Linux Conversion Saves Amazon Millions

Aug 15, 2002
George Anderson

The Seattle Times reports that switched 92 percent of its computer network to the freely shared Linux operating system last September to help the company grow and cut costs, according to Jacob Levanon, Amazon’s director of systems engineering. Mr. Levanon presented Amazon’s switch to Linux from AT&T’s version of Unix, a longtime standard in large computing centers, at the LinuxWorld trade show this week.

The switch has saved Amazon millions partly by reducing the number of engineers needed to support the system, Mr. Levanon says. The company can tap into the global network of Linux supporters who collaboratively develop and improve the software.

As part of a broad restructuring in early 2001 to shift from rapid growth to profitability, Amazon set an aggressive timetable of 120 days to adapt the software and convert thousands of data-serving computers in time for last year’s holiday season. The conversion was delayed slightly due to a uniquely Linux complication. Linux creator Linus Torvalds, a Finnish programmer who oversees the system’s evolution, abruptly changed the software’s underlying code, forcing Red Hat, which develops commercial versions of Linux, and Amazon to change course midway through the transition.

Moderator Comment: Will more retailers follow Amazon’s lead and switch to Linux?

We’ve already seen Boscov’s, the Pennsylvania-based department store chain make the switch from Windows to Linux (RetailWire 7/19/02, Retailer Prepares for Business Without Windows).

The chain cited savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars as a key motivator in its decision to switch. It seems that concerns over technical support and third-party apps is being overcome by the promise of a significantly more stable system at a fraction of the cost of competing operating systems. [George Anderson – Moderator]

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