Martin Fink speaks on giving Linux the business

Linux has been a very powerful open source operating system platform over the past few years, yet the industry has really struggled to understand the business and economics side of the growing Linux influence within small and large companies.

Using Linux and open source technologies, thousands of enterprises are cutting costs, gaining flexibility, and discovering powerful new sources of business value.

Martin Fink has a mission to help businesses understand that Linux can be a good financial decision.

Fink is general manager for Hewlett-Packard’s Linux Systems Division, where he has been leading Linux development activities for more than three years. He is responsible for driving Hewlett-Packard’s overall Linux and open source strategy and managing the firm’s open source business processes.

He is also vice president of the Board of Directors for the Open Source Development Lab, a global consortium of industry leaders dedicated to promoting Linux and Linux-based programming for enterprise and carrier-class environments.

Fink also authored “The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source” (Prentice Hall, 2002) as a manager’s guide to using open source for a competitive advantage.

He took a few moments to share his view of what makes Linux good for the workplace.

Q: Is Linux really free?

Fink: The Linux operating system itself is something you can acquire from a number of different sources: you can download from the Internet or you can buy copies from folks like Red Hat. But the real issue of costs has to do with the costs to deploy it in your whole environment.

Q: What are the true costs? They are certainly less than the alternatives. What would a typical network face in trying to implement Linux?

Fink: If you do a total cost of ownership analysis, in many cases it can be cheap to implement Linux in your environments, whether they be UNIX or Windows-style environments.

There is the fact that you can deploy the actual operating system for free. Some of the other pieces that make the cost of ownership so low are the ability to reuse hardware that you might have previously considered not to be good enough to run your environment.

Also, there’s what I call the “commodity ecosystem” that exists around Linux with all of the other applications – Web services applications like JBoss or the Web server applications like Apache. These tend to bring the costs much lower.

The other side of the point is there are increased costs you can incur like retraining for people who make up your environment.

One of the issues around Linux on the desktop is that it’s not necessarily the issue of a lower cost operating system or application, but the cost of retraining. That makes it difficult to justify making the switch.

The point is there is absolutely an opportunity to lower your overall cost by deploying Linux, but it’s not free. That’s really the what we have to get folks to understand.

Q: One of the major hurdles with Linux is it doesn’t have a lot of support and documentation. Does that situation still exist?

Fink: Over the years that situation has got significantly better. A key point around Linux is you have a choice of support.

For example, if you acquired your Linux from a vendor like Red Hat, you can get your support from the vendor.

You can also get your support from vendors like HP or IBM. Furthermore, there are companies that specialize in providing support, like Linux Care.

Finally, if you’re a very large enterprise and have a really good, sophisticated IT staff, the option that’s available to you now is self-support.

Because you have access to the entire resource base for Linux and its auxiliary applications, you actually have the ability to fund your own support and address your issues on your timeline. That’s one of the key new options that is not available in the proprietary world.

Q: How is the Linux performance?

Fink: Linux is a very small and efficient operating system and therefore uses much fewer resources in order to run.

A lot of times today people will deploy hardware that is far, far more than what is needed for the application.

So this ability to reuse older hardware to meet the needs of the application also has an aspect in the cost factor associated with it.

Q: Why is Microsoft so concerned about Linux?

Fink: They should be concerned because it is a competitor. The other aspect that Microsoft is concerned about is the intellectual property aspect associated with Linux and open source in general.

Microsoft’s business model and its history have been built around the fact that they are uniquely a software supplier.

The entire value they bring to customers is locked within the software that they sell. Most other companies have a mix of hardware and software and they’re not really tied to the operating system business per se.

By having something that’s free and open and people can provide self-support, Linux opens up a new dynamic and new style of competition for Microsoft.

The full audio interview with Martin Fink can be heard anytime at For more information about Martin Fink and his book, visit:

Dana Greenlee is a Web designer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews.