Voice of Experience: Martin Armitage

By Joshua Weinberger Print this article Print

The senior VP and head of Unilever's Global Infrastructure Organization talks about Linux services organizations.

Martin Armitage
Senior VP & Head of Global Infrastructure Organization
London, United Kingdom

Manager's Profile: Responsible for maintaining information technology for 100,000 users at the global consumer-goods giant, Armitage oversees five I.T. centers and 2,000 staffers.

Establishing Street Cred: "When we started using Unix in 1991," Armitage says, "Unilever was the only company on the board of the Open Software Foundation that was not an I.T. supplier."

What Went Wrong With Unix: Fragmentation of the operating system. "We didn't see it coming. Our architecture's doubled—which also doubles our support costs. We never had a large-scale enterprisewide system on Unix that ran on industry standard platforms—they run off proprietary platforms." As a result, he says, hardware is a whopping 40% of his current cost structure.

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The Linux Plan: "To build a road map for a scalable enterprise system—we're talking to IBM, HP and others. By 2005-06, we expect to have large-scale platforms that meet our needs." But Unilever's not waiting. The company's already running utilities and some informational Web sites on Linux, and hopes to add nontransactional applications by the end of the year.

No More Unix: That leaves what he calls "the 7-by-24, always-available, mission-critical applications"—which now run on SAP. Armitage hopes to have them moving toward Linux by 2005-06, and then Unilever "will no longer be buying proprietary Unix."

What About Windows? No current plans to replace the roughly 20% of systems running on Windows. "If they run on Microsoft, they run on Microsoft," he says. "That segment's not part of our Linux plan. We don't want to force desktop environments that will stifle any innovation."

What Services Organizations Are Good For: A top-30 global services organization itself, Unilever looks "to buy skills and expertise and resources we don't have," generally dealing directly with the strategy group at IBM and HP rather than IBM Global Services or HP Services. "When it comes to actual questions—what environment do we need and what tools—then we might turn to the services." So far, among his peers in the industry, he says, "I don't see many people using services" for big-ticket Linux projects. The trick, he says, is to "think big—but start small."

Priorities: "I'd rather spend the money up front building out a problem-free environment than on a services contract." When there are problems with critical operations, "the fewer the parties involved, the better. In an ideal world, the person that serves you the hardware should supply you the software and services." That way, "when there's a problem, there's only one person to go to. Keep as close to that model as you can. If there were additional challenges, then you'd go elsewhere, but start there rather than the other way around."

This article was originally published on 2003-02-13
Assistant Editor
After being on staff at The New Yorker for five years, Josh later traveled the world, hitting all seven continents in a single year. At Yale University, he majored in American Studies, English, and Theatre Studies.

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