Getting the CIO to Make the Leap

You know Linux works great on servers. I know Linux works great on servers. But does your CIO know how great Linux works on servers? Chances are the answer is no.


You know Linux works great on servers. I know Linux works great on servers. But does your CIO know how great Linux works on servers? Chances are the answer is no.

So how do you convince the big “C” officials that Linux is not only the cat’s meow, but just what your company needs? Here’s some ways not to do it.

Don’t march into the office one day wearing a Slashdot t-shirt with a half-dozen O’Reilly books under your arm and loudly proclaim, “Windoze sucks, only a FUDdy-duddy could possibly doubt that we need to replace every copy of Windows with Mandrake Linux running GNOME.”

Ouch! That definitely won’t work. Here’s why.

First, you’re not going to convince anyone of anything with direct confrontation. Ever notice how the GNOME vs. KDE, BSD vs. Linux, vi vs. Emacs, and other “religious” wars never completely die down? That’s because they quickly become arguments about black and white, right and wrong, Linux and Windows. This makes for great flames, but flames only burn things, they don’t enlighten.

So, first things first, get rid of the “Linux is the one true faith” attitude when trying to convince managers that Linux is a better solution. You’re trying to persuade someone to make a change, not bludgeon them into submission.

Next, get rid of the jargon. We know what FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is. Your boss probably doesn’t, and if she did, probably wouldn’t think that “FUDdy-duddy” comment was funny.

You should also drop the techno-babble. You may love explaining in great detail why XFS or ReiserFS beats the pants off NTFS or FAT32 for file systems, but your bosses eyes will likely glaze over fairly quickly.

So what is the right way to get CIOs to look seriously at Linux? Talk to your audience. Instead of talking benchmarks, simply explain that, “With Linux’s file system, we’ll get better server disk performance and be able to get our servers back up and running quicker if we have a power outage.”

You should also expand your vocabulary to include buzzwords that CIOs like to hear, like TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and ROI (Return On Investment). For example, “Even if we have to hire another administrator, we’ll have a net savings of $20,000 a year in TCO just by getting rid of Microsoft’s Client Access License (CAL) fees.” Or, “Since Linux servers stay up longer than our W2K servers, we’ll save 200 man-hours a quarter for a greater overall ROI just by cutting our down time.” In short, talk bucks, not bytes.

Another good idea is to keep your expectations reasonable. I don’t care how convinced you are that the Linux desktop is the best way to go. You’re probably not going to get any company to dump their familiar Windows desktops and applications on your word of honor and a collection of articles about Linux.

Instead, start small. For instance, show them that OpenOffice produces documents that are compatible with all the office’s Word applications. Tell them that they’ll see the Linux desktop users keep working day after day while their Windows counterparts lose minutes here and there to daily system crashes. If you do get them to try out Linux, after a few months point out that there are no further CAL fees due on the Linux systems, and maybe you can convince them to convert another department to Linux.

Never forget that executives tend to be afraid of the new and different. In some companies, workers get ahead by being bold and innovative. But for every Steve Jobs, there are dozens who found that being too bold led directly to the unemployment line.

Most executives use a combination of boldness and keeping a close eye on the established order to rise through the ranks. As the years roll by and these execs get more senior, they tend to become more conservative. One good way to swing them to Linux is to point out that Linux isn’t just penguins and Red Hat, it’s IBM and HP, too.

But you know what the best motivator might be? Proof. Dan Kusnetzky, IDC’s vice president for system software research says, “Linux often enters the organization to support basic infrastructure applications such as Web services, file services, print services, DHCP services, DNS services, email, etc. For the most part, these systems are PCs or workstations being used as servers. Furthermore, the folks bringing Linux systems in are often doing it on their own to solve a tactical problem. The corporate IT folks are often unaware of the presence of Linux in their network. Once Linux proves it can handle the work, it gets considered for other tasks.”

Bottom line, if you really want to bring Linux into your office, you’re going to have to do it with action.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is a longtime Unix guru and technology writer. He can be reached at

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