly increased in speed."