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Cost Concern

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-05-14 Print this article Print

Call it the democratization of software. But in this election contest, open-source operating systems come down to two leading candidates with similar platforms.

Cost Concern

But Harry Roberts, chief information officer for Boscov's, has a different view of open-source pricing.

Since 2001, Boscov's, the $1.5 billion chain of 50 department stores based in Reading, Pa., has been running Novell's SUSE Enterprise Linux on IBM zSeries mainframes. Since then, Roberts says he's looked at the offerings from both Novell and Red Hat and he doesn't like what he sees namely, the price.

Roberts understands that vendors like Novell and Red Hat need to make money off their product, and he also doesn't mind paying for consulting services or support, provided they bring value to his investment. But he contends that those vendors' licensing fees are high for an open-source or shareware product.

Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 server ranges from $349 a year for two processors, which includes a year of Web support, to $2,499 a year for its advanced platform (designed for multi-system deployments), covering unlimited processors and a year of both phone and Web support, according to the company Web site.

Novell charges from $349 per server for one year, including 30 days of standard support, to $3,748 for three years of unlimited phone and Web support, according to its Web site.

On the proprietary side, Microsoft, on the high end, charges more for licenses, without support. For $999, a customer gets five licenses of Microsoft's latest version, Server 2003 R2; for 25 licenses, the price tag hits $3,999, according to a sales representative.

The Sun Solaris 10 platform comes in cheaper, with support ranging from $240 for two processors to $1,980 for three or more processors, which includes 24/7 call support, according to Sun's Web site. The software itself is free.

Roberts and his team are putting in a new point-of-sale system across all of Boscov's 50 stores. They have 100 servers running SUSE Linux two per store and 2,500 devices on the open-source platform, though he expects that to go up to 4,100 in the next 18 months.

With the expansion, Roberts says his support costs will multiply many times over. And he says other companies should more closely scrutinize pricing plans before switching to open source. "It isn't fair to charge me 100 times the distribution cost because I've deployed it on 100 devices," Roberts says. "That's a software model, not a distribution model."

Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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