HSBC, one of the world's largest banks, has teamed up with Microsoft and Novell, two of the worlds' largest software suppliers, to bridge the gap between open source and proprietary software.
HSBC has followed in the footsteps of Wal-Mart by confirming it will work with the two companies following the landmark collaboration agreement Microsoft and Novell signed four months ago, which caused ripples through the open source community.
Microsoft and Novell agreed to work together to make Novell SuSE Linux and Microsoft Windows interoperate better at all levels. The agreement also involves developing datacentre management tools to manage mixed architectures that are running in a virtualised environment.
HSBC uses both Windows and SuSE Linux in its global IT system, which has a £2.6bn annual budget and is served by 28,000 staff.
The bank said it was taking advantage of Novell and Microsoft's union to help it cut its IT costs and simplify both its IT estate and its IT management.
Matthew O'Neill, group head of distributed systems for HSBC's global IT operations, said, "If I can get two of the biggest players in the industry collaborating on my behalf, it is an incredibly powerful thing. I have seen lots of hype on both sides of the open source/proprietary software divide. For me, it is about mixed source and right source - delivering the thing that is going to give me value."
HSBC has been using Linux for several years, mainly for parts of its IT infrastructure that are less tightly integrated with legacy applications, such as application servers and Java applications, as well as for hosting its IBM Websphere applications.
"We have a few simple infrastructure services and use Linux as a low-end Unix, but not as a Microsoft, alternative," said O'Neill.
In internal benchmarks with different hardware configurations, HSBC found SuSE Linux to be very fast in operation - 6% to 7% faster than its nearest rival. "That is the difference between putting a new server on or not," said O'Neil.
But much of the bank's IT systems are based on Microsoft technologies, which HSBC said had a better total cost of ownership compared with Linux.
The bank is in the process of finalising a three-year programme based around simplifying its Windows desktop infrastructure, and is just finishing one of the largest Active Directory implementations in the world, representing its four global domains in a single Active Directory "forest".
This means that HSBC has managed to unify its user passwords and management across all 82 countries in which it operates.
"We have achieved something that most other companies aspire to but do not achieve - a single name space for HSBC across the world. So when it comes to administering Windows - and hopefully in the future Linux resources - this will reduce the number of user passwords we need," said O'Neill.
Microsoft and Novell's use of virtualisation technology will help HSBC to run both Windows and Linux in a virtual environment, something that requires fewer servers.
"The IT operations group is trying to minimise the amount of duplication of effort. With commodity items - and I include Windows desktop builds and Linux server builds - we are not going to get a lot of competitive advantage from how we set them up.
"But we can play the virtualisation card to deploy them faster and better, so you do not have the weight of delivering hardware. That is hugely advantageous to us."
HSBC is a big VMware virtualisation user, but is keen to see what Novell does with the open source Xen virtualisation application, and how Microsoft applies its Virtual Server product.
"Interoperability through virtualising servers and services is a fundamental challenge for all future datacentres. We know that Intel servers have historically only run between 5% and 10% optimisation. Virtualisation is also a very strong environmental play since you can cut power usage and hardware requirements," said O'Neill.
"This compelling event - getting the focus of attention of both of these companies now - will help me to simplify my estate," he added.
Susan Heystee, general manager of global strategic alliances at Novell, said that teams from Novell and Microsoft would work with each other and also HSBC's IT departments across the globe, particularly in Hong Kong, London, New York, and Brazil, to develop "a global model" which involves "a more consistent and standardised Linux".
Susan Hauser, Microsoft's general manager of customer advocacy, said, "The Microsoft-Novell agreement is based on our mutual desire to deploy Linux more easily. Proprietary companies and open source companies need to build bridges."
As part of the agreement, Microsoft has said it will not prosecute Novell Linux users for any patent infringements that arise from using Linux in a mixed open source/ Microsoft environment. Novell has also pledged not to pursue any Microsoft users experimenting with open source technologies that may infringe Novell patents.
This will aid firms like HSBC that are carrying out application development work to unite their proprietary Microsoft and open source systems.
"We had a large amount of our customer base say they knew there was an issue here with patents and intellectual property, and they did not want to find themselves in a legal situation," said Bill Hilf, Microsoft's director of platform technology strategy.
"They wanted to get that peace of mind through the supplier, and not have to buy separate insurance policies."
Microsoft recently confirmed it was collaborating directly with Novell - a Linux and open source software supplier - to make Windows work better with open source technologies, most notably Novell SuSE Linux.
The agreement covers:
● Patents, with both suppliers not prosecuting each others' users for infringements
● Using virtualisation technology to aid interoperability
● Making Office documents and Open Office documents interoperable
● Developing tools to manage datacentres that run mixed Microsoft/open source environments
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This was first published in March 2007