March 15, 2009

life in financial markets: linux & india inc.

Two months back, in mid-January, I contributed towards a Information Technology-special issue in the magazine I write for. I wrote on the usage of Linux operating system in corporate India. I share it below.

Not quite leaning on Linux

Normally, where skill sets required are such that even a lazy person can have it, the Indian market takes to free stuff or low-priced stuff. A similar thing does not seem to have to happened in the case of the world of operating system (OS) software where Microsoft's various Windows versions such as Vista, Windows 7, XP are facing the heat from open source Linux-based OS such as Ubuntu and Red Hat.

Linux buffs say it is the laziness factor itself that makes companies, particularly the big ones, look first at Windows rather than Linux the cost of Windows licenses notwithstanding. "Deterrents are things such as lack of post-sales technical support when you want to replace a Linux-based server with a new one," says Ashutosh Bijoor, founder and advisor to Reach1to1. "Getting internal skilled staff to do Linux-based work also becomes a HR problem."

The situation in India is unlike in the West where companies are more receptive to Linux usage. Internationally, large web technology services such as Google, Amazon and Yahoo use the platform of Linux, Apache, MySql and Perl (or PHP or Python in place of Perl) all of which are open source applications. "In 2008, our survey findings show that 8% of developers worldwide currently use Linux as a primary development or host OS and 23% use it for secondary development," says a spokesperson of US-based Evans Data Corporation that carries out market research and intelligence work for the software development industry. "India's usage of Linux is line with or slightly whereas among developers in Brazil and Latin America Linux usage is higher than global usage."

But there has been exceptions among the big companies. UTI Bank, IBM, NSDL, HDFC Bank are some of the large players that are using Linux-based applications in some or most of their operations. "Linux, as a platform, has been getting better in the last five years and that is why companies are willing to try it out," says Krishnan Thyagarajan, managing director, Quest Software.

Thyagarajan, however, lists some more negatives of Linux so far as large companies are concerned for whom the initial high costs of licenses for commercial software such as Windows is a small part of overall information technology (IT) expenses. For one, he says, the major challenge for an open source solution such as Linux is the fact that it does not have a road map for the next three years unlike Microsoft that lays out the road map on its OS solutions in advance. "When you want to bet on technology you want to do so on predictable ones," says Thyagarajan.

For small companies, internationally, Linux is not that great an option. A Google official, Douwe Osinga, currently based in India, writes in his personal blog: "If you're a small company, doing some in house development, you'll probably stick with some MS Office/VBScript combination. Linux is hard, Windows is easy. It is sad, but still true, whether your configuring PC's or developing an invoice system."

Strangely, the trend in India, among small companies is turning out be the opposite. Bijoor's Reach1to1 acts as an application service provider manages the servers for small companies in its central development centre on a 'pay as you use' model. It uses Linux platforms to save not just costs but also offer a superior performance which is what matters ultimately for its clients that includes heavy IT-users such as "Linux has been architecturally designed for bottoms up use and in all its layers it offers a highly stable architecture," says Bijoor.

Companies that are using Linux platforms are carrying on regardless of Microsoft's clout and power to undercut and intimidate Linux users. For instance, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), one of the largest key economic and corporate data providing companies in the country, uses Linux in all its internal computational operations. "We have a lot of applications that are intricately woven with each other and perform automated response functions and Linux has adequately suited our efficiency requirements as well as saved a lot of software costs," says Shobhana Vyas, head of IT at CMIE.

Indian banks are also choosing open source software solutions for upgrading their technology internally. HDFC Bank, for instance, has build in-house software applications around Linux to smoothen and upgrade its operations.

Microsoft India would be rather happy with the low usage of Linux OS in India. But when the tide turns into a flood, no one can tell.

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