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Linux Checks In At Hotel Chain

By Todd R. Weiss
November 19, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - One of the oft-heard knocks against Linux is that it lacks big-time business applications. Try telling that to Cendant Corp., one of the world's largest hotel franchisers.

When the $4.6 billion New York-based company modernized systems at thousands of hotels three years ago, it chose an application that ran only on Linux. FrontClerk, the property management application from Hotel Software Systems Ltd. in Portland, Ore., stood out from available Windows-based products at the time, according to Jeff Daniels, Cendant's director of franchise technology.

Others in the industry took notice of Cendant's Linux approach. "It's gigantic for two reasons," says Frederic Lalonde, chief technology officer at Newtrade Technologies Inc., a travel industry IT vendor in Montreal. First is the fact that it's Cendant, "not some backwoods company in Nebraska that's choosing Linux because they don't have any money," he says. "[Cendant] can buy any software licenses they need."

Equally important for Linux's credibility inside the enterprise, says Lalonde, is the fact that for hotels, property management applications are "the brains and heart of the properties," keeping track of rooms awaiting housekeeping, billing for in-room movie rentals, telephone calls, minibar use, guest check-in and checkout, reservations and more.

Besides, Lalonde observes, "under Linux is Unix—end of story. It still is a very robust Unix environment."

Before the modernization project was launched in 1998, most of Cendant's hotels either didn't have a computer or had separate on-site systems. Today, all of its 6,500 hotels in nine chains use Linux-based FrontClerk. Although the company had a choice among Linux distributions, it chose OpenLinux 2.3 from Caldera International Inc. in Orem, Utah. "We've been pretty pleased with the product from Caldera, from the stability of the operating system and the support that we've been able to garner," Daniels says.

One of the other critical features that open-source Linux allows is broad customization for Cendant's hotels. That flexibility, for instance, allowed modifications to make the virtual private network code work with the existing central reservation system. It also allowed modifications to the operating system kernel to remove unneeded features at each hotel. That essentially protects hotel workers from inadvertently making system changes and causing problems, says Norman Wall, a Cendant technical support specialist. That's especially important at locations where the technical support staff isn't on-site.

"We have the ability to configure our own firewall," a feature unavailable on Windows three years ago, Wall says. And "for a hotel that really needs to communicate on its network, we can really get into the code," he adds.

Easier Administration

Under Linux, other systems administration tasks are also easier, Wall says, including automating processes using languages such as Perl and Python. For example, fixing printing problems can now be done easily using a short script under Linux, he explains.

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