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Linux Business The Almighty Buck

Cisco IT Manager Targeting 70% Linux 312

RMX writes "LinuxWorld Australia has an interesting article discussing Linux Desktop adoption in Cisco. Cisco "already converted more than 2,000 of its engineers to Linux desktops...plans to move many laptop users to the platform over the next few years...the driver for Linux on the desktop is not cost savings, but easier support. Manning estimates that it takes a company approximately one desktop administrator to support 40 Windows PCs, while one administrator can support between 200 and 400 Linux desktops.'"
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Cisco IT Manager Targeting 70% Linux

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  • 1:40 ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flyman ( 222396 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:29PM (#11722638)
    That is the worst support ratio in history. I hate Windoze, but no large support org has that bad of ratios. Mine are approx. 250:1 for a Win2k shop, which is pretty average.
  • Is it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by idono ( 858850 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:31PM (#11722648)
    because Cisco is now a security company?
  • Critical mass... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by saleenS281 ( 859657 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:33PM (#11722663) Homepage
    So when linux reaches critical mass and people spend as much time searching for/writing worms for it as they do for windows, how's that support ration going to look?
  • Re:Critical mass... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaHat ( 247651 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:39PM (#11722707) Homepage
    Just because a patch is available doesn't mean that one should install it immediately. Regardless of platform, extensive testing needs to be done to verify the patch and ensure that it doesn't break anything.

    I have read many articles that say that this sort of testing is often not done with OSS projects prior to the patch being released.
  • Handling Firefox (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @12:43PM (#11722739)
    I am sure they (CISCO) have some Mozilla/Firefox on these PCs. Question is: How have they decided o manage it? Central managing of Mozilla/Firefox is still not [officially] possible now. Any ideas?
  • Re:Handling Firefox (Score:5, Interesting)

    by illtud ( 115152 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:01PM (#11722874)
    Am I missing something? What is there to manage for a browser besides installation?

    In the corporate environment (ie when the PC isn't yours and the company doesn't want to spend ages fixing messes you've made 'personalizing' your PC) you need to lock down some preferences (eg proxy settings, security settings, mail account details if you're using thunderbird/moz suite). This used to be really easy under the old Netscape suite (there was a GUI tool), and although there's some support still left in firefox/mozilla (you can lock down prefs manually in the .js files) it's not half as good as it used to be. Other stuff is rollout support with pre-populated profiles etc.

    Check out the Mozilla Enterprise [] project for more details and how some of us have hacked together lockdown and other 'enterprise' requirements.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Heem ( 448667 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:01PM (#11722875) Homepage Journal
    Remember too, they are talking desktops, not servers. My previous position, I had 3 guys supporting 400 desktops and about 200 servers, that in addition to admin voice over IP and 3 locations. ugh. Kinda takes the sting out of my had being laid off. My new job I have no desktops to contend with and only about 50 servers.. for more money. ;-)
  • by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:04PM (#11722893)
    However, even IBM itself doesn't seem to be able to switch from Windows to Linux []. Seems that they have some web apps that work only in IE, and their help desk supports only IE.

    Maybe the success of Firefox will force web programmers to develop for more than one browser, and then we can all more easily switch to Linux.

  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wateshay ( 122749 ) <bill.nagel@gmail.DEBIANcom minus distro> on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:05PM (#11722901) Homepage Journal
    It probably depends a lot on the type of user that you're supporting. Supporting secretaries who do nothing but type and send email is going to be a lot easier than supporting engineers who have use a wide variety of software requirements, push their computers hard, and often need new software products installed.
  • Re:Critical mass... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BJZQ8 ( 644168 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:07PM (#11722912) Homepage Journal
    Based on my experience, Open Source patches have a much smaller chance of screwing up other things when applied; this is because Open Source software has no vested interest in moving people onto the next "Big Thing" by making it difficult to use the last "Big Thing." Patches are maintained for Linux kernels as long as a significant interest remains in them. If not, you can always get the source and fix it yourself. For Windows 3.11 machines (I know of several that are still in use in my former company) there is no alternative but to "invest" in Windows XP, in this instance. The patch "system" for OSS is about fixing things; the patch "system" for Windows and/or most closed software is more often than not about exercising power over users and forcing upgrades.
  • Re:1:40 ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quelrods ( 521005 ) <quel@q[ ] ['uel' in gap]> on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:15PM (#11722962) Homepage
    You have to be kidding. At my former company they had 2 windows admins and those guys were busy non-stop. "My outlook is broken." "The internet is down." "I opened a virus attachment [that the virus scanner didn't detect]." You name it but for the 48 people there they couldn't have even gotten away with just 1 admin.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by unoengborg ( 209251 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:16PM (#11722968) Homepage
    Yes, 40:1 ratio for windows sounds a bit pessimistic. But so does 400:1 for Linux. I have seen installations with 10 times as many users per sysadmin both in the windows and the Linux case.

