KeyBank sees big savings by moving to Linux servers

Cleveland's KeyBank is keeping its own bank balance healthy by moving much of its back-end infrastructure to Linux.

In mid-2004, Key, which manages US$92.3 billion in customer assets, began replacing aging Unix servers with Intel-based Linux servers that are less expensive than sticking with pricey and proprietary Unix hardware. The bank saw its server costs fall by 80 percent, according to Dave Seager, vice president of Unix systems engineering.

As part of the project, the bank last year bought 100 HP servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux. By 2008, Seager expects Linux to comprise half of Key's servers.

"In the last year, Linux has gone from 'unapproved for use in the building' to our platform of choice," Seager said.

When Seager arrived at Key fresh from a dot-com four years ago, getting support from higher-ups -- including the then-CIO -- to consider a move to Linux wasn't easy. Would the anticipated cost savings from Linux really offset possible issues with support, extra maintenance and uncertain compatibility? they had asked.

After culling vendors, Seager went to Red Hat Inc., which gave him "honest" advice that yielded solid cost-savings projections. "Red Hat went through our entire application stack with us," Seager said. "They were very explicit about where Linux excelled and where it had weaknesses, and where we could get the most dollar-for-dollar benefit."