Specsavers sees benefits of open source packages

High street optician Specsavers has replaced its legacy Windows 2000 retail applications across 600 UK stores with a Java-based open source in-store IT infrastructure.

High street optician Specsavers has replaced its legacy Windows 2000 retail applications across 600 UK stores with a Java-based open source in-store IT infrastructure.

The retailer has created an out-of-the-box system using Red Hat Linux, JBoss application server, the Apache web server and Compiere, an open source enterprise resource planning package.

Dubbed "Specsavers in a box", the product aims to support the company's global business expansion. It is due to go live in Finland next month and will be deployed in Denmark later in the year.

Specsavers chief information officer Michel Kahn said a key driver for choosing open source products was that, unlike commercially licensed products, they would not incur on-going licence fees.

"As we expand globally, we did not want the issues of licence fees and upgrade costs associated with commercial products," he said.

Specsavers-in-a-box allows the retailer to upgrade in-store systems based on its business drivers, rather than waiting for a commercial software supplier to release new products. Kahn said, "We can choose to upgrade based on our business priorities, rather than someone else's."

The company has rewritten its in-house Windows 2000-based store system, Socrates, developed in Java, to run on Red Hat Linux.

In addition, Specsavers developed software to link opthalmic equipment with the Red Hat store system.

Nigel Spain, Specsavers' global architecture manager, said, "Our strategy was to move away from Windows as we saw it as a proprietary platform. We were convinced that Linux would have a major positive impact on our business."

By standardising on open source technology, Spain said he has also been able to extend the life of Specsavers' hardware.

Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "It is rare to see a commercial organisation go so far with open source."

Blowers pointed out that unlike organisations running commercial packages, Specsavers did not have to wait for its software suppliers to support Red Hat, since its core application, Socrates, had been developed in-house.

IT and finance must pull together >>

Standalone open source software market reaches £900m >>

Specsavers >>

Red Hat >>

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