    I suppose it's all about what level of service you want to provide to your users. The basic message that Linux is easier to admin still holds true though.
  • Re:Bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:41PM (#11723114)
    I was a Cisco employee several years ago. I worked at the Corp. HQ in San Jose. My cube started with a Sun workstation and a Win2k laptop. The laptop was soon converted to dual boot Windows / Linux. And as one of my projects ended up demanding a test Linux system, I ended up with another desktop that was also converted to dual Windows / Linux. I never sought out tech support for my machines. And I doubt anyone but my immediate management had any clue what was going on in my cube.

    The cool thing with Cisco was that this wasn't uncommon. There are some generalities - most PMs, management, marketing, etc. I met had a single Windows laptop. But when you met someone in a technical role, there was no telling what tools they had aquired to do their work. Cisco took providing their employees the desired tools seriously - "no technology religion". And as far as I could see, it created a very diverse IT environment (and very effective despite the fears of monoculuture IT fans).

    This touches on another reason Cisco went this direction. Their employees demanded it. Cisco aquired quite a few startups that were heavily using Linux already. Linux was working its way in to the engineering corp. at Cisco even without these aquisitions. It was very much a part of Cisco's corporate culture to find a way to support any tool their employees needed (which explains the hell they went through to move to Exchange :).
  • A better way... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:49PM (#11723183)
    From the article:
    "Factors that even out the Linux/Windows desktop costs include retraining employees, installing applications that support Windows applications on Linux, and support subscription fees from Linux vendors such as Red Hat, which are necessary for software updates and patches, Manning says."

    Why? We used RH before we migrated to Debian and we now find Debian to be better AND easier to administer than RH. I think it a mistake on behalf of Cisco that they, seemingly, disregarded Debian as a desktop option.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zulux ( 112259 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @01:59PM (#11723238) Homepage Journal
    In my experience, the engineers are fine but it's the secretaries who cause all the fuss - getting viruses from their Hotmail account, clicking yes to popups etc...

    If the company can stomach the up front costs for locking down the systems - then yes their ok, and the engineers need more help, but for smaller companies that are more reactive, the AIM using, Arery form printing, spyware downloading secretaries are a pain in the butt.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @02:32PM (#11723397)
    I work for a school district. We have thirteen field technicians to support 25,000 desktop computers and approximately 2000 network printers. We have at least eight different Apple platforms (5260/5400/5500, beige G3, "new world" G series towers, iMacs of each vintage, and the eMac), and thirteen different PC platforms from NEC (1), Compaq (4), ABIT (1), ASUS (1), Dell (2), and Intel (5), plus all of the proprietary crap that people bring in. Our computers run everything from Windows 95 through XP, MacOS 7.5.3 through 10.4. Somehow we're still averaging 24 hour turnaround on our initial appearance, despite having about 100 sites (85 schools, fifteen or so admin sites) over a 20 mile wide area.

    I have absolutely no sympathy for people who can't support their fifty computers because it's too hard for them. I would love it if we were down to less than 500:1 or if we could exchange 90% of the equipment to standardize on two or three Macs and two or three PCs, but it'll never happen.
  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @02:54PM (#11723537) Homepage
    If a support tech can only support 40 windows PCs, but another support tech can support 200 Linux PCs, is the difference the amount of support or the intelligence of the tech.

