John Lewis migrates core business system to Linux

High-street retailer moves customer application from Windows to Linux

John Lewis has become one of the first UK blue-chip organisations to deploy Linux on a strategic business application.

The retailer used the quiet period over the Easter weekend to install in-house Linux customer service software, based on IBM's Websphere application server on a new eSeries mainframe.

Originally developed for Windows, the application is being migrated to Linux running on the mainframe because of concerns that Windows could not cope with the growing number of transactions, said John Keeling director of computer services at John Lewis. He described the Linux application as "strategic".

The deployment is part of a wider project to upgrade John Lewis' mainframe to support expansion as the partnership takes on board the 19 Safeway stores it purchased from supermarket chain Morrisons last month.

The installation represents a major step forward for Linux in the enterprise. Although 60% of European mainframe users had taken up IBM's offer of a free processor to run Linux on the mainframe, few were running live Linux systems, according to Rakesh Kumar, senior vice-president at analyst firm Meta Group.

"Less than 7% of IBM's customers are running Linux on the mainframe," he said. As far as he was aware, John Lewis was the first UK company to state publicly that it was running a strategic application based on Linux.

However, Kumar warned companies looking to follow John Lewis' lead to ensure they were confident Linux could meet the performance demands of running on a mainframe. Gary Barnett, senior analyst at Ovum, predicted that other companies would follow John Lewis' example with Linux.

"Linux gives existing [zSeries] users a way of using the processing capacity of the mainframe," he said.

Julie Ann Williams, who heads the large systems special interest group at IBM user group Guideshare Europe, said, "If you are planing to run business applications on Linux, the mainframe is the way to go due to the stability of its hardware and infrastructure. A zSeries is far less likely to fall over compared to a Windows-based server."

Benefits of Linux on the mainframe

  • The mainframe is able to run thousands of separate instances of Linux on a single machine, which makes it attractive when users want to consolidate server infrastructure
  • Linux benefits from the mainframe's reputation for rock-solid reliability and security
  • IBM has made it attractive for users to pilot Linux projects on their mainframes by providing free mainframe processors to test Linux applications
  • Applications written for the Websphere J2EE 2.0 application server can be migrated from Windows to Linux relatively easily, according to industry analysts, as the application server runs on both operating systems.

Read more on PC hardware