This first appeared in Express Computer:

Linux in the Enterprise: Total Cost of Ownership

Everybody loves TCO

TCO (total cost of ownership) may be an overused concept, but with Linux on the desktop PRAKASH ADVANI says that the benefits are immediately visible

Total cost of ownership (TCO) has become one of the most politically correct terms in the PC industry’s lexicon. Most companies today claim that their solution has the lowest TCO, but the projected savings accrue over a period of time, so it’s very difficult to feel the benefits

In contrast, the TCO benefits of Linux-based solutions are immediately visible. And maintenance costs over a period of time are also lower.

Let’s begin with the reality today. A lot of reports, including the latest MAIT (Manufacturers Association of Information Technology) report, suggest that most of the hardware sold in India is Intel-based commodity hardware. This used to cost Rs 30,000 10 years ago and even today you would end up spending a similar amount to get a decent Pentium 4 PC. The operating system (Windows 98/XP) and office suite (MS Office) are always considered ‘free,’ since people use pirated software. The reality is that the local assembler just installs it and gives it with the PC. If he shows any resistance in offering pirated software, there will always be another assembler willing to fill in.

minimum software that an organisation begins with since word processing and spread sheet are common applications and everyone knows how to use these. There may be other applications such as accounting, CRM, etc, that can be considered while calculating TCO but we’ll stick to the bare minimum here.

In spite of piracy being so rampant and smaller organisations not being too concerned about it, piracy is not an option! For developing countries like India, piracy is not a sustainable model, especially if we wish to project ourselves as a software superpower. The laws in the country are also very strict and unlike other laws where one can dodge—by bribing—getting around piracy is not possible. The only way out is to purchase legal software or go to jail.

What typically happens is that organisations start small with one or more PCs and think it is okay to use pirated software. As more and more business processes get computerised the number of PCs increase and they reach a point where the cost of going legal becomes prohibitive. It’s not just small organisations that succumb to using pirated software but also many large organisations and in these cases, the cost of becoming legal would run into several lakhs or even crores of rupees.

So what’s the cost of going legal? If one had to purchase a Pentium 4 for Rs 30,000, Windows XP for Rs 6,500 and MS Office for Rs 15,000, the cost adds up to Rs 51,500. Microsoft doesn’t sell and support anything less than Windows XP today so we have taken the cost of Windows XP. Secondly it is uneconomical (or the option isn’t even available) to purchase Word or Excel as standalone applications, even if most of your users don’t require the entire office suite. This nearly doubles the cost of computing and computerisation begins looking like an expensive luxury.

Fortunately, Linux has come to our rescue. Linux is finally ready to be used as a desktop. It may not give 100 percent of the functionality of other operating systems but it meets the needs of 90 percent of users. The
benefits of using Linux are plenty. To list a few: Linux desktop applications such as office suites, e-mail, browser and others are finally mature enough to be comparable to their Windows counterparts. The GUIs available for Linux,
KDE and Gnome, have matured considerably and give a Windows-like look and feel. Hardware compatibility has also improved significantly and there are solutions available to run legacy Windows applications as well. Linux also has proven its reliability and stability and is relatively virus-free.

Deploying Linux not only saves on the licensing costs but saves the organisation from typical licensing headaches where software has to be paid on a per user basis or a per PC basis or on the basis of servers deployed. Managing all these licenses and making sure the organisation is compliant has become a task by itself. Using Linux and open source applications frees corporate users from the stress of living under these constant fears.

Linux has a bundle of applications to match its Windows counterparts. Some of them are listed below.

Using Linux as a desktop brings down the cost of software to zero, and thereby reducing the cost per PC to Rs 30,000. Is that good enough?

You can also save more by using a Linux Terminal Server Project- (LTSP) based solution. Here all the applications run from the server and the client can be a Pentium 100 MHz/32 MB diskless client. This works out very cost-effective and in networks of 5-10 PCs, this can help reduce the TCO further by 50 percent.

This solution also offers other benefits as well.

  • Centralised management: Since all applications are stored on the server, the admin has to manage only one server. If a backup needs to be taken, just take a backup of the server and all the user data is taken care of. If a new application has to be installed just install it once on the server and everyone can benefit from it.
  • Sharing of computer: Since the user profiles are stored on the server, multiple users can log in using the same computer without having the fear of anyone snooping on their data. Each user has his/her own login/password and gets access to only his/her password-protected data directory on the server.
  • Low maintenance: Since all data is stored on the server, there is very little maintenance required on the client PC. If a PC fails, it can be replaced immediately and the user can get back to work or alternatively the user could walk up to another PC on the network, login and start working. In terms of hardware, hard disks have a high failure rate. Since the LTSP terminals are diskless it also saves on the hardware maintenance cost.
  • Lower TCO over a period of time: This is one of the main benefits of this solution. Since the applications run from the server, the clients never need to be upgraded. This saves on the cost of upgrading the clients, which would otherwise have to be junked within a few years of purchase.

All this sounds very exciting but lets also look at some limitations. Since Linux is relatively uncommon, there may not be too many vendors willing to provide support. Users also have resistance since they have to learn something new. The lack of Windows applications is also a limitation since most applications are written for the Windows platform. There are ways to run Windows applications on Linux but these need the installation of additional software and the purchase of Windows licenses.

The way around it is to co-exist. Have as many Linux machines as possible and the rest can be Windows. This way the organisation can have a taste of Linux and enjoy its TCO benefits.

Linux is the cheaper option
Option 1 Windows Desktop (Rs) Option 2 Linux Desktop (Rs) Option 3 Linux Thin Clients (Rs)
Server hardware
Client hardware
No of clients

Server OS
Client OS (per user)
Office suite (per user)



Windows vs Linux
Windows Application Linux Equivalent
Outlook/Outlook Express Evolution
MSN Messenger Gaim
Yahoo Messenger Gaim
ICQ Gaim
AOL Messenger Gaim
Win Jab or other Jabber Client Gaim
Microsoft Word Open Office Writer
Microsoft Excel Open Office Calc
Microsoft Power Point Open Office Impress
Adobe Acrobat Adobe Acrobat
Windows Explorer /File Manager Konqueror File Manager
Internet Explorer/Mozilla/Netscape Mozilla/Netscape
Adobe PhotoShop Gimp
Java Java
Adobe Distiller (PDF writer) In-built in Open Office