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No longer bogged down in proprietary, noninteroperable environments, insurers must carefully consider the complex array of open source choices they now have.

Q: What's the current status of Linux/open source adoption in financial services?

A: Guru Vasudeva, Nationwide: Adoption is increasing [because] ... people are finding that it's not just an economic driver anymore to save some licensing costs. More and more people are skilled in the marketplace in these open systems rather than in traditional, proprietary systems. There are definitely some obstacles to adoption, such as the increasing complexity of licenses that are attached to these open source systems. We started off with two or three different licenses and now there are at least 60 to 70 different types of open source licenses around, and they are conflicting with one another. So it's definitely a concern for companies to make sure that they are not undertaking too much risk in this space.

A: Bill Hartnett, Microsoft: Linux is seen as a good alternative to proprietary versions of Unix. Running on commodity hardware, it has many of the same advantages of Windows and is sometimes an easier migration path off of high-cost infrastructures, such as Solaris or AIX. The growth of Linux as a Unix replacement has been strong, but as the easy migrations are completed and the true costs of Linux come into focus, the pace is leveling off, if not declining. The exception may be in mainframes, where legacy costs are still very high.

A: Chuck Johnson, Oracle: Insurers are steadily adopting open source software, especially Linux operating systems (OSs). Penetration is generally faster in Asia Pacific and EMEA, with companies such as LIC of India and MACIF, a major European personal insurance company, embracing Linux. In North America, many insurers are exploring Linux to reduce cost and increase flexibility, often working with Oracle or IBM. With the recent advent of open source liability insurance, insurers are more likely to take a risk on open source copyright issues. Ultimately, insurers will gravitate toward consistent, open source OSs backed by large commercial company support structures.

Q: What are the most important considerations for insurance companies in terms of selecting/standardizing on (a) particular operating system(s)?

A: Vasudeva, Nationwide: Considerations include the overall market share of that particular OS, the availability of skilled resources, the support that you get from big vendors -- even if we choose Linux, for instance, we get solid support from IBM, HP and Novell -- and, finally, the cost.

A: Bill Weinberg, Open Source Development Labs: Chief considerations should be (1) ability to run key loads and applications; and (2) existence of a vendor ecosystem to enable operations with support, integration and other services.

A: Hartnett, Microsoft: Any OS should have reliability, scalability, manageability and deployability, and should be secure. An OS is only as valuable as the applications written to run on it, so great development tools and a strong community of developers targeting the platform are critical. Interoperability, more than standardization, is the real focus. Great support for SOA and Web services is the key to interoperability.

A: Johnston, Oracle: 1) Technical stability -- The OS must not only be reasonably bug free, it must have the stability and scalability to handle millions of transactions. It must also support highly managed processing, strict security and disaster recovery; 2) Business stability -- The insurer must be certain of the long-term business viability of the OS, if not the OS company. Don't assume that OS technical excellence ensures business stability; 3) Application availability -- Insurers have often introduced new OSs to their company based on the requirements of a new vertical application.

Peggy Bresnick Kendler has been a writer for 30 years. She has worked as an editor, publicist and school district technology coordinator. During the past decade, Bresnick Kendler has worked for UBM TechWeb on special financialservices technology-centered ... View Full Bio

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