LinuxWorld - New IT model gives Morgan Stanley flexibility

Server consolidation is not a magic bullet for the IT department, visitors to the LinuxWorld show in New York were told in a...

Server consolidation is not a magic bullet for the IT department, visitors to the LinuxWorld show in New York were told in a keynote address on financial services giant Morgan Stanley's IT infrastructure overhaul.

Beginning in mid-2001, Morgan Stanley began to create a new management architecture based on a thin-client model that would allow all data, applications and even operating systems to be hosted on network servers.

The guiding goal was flexibility, said implementer Jeffrey Birnbaum, managing director and global head of enterprise computing in Morgan Stanley's institutional securities division.

With thousands of internally developed applications and 36,500 supported PCs spread throughout 20 countries, Morgan Stanley wanted an architecture that would let it quickly deliver anything that needed to flow to end users, including data, applications, software patches and system configuration changes.

It also wanted the ability to add new applications and machines to its network for the lowest possible cost, Birnbaum said.

In the past 18 months, Red Hat has helped Morgan Stanley work toward its flexible architecture and. Birnbaum and Red Hat chief technical officer Michael Tiemann spoke about their progress at the LinuxWorld show in New York.

In a keynote session dubbed "100 Million Reasons Why Architecture Matters," Birnbaum said Morgan Stanley's definition of enterprise computing was "any application on any box at any time".

"We had to get away from the idea of having local installs," he said. For organisations with thousands of applications and PCs, the client/server model makes synchronisation difficult.

While a low operating cost was one of his goals, Birnbaum said he knew he would be adding hardware to create the system he wanted. However, he spoke out against accepting a supplier-led push for consolidation.

"This is the anti-consolidation speech. Decisions should not be driven by, 'I need to lower the number of boxes I have to manage'. It's inevitable. You have to add boxes to manage the environment."

A good architecture means you can add components without adding to management burdens, he added.

Tiemann mapped out the year-and-a-half process of developing the technology needed to get Morgan Stanley to its "any application, any box, any time" set-up.

The company still has some way to go, but the project is running ahead of schedule. By 2005, two years earlier than planned, the company expects to be running 80% of its systems on commodity hardware, such as thin clients, that can be used for different tasks, as opposed to hardware configured for specific tasks.

A key advance was the release of version 2.4 of the Linux kernel, Tiemann said, calling it the first kernel version ready to support a massive enterprise deployment.

Slowly, in concert with other hardware and software makers, Red Hat and Morgan Stanley developed the tools, new Linux features, and integration required for Morgan Stanley's architecture.

Tiemann said the payoff for Morgan Stanley has been performance and reliability increases along with cost decreases.

For Red Hat and other Linux developers, the project presented new scale and complexity obstacles, the solutions to which have advanced the Linux kernel and related vendor technologies, he added.

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