Bord na Mona embraces open source innovation

29 Sep 2005

Bord na Mona is deploying a mission-critical application on to a Linux platform in one of the highest-profile installations of the open source operating system yet seen in this country.

The semi-state energy provider has been a long-standing Novell customer but this marks a step up in the relationship between the two. Bord na Mona chose SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 from Novell to run its mission-critical Oracle 11i database and web applications and eDirectory running on Hewlett-Packard (HP) hardware to secure access to network resources – all under a single licence agreement that offers significant cost savings. This strategy is sometimes known as ‘mixed source’ – a combination of free Linux software developed by the community alongside proprietary applications from a developer such as Oracle.

Novell Open Enterprise Server (OES) will run Bord na Mona’s core services such as email, file and print. The group will be moving its existing Netware servers to OES on a phased basis.

What makes this implementation interesting is that open source software is being used to run mission-critical applications. According to Brinsley Sheridan, group IT manager with Bord na Mona, it is one of only a handful of reference sites throughout Europe that run Oracle on Linux in this way.

As part of the same project, Bord na Mona also installed resilient storage and servers as well as tape libraries and a full disaster-recovery solution across three computer rooms its operations in Newbridge, Co Kildare.

The project’s prime contractor was HP. Novell and Oracle supplied the software and the indigenous IT firm SecureLinx was contracted for its expertise in SUSE Linux. Although the value of the contract was not revealed, the Linux implementation is believed to have cost a five-figure sum. “Linux is a commodity product at the end of the day; it’s free and you pay for the support,” said Sheridan. The additional server and storage hardware along with new Oracle licences bought at the same time meant “a lot more money was spent for the complete project,” he added.

However, there were cost savings that accrued from the deal: the performance offered by SUSE Linux allowed Bord na Mona to reuse some of its older servers, simply by adding more memory or upgrading the processor. “In the model of multi-CPU RISC boxes or other flavours of Unix you’d be paying a lot of money,” Sheridan remarked.

Bord na Mona was no stranger to Linux, having first installed a different version of that operating system two years ago. This way, said Sheridan, “we were happy enough that Linux and open source software would give us the performance we need”. That said, Bord na Mona had been dissatisfied with the level of support for that product. “The type of support we were getting wouldn’t have given us peace of mind for mission-critical applications,” said Sheridan. Novell’s entry to the Linux market with its acquisition of the development firm SUSE last year gave that operating system a boost. “We wouldn’t have taken the risk only for we have the backing of the Novell support organisation and a local partner,” Sheridan said.

For Novell, the deal was a chance to show how its technology is being used at deeper levels within customer sites. “Novell is becoming an operating system provider for mission-critical applications rather than just file and print,” said Kevin McAteer, client manager with Novell Ireland.

According to McAteer, the semi-state sector, some government departments and the financial sector are showing strong interest in this approach. “We’re becoming more strategic to the customer,” he said. “They’re asking if it’s viable to run mission-critical applications on Linux and we’re saying ‘Let’s take the risk away from the customer’. SUSE is a reliable platform. It’s a great example of where we see the business going.”

By Gordon Smith