<i>'Prepare To Be Surprised'</i><br />More CUs Are Making The Move To Linux Operating System

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Linux is going to take credit unions by surprise, according to Jerry Johnson, vice president of Information Technology (IT) at March Community CU.

The upstart competitor to Microsoft is maturing, and has already infiltrated the server market. But the open source operating system won't stop there, predicts Johnson, who is beginning March Community's migration from Microsoft with a Linux-based business continuity system.

"In three or four years I could be migrating all of my host systems to Linux as well," Johnson added.

Johnson said there was a time when Linux installations were not easy to complete. "But then a couple years ago, Linux completed and installation on one of my desktop PCs-and my god, it about blew me away. There were absolutely no problems.

"There was no problem with any of the network drivers, and even the sound card worked without any issues. Linux is ready for prime-time now," he added.

IBM and other hardware manufacturers agree, promising to make Linux a standard offering.

Likewise, Linux's qualities may appeal to many a credit union. The operating system is freely-distributable after purchase of the first copy of the software. "We bought Enterprise Linux for about $750, and that includes one year of support," said Johnson.

And in some cases, even a free download of the Linux system may meet a tech-savvy credit union's needs.

Johnson recently installed Linux on an old Compaq server left for dead in the credit union's computer room. The server will soon support business continuity and redundancy as a network-attached storage solution about 25 miles away at March Community's Corona, Calif. branch.

"Loading Linux on that Compaq was free," Johnson said. "I just bought some new drives for the server and all of a sudden I had my own SunGard disaster center without the licensing fee. "There's no better business model from which to build your IT," he said.

Compare that to Microsoft Windows, where there is a charge for each user license and each different environment in addition to the cost of the software.

"One of my major peeves is with Microsoft licensing," Johnson explained. For example, Johnson said 35,000-member March Community has paid Microsoft Access licensing fees for each new computing environment, including the homebanking, database management, and loan processing environments.

And when the $325-million CU migrates to Microsoft Windows 2000 Active Directory for network and identity management, the licensing price tag will be about $100,000, Johnson said. "With Microsoft, I have to pay through the nose," he said.

Beyond offering significant cost savings, Linux's architecture is open source. In other words, the system can run on and communicate with various platforms, from Intel to UNIX and PC to Macintosh.

Once Johnson finishes writing the Linux shell scripts to get the business continuity system whirring, his next project is a Linux-based Intranet and web services.

The platform will allow CU employees to access and change data under permissions - the lending department can bypass the HTML programmer and directly update loan rates for the CU's website, for example.

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