    That doesn't logically follow. You have expressed two free variables in the statement, so any difference in outcome could be due to either.

  • by Fallen Kell ( 165468 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @02:59PM (#11723570)
    I work on the Unix/Linux side of one of the IT departments at my work. We have about 25 admins for 180+ servers and 900+ workstations, plus a beowulf cluster and associated SAN/NAS devices. And we actually have free time to work on other projects (like in-house software development/support, training, and learning/developing new technologies to roll-out). The PC group has about 80 people to support ~700 PC's and 70 servers. Do the math...
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:06PM (#11723624)
    Do an incremental rsync of their home directories everynight and if something ever goes wrong just delete their home and replace it with a good copy.

    I know this is a bit offtopic, but... AFS []'s support for backup volumes provides basically this same thing as a feature built into the filesystem. Furthermore, it lets the administrator issue commands (from any node on the network) like "move this volume from partition 1 on file server A to partition 3 on file server B"; the data gets moved, and the clients are notified to use the new fileserver for files on that volume with no further work. You can also have read-only volumes be located on multiple fileservers, and the clients will automatically load-balance between them; further, updates to these read-only volumes can be made by an admin editing a read-write copy of the volume, and then pushed over to the read-only volume as a single transaction.

    Making it performant can be a PITA, but from an administration perspective it's really neat stuff.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by legirons ( 809082 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:09PM (#11723635)
    "Remember too, they are talking desktops, not servers."

    They're also talking engineers' desktops at an embedded-hardware company, so most of the usual stories about "we'll give everyone a word processor and a web browser and that will be that" probably change a lot.

    Our company is completely different to that of course. Every software engineer maintains their own machine. The amount of time we spend on application or OS problems easily exceeds 1/200 of working hours.
  • Re:A pipe dream? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:16PM (#11723679)
    Thats not a rumor its true, just not widely known/publicized. (hence why I am posting this as AC :) some of what I write is hearsay though :)

    From the Cisco Engineers and Pre Sales guys I have talked to the story goes like this. When Cisco bought Selsius a lot of the Cisco engineers (many of whom are Solaris geeks) freeked out that it ran on Windows, so when working out how they were going to run such a sensitive piece of software (to any company running it) on an OS that was and is in no way a server os in any sense of the word (I come from a linux background and frankly after 6 months full-time dealing with CM I am astounded that Windows admins actually think it is) they would completely lock it down and only approve a few pieces of software to run on it. Thats why you don't even install win2k yourself on CM , basically Cisco run a Windows version of MythTV Knopix which installs the OS and the CM all packaged as one.
    At the same time all the Solaris geeks were all contemplating going out the back and committing hary-kary because Cisco had turned to the dark side a push was started to initiate a program to port CM to Unix (IMO at this point in time CM was a really really buggy piece of crap and frankly Cisco would have been better writing their own PABX software on solaris anyways). Sometime after this the effort was eventually started (apparently the refusal by some companies such as oracle to run windows as a "server" in their network helped the case) and it has ended up with CallManager being ported to Linux. From what I now know the initial plan was for there to be a Windows version and a Linux version of CallManager, but now the push is going to be to 100% Linux , the release should be out by the end of this year (regional Cisco offices are already playing with it) and will be know as CallManager 5. One of the major benefits they are touting is that if you convert your current server to CM5 you can double the number of phones able to register to it. Another interseting thing they are saying is that they have developed a magic CD that you can stick into your windows CallManager that will convert it to linux and upgrade it to CM5, it will be intersting to see if this is true and if so how they do it esp for the Publishers, my guess would be they partition the HD copy the MSSQL DB and settings over to the new partition then blow the Windows away , install Linux covert the DB. Cisco are also talking about moving all of their other VoIP products to Linux , the CRS servers and Unity are scheduled for the same makeover (in fact Unity express already runs on Linux). Also this push to Linux is tied up with their push to SIP away from SCCP. interesting times are ahead for Cisco :)
  • Political animals (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:28PM (#11723743)
    A 40-to-1 ratio just means that Manning has seen a workplace where the NT admins have been able to get away with laziness and overstaffing. Obviously, he doesn't have much experience in a wide range of workplaces.

