South African brewer chooses Red Hat Linux
Like many companies United National Breweries (UNB) took a decision some time ago to lease its IT equipment instead of buying it outright. In line with that decision UNB’s national IT manager Kevern Upton says that its primary IT suppliers for its financial systems were Unisys, who took responsibility for the server hardware and operating system, and Proteus, who took care of the financial system and the database that supports it.
During the seven years UNB used Unisys services Upton says the company underwent a forced platform change from the original Unisys SR4 operating system to Sco Unix 8, which was essentially Caldera Linux. But, with the hardware beginning to show its age, UNB approached Unisys to provide a quote on upgrading the hardware and software.
“Because seven years had passed since the signatures of the lease and support agreement, a great deal had changed. Unisys informed us that they no longer played in the SMB space and that it would be in our best interests to find an alternative,” he says.
After consideration the company settled on Red Hat Linux for the server operating system, Stratus as its hardware provider and Obsidian Systems to provide the services.
With vendor and service partners selected, UNB set aside time to thoroughly test the proposed solution and iron out any potential incompatibilities before rolling the changes through to their live system. “We ran a complete simulation - including the exact hardware, operating system and applications we would be using,” Upton says.
“During that pilot, we encountered issues which required some kernel settings to be changed. Other than that we were extremely satisfied with the results.” Upton says that although the project team tested the functional elements of the system and the integrity of the database, it didn’t go so far as to test the printing. “When it came to the live switchover the only thing we hadn’t tested, namely the ability to print, was compromised. Since printing is a critical feature for us, this was serious and critical issue to solve.
“As it turned out the client software we were using wasn’t compatible with Red Hat 10, resulting in our countrywide printing being broken,” Upton says. “As a band-aid solution our development team brought the Unisys server up as a print server. This solved the printing issue but only bought us time.”
So shortly afterwards, when a replacement client application was found in WiNet, UNB commissioned Bytes Technology Group to roll it out countrywide. “The replacement application was Windows compatible, featured a GUI and most importantly didn’t require a static IP socket for printing. Bytes rolled it out for us, branch by branch, decommissioning the old solution as and when the new solution was implemented.”
Upton says that the costs of the new system were in fact higher than the previous environment initially because of now having two support partners - Stratus and Obsidian - in place of Unisys which managed both hardware and software. He says that they also overcompensated on support costs because of concerns about migrating to Linux for the first time.
But, Upton says, the performance of the environment has improved by a factor of between 6 and 10 depending on the application being used. He also says that after the initial six-months they were confident enough in the new environment to reduce their support requirements with Obsidian significantly, dropping support costs by 49% and bringing the new environment costs in line with the old system.