Open source software a frequent flier on Virgin America

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BOSTON - Virgin America's CIO says free and open source software (FOSS) is giving the fast growing airline a competitive edge in providing guest services vs. airlines relying mainly on more expensive and less flexible proprietary programs.

Virgin, which sold its first ticket in 2007 and is now serving 13 cities with planes offering broadband Wi-Fi, has adopted open source for its in-flight entertainment system (Linux) to its Web site to its antivirus (ClamAV).

He said the company tossed proprietary VPN equipment and is happily running OpenVPN. "It works like a charm ... so why would I buy a VPN from Cisco?"

Down the road, the company is looking to bring in open source software for routing, database and business intelligence applications.

(We have written in the past about Virgin's network management rollout with a commercial product from Nimsoft, now part of CA)

While Ravi Simhambhatla told LinuxCon attendees that his IT staff has saved millions of dollars by going with FOSS, he emphasized it's the fact that the software works so well that has made it a relatively easy sell to higher ups. He touted the company's open source systems having 100% uptime with just one open source software systems admin.

"With commercial software you need a bank of people to manage the software and a bank of people to manage that bank of people," said Simhambhatla, who joined Virgin in 2006, inheriting a lot more Microsoft and other commercial products than he has now. Fewer headaches to deal with on the IT administration front allows Virgin's IT team to conduct their own R&D toward developing services to help the airline's customers, he said.

Also from LinuxCon: GNOME chief "embarrassed" by lack of free software Web services

(Virgin America hasn't been shy this year about rubbing some vendors the wrong way. For example, it made headlines when it dumped Adobe Flash from its Web site to ensure users of Apple products could access it.)

One LinuxCon attendee asked Simhambhatla what Virgin was doing to give back to the free software community given all that it's gotten from it. The CIO acknowledged that it initially is giving back by promoting its wide use of the software, but said once his team is larger he plans to have a core group in the next year or so focused on giving back to the community. He also participated at the conference on a panel about the future of open source with reps from Dell, Novell and others.

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Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Open source software a frequent flier on Virgin America" was originally published by Network World.

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