Enterprise IT Watch Blog

Sep 1 2010   1:55PM GMT

The unsung perils of Linux love and penny pinching

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

There are few things I love more than dissecting old PCs and seeing what kind of FrankenComputers I can pull together. In my apartment, I have two dead towers, four deceased laptops and one deep-fried modded XBox, none of which I’m eager to part with. I’d have a hard time trusting any of these kludges, or even something a few notches sturdier, to run anything more mission critical than a puppy cam or media server.

Am I just a prude? Have I drunk too much enterprise vendor Kool-aid over the years? Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols had a good piece about deploying cheap Linux appliances which made me wonder:

I’m cheap. Given a choice between buying an elaborate, full-featured server requiring expensive technicians and administrators, versus turning an out-of-date PC into a single-purpose Linux server, I’m going to go with the Linux server every time.

It’s not that Linux isn’t expensive. It sometimes is. But if a department or a branch office just needs one or two specific server jobs, there are plenty of obsolete PCs and easy-to-set-up, special-purpose Linux servers that can fill the bill for little or no cost.

In the home office, where I’m my own IT, I couldn’t agree more, but the thought of second-hand boxen powering a branch office day in, day out, for critical needs sent chills down my spine: I’ve seen how bad makeshift deployments can get (check out our server disaster slideshow).

Trust my e-mail security and firewall to a device that I may or may not be able to access, that may or may not fail at a moment’s notice, and that my users may or may not be trying to load up solitaire on? No, thank you. But I decided to poll the ITKnowledgeExchange.com community for their thoughts, and as usual there were several thoughtful replies.

MrDenny said trying to save money up front would cost you down the road, particularly when it comes to maintaining that hardware on an ongoing basis:

I would say that it you need the remote server to be reliable and be online then no. Spend a few thousand bucks and get a new server with a support contract so that if the hardware at the remote office fails the vendor can send someone to fix it. This will also get you things like lights out management so that you can power the server on and off if you need to.

Aquacer0 agreed:

It’s like insurance, one day you will regret not having it. I would spend the money on quality hardware with redundant components even for a small remote branch. If the remote branch needs multiple “services,” you can utilize VMware Server to provide multiple virtual servers on a single reliable platform.

So what do you think? Is there any scenario in which you’d trust a remote branch, either down the street or hundreds of miles away, with your main office’s castoffs? I would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or at Michael@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.  And if you are brave enough to trust the fates with a box of a certain age, check out Vaughan-Nichols’s list of Linux utilities for common IT tasks, and let us know if there’s any you would add.

Michael Morisy is the editorial director for ITKnowledgeExchange. He can be followed on Twitter or you can reach him at Michael@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

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  • RouxTheDay
    The downstream effects of penny-pinching and making architectural decisions based purely on a single cost model in branch offices can be far-reaching. All technology components reach an end-of-life eventually, and putting aging technology components "out of sight - out of mind" almost guarantees that you're going to caught with something critical out of support. Additionally, decisions about what technologies to deploy in branch offices versus central IT can have serious impacts. You may save money by dropping maintenance contracts on computer hardware in the branch offices, but your data center and data communications costs may skyrocket to compensate. -C
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