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Executives from HP, Novell, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems Discuss Different Types of Operating Systems Available to Banks and How They Should Go About Selecting the Right One

Selecting the right operating system can help banks support critical applications, driving growth while providing scalability and security. With an almost overwhelming array of choices, however, how can banks decide which operating environment is the right one?

Selecting the right operating system can help banks support critical applications, driving growth while providing scalability and security. With an almost overwhelming array of choices, however, how can banks decide which operating environment is the right one?

Q: What are the most important considerations for banks in terms of selecting/standardizing on an operating system (OS)?

John Wallace, HP: Banks need to pick an operating system that matches the features and qualities of the deployed service. Some key considerations for selecting an operating system include: application availability, familiarity with the technology and ecosystem, service-quality needs (such as 24/7 uptime), a trusted vendor relationship, and total cost of ownership (TCO).

Kim Lorusso, Novell: Banks must look for operating systems that can scale across their enterprise. Cost savings, performance, and the ability to scale and integrate with existing systems are key factors in selecting an operating system.

Michael Wons, Microsoft: Organizations need to focus on multipurpose platforms that are capable of handling a diverse set of server roles, depending on the specific organization's needs, in either a centralized or distributed fashion. Some of these roles include file-and-print server, Web server and Web application services, mail server, terminal server, remote access and virtual private network server, directory services, streaming media server, and more. The most important factor in selection is choosing a platform that is interoperable by design. This allows an organization to maximize its existing investments in applications, data and employee skill sets as it migrates to the future state platform. Other key deciding factors include availability, scalability and security.

Pieter Heyn, Sun Microsystems: On a case-by-case basis, banks will standardize on the OS that delivers the best results for the business with the minimum amount of overhead. A bank should look for a robust platform with the highest levels of reliability, availability and serviceability.

Q: Are banks running multiple operating systems, or is there a trend to standardize on a single OS? What are the benefits of each approach?

Wallace, HP: Banks have been running multiple operating systems forever -- Microsoft on desktops and teller stations, and Unix/Linux in the back office for high availability and lower costs on industry standard hardware. While banks would like to standardize on one OS to have a common environment and achieve better TCO, this is not feasible in the near term due to budget constraints, application availability, resources and time -- not to mention internal politics.

A bank's ability to synchronize its business to its IT and deploy an adaptive infrastructure is a critical competitive advantage and a compelling reason for a multi-OS strategy. For example, Linux allows banks to move front-office trading systems to fast industry-standard technology, while Microsoft Windows is a widely used desktop OS. Unix also is a good stable OS choice for heavy workload environments.

Lorusso, Novell: Banks today operate in a mixed-source world where open-source and proprietary software each have a role to play. OSs that can scale and run on any type of platform -- including mainframes, blade servers and desktops -- give banks the ability to improve performance, save money, improve efficiency and set a foundation for growth. But where banks can standardize OSs, they will strive to do so.

Wons, Microsoft: There are benefits and drawbacks to multiple operating systems, but I believe mostly drawbacks because additional resources are required to help support and administer multiple systems. And while we are not seeing many organizations choose just one OS, we are seeing a general trend toward using fewer OSs.

Heyn, Sun Microsystems: It's very difficult for any corporation to standardize on a single operating system as it limits both hardware and application choice; so we find that many will have two to three prime platforms. The system architectures are multitier and, therefore, multiple platforms are inevitable. But banks do need to standardize each tier due to license and maintenance costs as well as choose the ones that are the most open -- which is to say they are built on open standards. For example, the end user edge is typically Windows; the network and distributed functions will be on Unix, such as Solaris; and the core transaction posting engine on the mainframe operating system. Another key consideration is the development platform that the dominant business software provider uses and promotes. The advantage of a multi-OS strategy is that it frees the customers from vendor lock-in and gives them a greater degree of flexibility.

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

Wallace, HP: Financial institutions already employ open-source components in their development environments and when looking at new projects because it attacks the underlying costs of running an IT department. Open source enables them to exploit the latest industry standard technology and expands choices.

Lorusso, Novell: Linux adoption is widespread throughout financial services. From network infrastructure to high-volume transactions -- such as credit card and trading transactions -- to risk management functions, Linux adoption is growing. As more applications are made available on Linux, adoption is accelerating. Many financial firms and the independent software vendors (ISV) are realizing the performance benefits and cost benefits of Linux.

Heyn, Sun Microsystems: Financial customers are increasingly looking toward open source software as a means to lower their costs. But it's not enough for the software to be open source; it also has to have enterprise-class support. Banks like to be able to access the source, but don't want to be responsible for supporting it themselves.

Q: What operating system developments, such as Microsoft's introduction of Vista, should banks anticipate? What implications will these developments have for banks?

Wallace, HP: We expect Vista to displace older versions of Windows because of its improved abilities to protect information, audit users' activity, and integrate and search multiple forms of information (text, e-mail, etc.), as well as its simpler management environment.

In addition to the general-purpose operating systems we've been discussing, there are many different operating systems used in embedded environments, such as smart cards. As these devices become more intelligent, they will employ operating systems to manage their resources and enable easier interconnectivity of services across diverse platforms. These operating environments will develop higher-level service interfaces to connect securely and dependably to the server environments.

Lorusso, Novell: Banks will face high costs when upgrading to Microsoft Vista. Developments on the desktop will provide banks with a more cost-effective solution with more manageability and features than Vista. Transactional users in banking -- such as tellers, front-office workers and call center reps -- are good candidates for the Linux desktop, for example. With growing ISV support for banking applications, banks should anticipate Linux on the desktop as a cost-effective and feature-robust solution to run their businesses.

Wons, Microsoft: With Windows Vista, banks will be able to find and use information more effectively and support their mobile workforces with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And IT staff will have better tools to enhance corporate IT security and data protection. Windows Vista also reduces time spent on deployment and maintaining infrastructure.

Another OS trend we see is the use of virtualization, a software technology for operating systems that supports the increased utilization rate of servers. This technology allows companies to run several different operating systems, as well as the applications that are running in those operating systems, on a single machine.

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