Bank group takes Linux migration a step at a time

Posted by ProjectC 
"We liked the idea of having an open enterprise and an infrastructure able to support anything."
-- Tom Johnson

Bank group takes Linux migration a step at a time

By Tina Gasperson
February 20, 2008

Metropolitan Bank Group is a large conglomerate in Illinois, comprising 10 banks and $3 billion in assets. As Metropolitan acquired more banking interests, IT Director Tom Johnson needed to find a way to reduce costs and increase efficiency in the face of the company's rapid growth. The solution was a migration from Windows to Linux.

Because Metropolitan was growing via acquisitions, Johnson found his IT staff spending large amounts of time bringing remote locations into the company infrastructure and working in the field to provide technical support and troubleshooting. It was expensive to add remote network administration capabilities in Windows, so Johnson decided to move from Microsoft to Novell and SUSE Linux. "We liked the idea of having an open enterprise," Johnson says, "and an infrastructure able to support anything."

Once Metropolitan began the switch to Linux, Johnson says he saw immediate increases in stability and efficiency, with lower expenditures. "The remote control functionality of ZENworks is probably giving us the biggest bang for the buck," he says. "Keeping our staff at their desks allows us to be more responsive to our users."

Metropolitan's infrastructure is almost entirely on Linux now, and it continues to migrate many of its applications, including an IT ticketing system that used to run on SQL Server and Windows but now uses MySQL, a move that saved Metropolitan over $17,000 a year. "The cost savings from moving our Windows applications to Linux seems almost ridiculous, but it's true," Johnson says.

Johnson says the biggest challenge of switching server software has been "managing the risks associated with deploying an open source platform like Linux." The biggest question for a bank with highly critical operations was the support question. "But Novell stepped up to the plate and it wasn't a fear anymore."

Johnson had seen pushback in the past when it came to adopting open source software, and "didn't want it to get to that point. So first, we migrated a lot of our non-mission-critical programs as a proof of concept to test the reliability of Linux." At the beginning of the migration, he says, Novell was only a year into its "SUSE Linux support realm. You have a company that's only done this for a year -- do they have everything worked out?"

Now that it has been a couple of years since the migration, the bigger issue for Johnson is finding qualified technicians. "There's a stigma with some of the hotshots in Linux," he says. "They're young and renegade. That might have been a deterrent for some businesses that don't want to migrate to Linux because of that. The majority of applicants that come in to interview are really young and they're not business-savvy. You can tell they don't have the business side in mind. They're just looking to make money or to prove themselves."

Johnson advises other IT managers to take a migration to Linux slowly. "Work on proofs of concept. That way, if something blows up, it's not huge. It's called a migration for a reason."

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology for some of the most respected publications in the industry. She's been freelancing since 1998.