Reader Question #1

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We have a local networking group of IT execs. One member was telling me his bank has now decided to make a significant commitment to the Linux operating system. Is this something we'll be seeing in credit unions, and what are the security issues?

John Schooler, Senior VP-Chief Technology Officer, USERS, Inc.

The Linux operating system has continued to grow in popularity, primarily in the realm of high-performance technical computing and enterprise solutions, such as web and file serving, and database applications. We expect this trend will continue unabated, especially as all of the major systems providers-including IBM and Hewlett-Packard-have major Linux initiatives in place.

As more and more applications are created to run on the Linux operating system, the motivation to leverage the price-performance advantages it can provide will be difficult to ignore. However, this does not mean it will necessarily supercede the vast popularity of its well-established competitors anytime in the near future. Linux security is technically considered to be quite strong. But as more of the types of applications that attract malicious activities (such as financial applications) move to Linux platforms, security threats are likely to increase.

Dick McConnell, AFTECH, Malverne, Penn.

Much of the excitement around Linux in the financial services market has died down, largely because of the financial issues associated with migrating functionality. Linux successes have taken place where Linux has been installed to support a new function, not where a financial institution has needed to move its entire core processing function.Because credit union systems are more functionally integrated than bank systems, the transition to Linux-based core processing will take even longer than in the bank environment.

As far as the second part of the question goes, we expect that as Linux's functionality begins to match existing systems', its security features will as well.

Zandy Reinshagen, Director of Product Delivery, Symitar

If his bank has made a significant commitment to Linux, that bank is certainly what I'd call an early adopter. It's estimated that no more than 1% of the financial institutions in the U.S. have deployed the Linux operating system in any significant manner.

On the flip side, it's interesting to note that Linux has gained considerable momentum with investment firms. For example, Lehman Brothers Holdings has replaced the majority of the servers lost in the 9-11 attacks with Linux servers. Companies like this wouldn't even consider Linux if there were major security issues.

Let's face it. Most operating system software is very expensive. Linux, as an essentially free operating system, can be a very cost- effective option for running certain server-centric applications such as e-mail and intranets. I expect that any short-term Linux growth in the credit union world will be in that sort of non- mission-critical application. It will likely be some time before we see, for example, a core data processing system running on the Linux platform.

John Edwards, Senior VP-Business Development, XP Systems, Moor Park, Calif.

XP Systems is watching the Linux evolution closely, as it is a compelling technology. However, we don't feel that it is yet equivalent to IBM's AIX operating system. AIX has many features not yet present in Linux that allow us to offer a better solution to our credit union customers. Given IBM's continued support of Linux, there is a chance IBM will choose to fold these features into Linux in the next few years.

Stephanie Shah, VP-Marketing & Product Management, Harland Financial Solutions Since the initial price of Linux, an "Open Source" operating system, is very low, often free, it is becoming an attractive option. It offers a very robust and stable platform for networking, file server and application server implementations, rivaling traditional Unix platforms AIX, HP-UX and Solaris. Many of the big players in the technology world are beginning to embrace Linux. Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and IBM are all offering enterprise class systems installed with Linux, as well as various support options.

With regards to security, Linux is no more vulnerable to intrusion than Microsoft or the various versions of Unix. Additionally, since it has a smaller market share, it is a less attractive target of viruses and "Trojan Horse" attacks. This advantage will likely diminish as Linux gains a larger installed base.

Linux is becoming more and more prominent in nearly all markets. Technology industry analyst the Gartner Group anticipates this trend to continue.

Harland Financial Solutions, in an effort to cater to the broadest market, will continue to develop its applications on both Windows and Unix platforms. Our current direction does not include the Linux operation system. As market conditions change, this decision will need a revisiting.

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