Friday, July 08, 2005

Linux in a mission critical high transaction processing application

Anyone who thinks that Linux is not ready for mission-critical applications should read this article in CIO Magazine about the experience of Cendant Travel Distribution Services, the parent company of Orbitz and, and its CIO, Mickey Lutz.
Lutz's IT group rewrote a complex, real-time airline pricing application that serves hundreds of thousands of travel agents around the world and that also acts as the system of record for all of United Airlines' ticket reservations. When this application came up on Linux, it proved to be so demanding—it handles up to 700 pricing requests per second—that it completely redefined Cendant's expectations about what it would take to get Linux to work. "We have broken every piece of software we've ever thrown at this platform, including Linux itself," says Lutz.

That has resulted in some scary moments, including an initial slowdown in the system that left United Airlines agents intermittently unable to access the reservation application (one outage lasted about 45 minutes) over the course of four days in July 2003. If you are United Airlines and move roughly 8,000 passengers per hour, you need the computers to work all the time. "Even a little downtime is a big deal," admits Lutz.
Although there were some major bumps along the road, Lutz believes that the gamble on Linux was worth it. Cendant successfully converted the system from four IBM mainframes to a 12 server Linux cluster of 144 Intel boxes. The cost of the system dropped from $100 million to $2.5 million per year.

Interestingly, Lutz is no open source zealot. He "professes no interest in, nor understanding of, the mechanics of the open-source movement." It is "irrelevant to him, because the software can run his infrastructure, and he can buy enough support for it from vendors."

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