Al Ghurair Group goes live with Linux

Al Ghurair Group has migrated its Oracle E-business suite from Windows NT to Linux as part of its efforts to consolidate its computing environment, and boost reliability and system scalability.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  June 18, 2003

I|~||~||~|Al Ghurair Group has migrated its Oracle E-business suite from Windows NT to Linux as part of its efforts to consolidate its computing environment. In addition to completing its platform consolidation, the switch to Linux will also boost reliability and system scalability.

“Two years ago, we ran our internal web server on Linux and we were quite happy because this was the one machine that never required any attendance. It just ran and ran. Since then, our affection for Linux has grown. Today, it runs our e-mail and messaging applications, our enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution as well as our internal portal and we believe it is a very attractive platform in terms of reliability and scalability,” says Hatem Al Sibai, IT manager, Al Ghurair Group.

The company runs its e-business suite on Red Hat Advanced Server, which, in turn, runs on Intel servers. “Nobody can ignore the economics of Linux on Intel. Linux performs extremely well on Intel boxes, which bring the cost on hardware and infrastructure down tremendously. We believe that this will reduce our cost of deployment and operation by 50%. Across the industry, CIOs are reporting reductions that are anywhere between 30 and 60%,” explains Al Sibai.

Al Ghurair Group, which operates several diverse businesses ranging from shopping malls and universities to several retail outlets, feels that Linux has shown itself to be more stable and better capable of handling round-the-clock mission critical applications than Windows NT. “I do not know of a single NT server that did not need a restart or a reboot in a six-month period,” says Al Sibai. “This kind of downtime costs money and when you have a platform that works 24/7, that obviously [gives you] indirect savings, and ‘substantial’ savings at that,” he adds.

||**||II|~||~||~|Most businesses in the region, however, have favoured Windows over Linux despite higher costs of operation and maintenance. One significant reason for the ubiquitous use of Windows is the abundance of support for the platform. Conversely, while deploying Linux is cheap, related service and support have often been expensive and hard to come by. The closure of Red Hat’s local office has acted as a further deterrent to the adoption of Linux in the region.

“Traditionally, all of this would be correct,” says Al Sibai. “But not anymore, because you don’t start such a project without the necessary know-how, and our development team has the relevant experience. Plus these skills are more available today than they were in the past,” he adds.

Moreover, Oracle itself has played a significant role in encouraging the migration to Linux by offering its clients support for not just its ERP suite but for the open source operating system (OS) as well. “That is music to my ears,” he says. “And it is strategic for Oracle to show that level of support for Linux. It is in their interest to bring down the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the customer. And however that is done, if it is by eliminating the component of the OS cost or some other cost — the total TCO must be lowered. We ourselves have been encouraged to proceed with the migration because of the level of support that Oracle has shown for Linux,” he adds.

Despite the availability of local vendor support, Al Sibai’s 15-member IT team completed the migration project, including planning, testing and implementation, by itself within three months. “We were able to do it by ourselves, although we did have some challenges. For instance, we had to carry out a series of test migrations and fine tune the plan every time. At the same time, we had to maintain the same level of IT services to the users. Moreover, we had a thirty-six hour time frame, in which we had to export the entire database on Windows, move the exported dump files to Linux and then import them into the database on Linux. This task was accomplished using the Oracle export/import utilities,” he says.

||**||III|~||~||~|Once the import was complete, the IT team had to deal with several post-import tasks such as recreating sequences and synonyms and resetting profile options values for the new environment. “All this needed to be done between Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning, when the users were not in the office. Even if one task failed or took longer than its planned time, the entire migration would have had to be aborted. These challenges placed heavy demands on our resources, but were well prepared for it,” he adds.

All of these changes at the Al Ghurair Group, however, have only taken place at the backend and have not affected users, as they continue to use the Windows interface. “So far, we have only employed Linux at the server level. So the user, for instance, can continue to use Outlook for his email or messaging. They wouldn’t know what server lies behind. It makes no difference to them,” he adds.

While the migration itself cost nothing in terms of additional licensing fees, the company has spent US$50,000 on Intel servers and expects to achieve ROI within the next six months. “The Intel servers were not specifically purchased for Linux. We were planning to buy them anyway, but deferred the purchase to coincide with the Linux implementation,” adds Hatem.

Since then, the company has moved quickly to migrate its portal, which was initially running on NT, to Linux. “The portal runs on Linux and is part of Oracle’s complete collaboration suite that gives us instant messaging, file sharing, calendar and e-mail functions, enables currency conversion, translation and a host of other features,” he says.

Moving forward, the IT manager explains that the group will gradually migrate completely to the Linux platform. “This is only the beginning. We will continue our platform consolidation programme, so that not just our ERP but even our file servers, print servers and web servers will be running on Linux. Linux is at the heart of our IT strategy, and like the rest of the corporate world, we recognise it as a low-cost high performance business platform,” he adds. ||**||

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