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The road less traveled: Unix to Linux

A Colorado natural gas company says their move from Unix to Linux was the right one.

When Western Gas Resources Inc. chose to upgrade its Oracle 8i database management system (DBMS) to 9i last year, the company began debating whether to replace its HP Unix server with a cluster of Intel servers running Linux.

It wasn't the first time the debate over Linux was heard at the company. Rick Brough, manager of database administration at the Denver-based natural gas producer, recalled the initial skepticism on behalf of some managers who had major concerns about open source support.

But the HP server continued to age and began to develop problems, Brough said.

"Last year, we knew we were at a point for a hardware upgrade," Brough said. "We kind of just chanced it and decided to jump into Linux head first."

Many companies like Western Gas are taking the plunge into Linux as companies such as Oracle put their weight behind it. According to market figures released by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. last week, Oracle surged into first place in DBMS sales on Linux with $207 million in sales, followed by IBM's $85 million in sales.

"We kind of just chanced it and decided to jump into Linux head first."
Rick Brough
manager of database administrationWestern Gas Resources Inc.

At one-fifth the cost of buying a new Unix server, Western Gas switched to Linux, Brough said.

The company chose to use a Network Appliance clustered storage system. The project involved moving data onto Dell Intel servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

"We were one of the first ones to make the jump, and our biggest concern was which vendor was going to be responsible if something went wrong," Brough said.

So far, the company has experienced very few problems with Linux and has ironed out support agreements with Red Hat and Oracle to address problems quickly, Brough said.

To assure customers that support is widely available for Linux migration projects, Oracle worked out a support and sales agreement with Dell in April. Dell is bundling its servers with Oracle's database software and taking initial support calls for customers..

Oracle itself is publicly documenting its internal migration to Linux from Sun Solaris in a project expected to be completed by the end of the year. The project began 18 months ago by moving the Oracle applications division first, with a group of 5,000 programmers, finishing the changeover last October.

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For Western Gas, the job of exporting the data from the HP Unix server to Dell's Intel servers running Linux was easier then expected, according to Brough. The only hurdles the company faced were Linux kernel parameters that had to be "tweaked," Brough said.

"At the time, there wasn't a whole lot of documentation," Brough said. "Once we got the parameters straightened out with Oracle, we haven't had a problem since."

A Linux administrator on the staff was helpful during the changeover. Moving from Unix to Linux also made life easier for the project team, Brough said.

"I can't think of any problems we've had," Brough said. "We've never lost any mission critical data and so far everything is working just fine."

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