    I have seen places where Unix admin support is a 400-to-1 ratio. I have seen one place where it was a 1-to-1 ratio. The difference between those places was, primarily, the ability of the admins to "justify" bringing in more people and management falling for it. The admins could then spend their time on /. or burning CDs...whatever.

    I have seen similar trends amongst Windows admins...just not as much since I deal more with Unix. Still, I would say all other things being equal a server-to-admin ratio comes down to the admins' political acumen and management's cupidity.
  • by Craig Ringer ( 302899 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @03:56PM (#11723911) Homepage Journal
    My advice, and that of serious Windows support pros I've worked with: Do it over the network. All of it. Even OS installs. Slipstream service packs and fixes into your build image, along with your base software etc. Install packages automatically on login using AD. You can do all this... and it'll save you a lot of pain. Hell, you don't even need to worry about your CD key, you can do that as part of the automated network install script.

    I'm using Linux thin clients for most of my basic needs users at work. They're getting pretty good now, but I'm still running into a frustrating number of stupid bugs. I think I spend about an equal amount of time supporting them and the win98 users - at "near zero". Ditto our one and only XP user now that I've got the bugs ironed out. Most of my time is wasted supporting the MacOS 9 desktop publishing staff due to the nightmarish OS and apps involved there.

    If you think Windows is hard to manage, try MacOS. ARRGGGGHHHHHH. MacOS/X is a little better, but still pretty awful IMO.

    Microsoft is also pretty reasonable with CD keys etc compared to many companies. QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop both scan the network for other copies, interrogate them for their CD key, and refuse to run if they find it's the same. This makes image based installs impossible since they don't provide any way to install and configure the app, then "de-personalize" it so all you have to do to get it working is enter the CD key. (You can do this with Windows, BTW). Those apps are a nightmare and in comparison Windows looks absolutely lovely to manage.

    I'm also finding my trials with OO.o and GNOME for our journalists pretty dismal so far. All sorts of weird bugs keep on turning up and I'm about to give up and get them Windows boxes. I use Linux at home without issues, but these uses can and do break stuff all the time.

    In the end, I guess it comes down to picking the right tool for the right job. MS desktops, managed well, are OK. I don't like them, but they work. Especially if you lock IE down so hard the user can't even run it, and if they figure out how to run it anyway, can't visit anywhere or do anything. Too bad they cost so bloody much and still insist on bundling IE, Outlook Express (Yes you can remove it, but it'll be back every time you patch the damn OS), etc.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 1lus10n ( 586635 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @05:32PM (#11724486) Journal
    Not really. Even at the largest tech companies the majority of the employees are management, sales and marketing. The actual technical people are a small percentage in the grand scheme, and usually dont require any support.

    A 'team' could probably support 200 windows PC's. An individual would run so far behind on updates and fixes to the updates that it would be far too unreasonable for a major firm that has major security expectations to do things that way.

    Not to say linux doesnt have similar issues because it does, it just doesnt have has many.
  • Re:40:1 ? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JPriest ( 547211 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @06:01PM (#11724642) Homepage
    I will give you that. I also noticed the people that got where they are because they have the degree tend to be the least versed in other technologies compared to the other mostly self-taught-by-geeking types.

    In my days of tech support I talked to many certified people on the phone, the MCSE's were usually very arrogant, they knew Windows but not networks, the A+ people were barely any better than Joe Users but at least they could use DOS, and the Cisco certified people were generally both respectful and knowledgeable.
    I can think of very few, if any cases where someone Cisco certified called me and had the problem be on their end.

  • by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Saturday February 19, 2005 @06:10PM (#11724706) Journal
    Ok, so someone explain to me why Cisco's web-based and desktop-based management tools are almost always Windows-only? Not only Windows-only, but frequently don't run right under anything but Internet Explorer.

    Guess I'll continue to stick to CLI and console cables for configuration and management.

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