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Linux to run banks’ mainframes?    
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More and more banks in Asia are switching to Linux for their servers and, maybe soon, their mainframes.

In 2005, China’s biggest bank, Industrial Commercial Bank of China, and one of India’s largest lenders, Canara Bank, signed separate deals to support the use of Linux on their servers and desktops, marking what are believed to be the most extensive Linux deployments in the two countries to-date.

This year, one Asian bank could start to use Linux as its mainframe platform in what would be another sign of the operating system’s increasing acceptance in the region. At present, only a handful of companies in the world run mainframes on Linux.

“We’re talking to banks about the opportunity of putting Linux on their mainframes,” says Steve McWhirter, vice president, Red Hat, Asia Pacific. “For these guys to be openly considering putting an operating system like Linux onto the mainframe is a clear indication that this stuff is robust enough to do what they want.”

Senthil Kumar, head of marketing, i-flex solutions, says there are some interesting experiments going on with mainframes and Linux and that this year and next year there may be some production sites coming up. Dion Wiggins, vice president and research director, Gartner, Hong Kong, says that use of Linux is increasing, although today’s server Linux as opposed to desktop Linux is a lot more mature. In the financial services sector, he observes that Linux is being used more for database applications and for terminals such as kiosks.

“Linux is maturing and we’ve seen a lot of the larger vendors such as IBM, Oracle and many others get behind it. Oracle, for example, is pushing very hard to leverage Linux as a database server for clustering. It allows you to have a lot more lower-cost boxes clustered together to appear in one big database server,” Wiggins says. Gartner estimates that by 2008, 70 percent of the Unix software developers would make Linux the first priority platform. Wiggins says what is significant in Asia is that vendors providing support and maintenance for the free Linux software are teaming up. For example, Miracle Linux in Japan, Red Flag Linux in China and Hansoft Linux in Korea have formed the Asianux consortium and they market their server Linux products as being powered by Asianux.

“It’s a win-win for end-users and vendors, because what happens now is that, let’s say a software company wants to certify their product to work for that particular version of Linux, they get three countries by certifying it against one version,” he says. Wiggins adds, “From the end-user perspective they get more applications available for that platform so that will actually increase adoption. No other country has created a consortium like this and that makes it very powerful and their concept is to grow into other Asian markets to create a pan-Asian version of Linux.”

Kumar says that i-flex’s flagship core banking solution is available on Linux, but that what Linux is being used by banks today for is not mission-critical yet. McWhirter says that banks probably run 10 to 15 applications, a small number of their total number of applications, through Linux, but he believes that this means that there is a lot of room to grow.

As banks in Asia explore more ways to lower IT costs and as they want more choices of suppliers, expect more experiments with Linux in the region. - E. Torrijos

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