Specsavers opens eyes to open source
Is the bottom line better with or without? With or without?
Specsavers, the retail chain of opticians, is putting the finishing touches to an IT refit of its UK operation that has seen it move a third of its applications to open source software.
The group is making the same transition across all eight countries in which it operates in order to save money and hassle. Key to the move is the adoption of open standards so it can avoid being trapped into using any single vendor's software.
Michel Khan, IT director for the Specsavers Group, said it had already saved a "mid-quartile" six figure sum from licence fees alone and another "lower quartile" six figure sum from the operational benefits of wresting control back from proprietary vendors.
"The topline is that we've been fundamentally moving our store systems to a completely open standards architecture, and as a result of that we've moved to open source components," he said.
Specsavers had gained a "flexibility" in its architecture, said Khan. It had taken control of the versions of software it uses, as well as what hardware upgrades it did when, which is a significant cost. This is where it had made its operational savings, because it was able to better manage its systems and have less engineer call-outs.
"We're not driven by the supplier," he noted.
Much of the dirty work was done in a joint venture formed by Sirius Corporation, a UK open source services firm, and Scalix, a publisher of open source enterprise email systems to compete with the industry standard, Microsoft's Exchange Server.
Sirius helped Specsavers move to open standards, championing OpenLDAP in place of Microsoft's Active Directory.
Of course, as the open source politicos say nowadays, this is not about Microsoft. It just so happens Microsoft hogs so much of the corporate software market. The Sirius guys were chuffed to bits.
"For a big company like Specsavers, not having to implement Active Directory, that's like the crown jewels. It's the critical lock-in tool [for Microsoft]," said Sirius marketing director Tom Callway.
Specsavers also bought into Samba, on open source alternative to the Microsoft file and print server, and a source of much of the momentum behind the European Commission's ongoing anti-trust case against Redmond.
The group aims to have made the same transition across all its 960 stores with Redhat, a version of the Linux open source operating system, being used to run its retail computer terminals. Four thousand of these have been transitioned so far, with another 4,000 still to be done in other countries.
Its point of sale machines will also be moved to Linux, as will the servers running its stores and regional headquarters. The firm's large-scale data centre in Guernsey will be running Sun Solaris. It has also invested in an open source accounting package to run its financials outside the UK, which it is under an agreement not to name. The UK system won't change, said Khan, because he believed that "if it ain't broke, you don't fix it".
The firm will have an equal split of a third a-piece between in-house systems developed using open standards, open source systems, and a range of proprietary systems that adhere to open standards. The last component to go into the 600 UK stores will be a dispensing and collections system made from a jigsaw of in-house and open source pieces. ®
Great, what took them so long
This is great news and it looks as if Vista will
do more business for open platforms. Ms takes
the cake for boneheaded companies. If it were
my company I'd have gone this way OpenLDAP
or not if only for the control of software and other
security goodies the lack of malware and the control
of users you get with Linux make it seem a natural
for business settings.
All of this should be well known so why is it taking so long to sink in.
MS Only Has Itself To Blame
I was in Specsavers recently talking to one of the guys about the move. He said that a significant factor in the choice of Open Source was the release of Windows Vista.
Specsavers had been mulling over a change for quite some time, but were stalling because of the cost of familiarising all their staff with a different operating system. Vista gave them the impetus to change because, had they adopted it, they would have had to re-train their staff anyway. Before Vista the choice was to either pay for re-training, or pay for new MS licences. Now the choice is pay for re-training, and either pay more for new Vista licenses, or get Open Source for free. Easy choice.
The the best of my knowledge RedHat sell a version of Linux that all the interesting integration stuff runs on. That's about it.
Big up to Scalix and Sirius for making the systems work.