Irish bank ditches Windows in favour of Linux

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) has signed a deal with Sun to switch its 7,500 branches' desktops from Windows to the Linux-based Java...

Allied Irish Banks (AIB) has signed a deal with Sun to switch its 7,500 branches' desktops from Windows to the Linux-based Java Desktop System (JDS).

The bank deal will be JDS' largest financial services deployment since the software was introduced in December, according to Sun vice-president of desktop solutions Curtis Sasaki.

JDS is based on the open-source Linux operating system but future versions will also run with Sun's own Solaris OS and on thin clients.

"This deal signifies that the momentum of Java Desktop is moving it into the mainstream market as an alternative to Microsoft on the desktop, which until this point hasn't really been around," said Arlene Adams, Sun's director of software for the UK.

Sun's Irish partner, Horizon Open Systems, a division of Horizon Technology Group, will bring the systems online next year as part of AIB's New Branch Banking Platform.

The bank is shifting branch staff across the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK to the new desktops. The software will be staff members' interface with all of the branch's applications, Sun said.

"This is not just the back-office operations, it's the customer-facing part of the organisation in a type of business that is paranoid about security and service levels," said Adams. Sun will provide AIB with direct support and training during the move.

Sun claimed growing demand for JDS in the financial, education and government markets. Industry analysts also argued that Linux, with fewer available applications than Windows, is best suited to organisations such as banks and call centres which only need a limited range of software.

JDS' main advantages are freedom from Windows' security concerns and an adherence to open standards, which gives IT managers more flexibility in what they choose to deploy across back-end systems, Sun said.

"In previous years, ironically, you had a desktop that cost a couple of hundred dollars per seat dictating the IT strategy of a large bank or telco," Adams said. "Proprietary software on the desktop limited what you could buy in the datacentre."

Standards adherence also allows organisations to roll out new applications across websites, branches and other customer access points more quickly, claimed Sun.

AIB will be using JDS Release 2, introduced last month to compete directly with Windows and Office. It includes simpler desktop management tools, is based on Novell's SuSE Linux and includes Sun's StarOffice with the Mozilla web browser.

Earlier this month Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, announced it will consolidate older Windows and Unix servers on Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 8. That deal came shortly after Munich finished a year-long decision-making process that will see 14,000 desktops switched from Windows to Linux.

In December, the UK government signed a five-year agreement with Sun to potentially offer JDS and Java Enterprise System (JES) software to public sector agencies as part of an overall open-source push.

Sun also announced the China Standard Software Company will install JDS on hundreds of millions of computers in the People's Republic of China, starting with some 500,000 to one million desktops this year, as part of a Chinese government programme.

IDC has predicted that Linux will be the fastest growing operating environment over the next five years, while Windows has hit a plateau with some 98% of the desktop operating system market. Backed with support from major suppliers Linux will thrive, said IDC.

However, the analyst firm also noted that Microsoft will  be expected to compete vigorously, even using its huge installed base as a competitive tool to deflect Linux's ability to penetrate the industry.

Matthew Broersma writes for

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