Open Source in the Land of Oz

Australia. Down under. Oz. For most of us, those words conjure up images of kangaroos and coral reefs, of red deserts and a landmark opera house.

But behind those icons lies another reality — that of a sophisticated, technologically advanced society; an economy that has outperformed the rest of the West in recent years; and a convenient bridge into Asia for many U.S. and European companies.

Australians are known to be early adopters of technology, and most major vendors maintain a presence in the country. So it’s not surprising that Linux, one of the new kids on the technological block, is being cautiously embraced both in the enterprise and in government there.

In fact, Australia’s involvement with open-source software isn’t just as a consumer. Aussies have contributed critical elements to open-source architectures over many years. One such contributor, Andrew Tridgell, who wrote “rsync” and Samba — both of which have become standard Unix and Linux tools — notes that Australian universities “seem to generate a lot more free software per head than other places around the world.”

Motives and Drivers

The factors pushing users toward open source in Australia are in many ways similar to those in other locations. According to analyst Chris Morris of Morris & Patryn Ltd., they include “ongoing cost pressures, security and reliability concerns in Windows-based solutions, increased power of negotiation and platform flexibility, peer acceptance and development, Microsoft’s business practices and platform vendor enthusiasm.” IBM, HP and Dell are the dominant players in the Australian server market, and all are actively promoting open-source solutions.

For Angus Robertson, Red Hat’s vice president of the South Asia-Pacific region, total cost of ownership is by far the most important driver. “On average, customers migrating from Unix to Linux will experience a two-thirds reduction in cost,” he told LinuxInsider, “and a 3X performance gain. In this kind of environment, with IT budgets being very heavily controlled or even reduced, CIOs are looking at ways to reduce their spend.”

But it’s not all one-way: There are inhibitors as well. Computer Associates is an enthusiastic booster of open-source software down under and offers more than 60 Linux-based products, but Dominic Schiavello, brand manager for the company’s Unicenter line in Australia and New Zealand, feels that “the thing holding Linux back at the moment is the lack of enterprise applications.” It’s getting better, he said, but there are still “not a lot” of applications.

Not everyone agrees. “A lot of our customers are looking at moving Oracle and other commercial applications onto Linux,” Rick Sewell, Linux program manager at Hewlett-Packard in Australia, told LinuxInsider.

Red Hat’s Robertson added: “We’re working very closely in Australia with our key partners, IBM, HP, Dell, Oracle and Intel. We’re doing proof-of-concepts along with them in mission-critical applications and databases. We’ve initially had success on the edge of the network, but Oracle is a great advocate of running their databases on Linux on Intel platforms. Linux now has credibility for critical applications.”

Whither the Pragmatists?

Computer Associates recently ran a customer survey in Australia and New Zealand that showed 25 percent of respondents currently have Linux deployed in production and an additional 45 percent are considering it.

While adoption of open source in Oz is, in Schiavello’s view, only about 5 percent behind that in the United States, some attitudes about it might differ. “Open source in Australia is probably less of an emotional decision,” said Robertson. “I think in other markets sometimes there’s an almost religious approach. In Australia, it’s very practical and logical: If it makes financial and practical sense, we do it; if it doesn’t, we don’t.”

So Australians are a pragmatic, level-headed people?

“Not when it comes to rugby,” he joked. “We still think we have a chance to win the World Cup, but I don’t think that’s very practical.”

Government is another potential market. A draft bill in the Australian Parliament would make it mandatory for public authorities making procurement decisions to choose open-source software in preference to proprietary software wherever practicable.

Open-source software has been used to conduct local elections in the national capital, Canberra; and in the tropical north, the city council of Cairns has created a stir by installing Oracle’s E-Business Suite on Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters on Dell PowerEdge servers running Red Hat Linux. According to the partners to the deal, the council stands to save up to 75 percent of its current software and hardware costs over the next few years.

Secure E-Banking

Australian banking, a very centralized industry, offers customers advanced electronic-payment options. CommSecure Limited provides Australian financial institutions with comprehensive electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP), e-payment gateway operation, online financial market-trading systems and direct debit request form management, all written in Python and using Postgre SQL.

“From very early on, we decided that everything would be open source, and everything would be written within CommSecure,” said managing director Ray Loyzaga. In 1998, his team built a prototype online trading platform for one of the big banks that, he said, has “the highest record of reliability of any similar system in the broker community.” The customer’s break-even point came in weeks, and the experience gave them confidence to build on open source and relatively inexpensive hardware.

Recently, CommSecure added a new function to the nation’s leading online bill payment system. Called BPAY View, the system allows customers logging on to their banks’ Web sites to see the actual bills they wish to pay — phone bills, for example — in a standard browser.

“We’ve recently won a contract to do online bill presentation for all [local governments] in the state of New South Wales,” Loyzaga said. “All rates (property and service taxes) will migrate to our system and be presented both directly from council sites and from the BPAY View channel in banks. It’ll all be hosted and run on open source.”

Most observers expect a snowball or avalanche effect for open source, with a few big rollouts triggering a rush to embrace the technology. That should pave the way for ambitious projects like CA’s program, now in beta, to generate virtual Linux machines in mainframe and Intel environments, dynamically matching computing resources to business processes. When that happens, open source will have truly found its place in Australia.

No Comments

  • I’ve been aware of Samba and Andrew Tridgell for over 5 years but I had no idea that Australia was so pro-Linux.
    With the growth of Linux in Asia-Pacific and Europe, the goal of "world-domination" may well be realised everywhere EXCEPT North America and the States may find itself playing catch-up.

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