10 good reasons why to use Linux in the Payments Industry

Kyryll Prytula

NYSE and CME – big names in Stock Exchange world; Google, Facebook, Amazon – the three most successful Internet companies. Brazil, Germany, China – some of the most influential governments in the world. Yes, they are all using Linux as their main OS and they all have some good reasons for doing that! In this article we’ll reveal what they are and will also tell you “10 Good reasons for using Linux in the Electronic Payments Industry“.

This article was inspired by reading an interesting article, – “Canonical and Chinese standards body announce Ubuntu collaboration“. It looks like China is about to migrate their systems to the Linux platform, making it their reference architecture for a standardised operating system throughout China’s entire industry and government ecosystem. Some may not like it, but China is already the second largest economy in the world and going to be the first one soon.

Why there is so much noise about Linux? We have to make a short expedition into its history first. It is well known that the original ideas behind Linux’s development were completely different from what Microsoft had in mind. While Microsoft always focused on a broad range of average users, Linux was designed as a terminal server for specific tasks. Both operating systems coexisted alongside one another for ages, sharing ideas and evolving into some sort of holy grail operating system for the masses. Some steps were good, some steps were not, resulting in the present situation where we have operating systems for information age consumers and others for people who want to perform a specific task. Do we want our employees to play games on their tablets or do we need them to do their work? And what about our mission critical services running on our servers? Does it matter if the server reboots in 15 minutes because of the installation of new security fixes, or that it doesn’t need to be restarted for years? Of course all of these things matter and Google, China and others know this very well.

I hope you are starting to catch my drift, so now lets have a look at 10 Good reasons for using Linux from the perspective of the Electronic Payment Industry:

1/ Security

This is the most important topic of all in our industry and simply has to be first. You can have MS Windows well protected behind an excellent firewall, with a good antivirus scanning it periodically, but who is going to protect the workstations from their users themselves? I frequently picture this as having a fort surrounded by a high walls and holding all Windows desktops securely inside, but what if the rat is already among them? With Linux you would have a castle – surrounded by a wall with many independent forts inside, making all desktops able to take care of themselves.

Lets have a look at some real-life examples:

Viruses, Trojans and other Malware make it onto Windows desktops for a number of reasons which are familiar to Windows and foreign to Linux:

  • Windows has only recently evolved from a single-user design to a multi-user model
  • Windows is monolithic, not modular, by design
  • Windows depends too heavily on an RPC model
  • Windows focuses on its familiar graphical desktop interface

Viruses, Trojans and other Malware rarely, if ever, manage to infect Linux systems, in part because:

  • Linux is based on a long history of well fleshed-out multi-user design
  • Linux is mostly modular by design
  • Linux does not depend upon RPC to function, and services are usually configured not to use RPC by default
  • Linux servers are ideal for distributed non-local administration

A common argument is that Linux is not being deployed on the same scale as MS Windows, but this is just a myth. Let’s say that you have the latest mobile phone, a wireless router back home, a printer, and that your company has a firewall, VMware, NAS? Oh yes, all of these and more are running on some flavour of Linux. A detailed and independent assessment report on this topic can be found here: Security Report: Windows vs Linux.

2/ System availability and stability

Despite the fact that Microsoft has greatly improved its Windows stability with recent versions, to put it simply, you still get the blue screens (BSOD). The modular nature of Linux does not allow a bad hardware driver or an application that accidentally runs into a memory segmentation fault to crash a whole system. What makes the difference is the Monolithic versus the Modular Design of these two operating systems. Each application, service or daemon running on Linux is independent on the rest of the system, whereas with Windows, all system components are integrated into one monolithic block. But you just do not a build monolithic skyscraper. Such a building would collapse (BSOD) anytime you shake it. As for Linux, if one part fails, the rest of the system keeps running and the failed process is sanitized.

The Linux architecture greatly increase availability and this is why institutions such as the U.S. National Security Agency and countless large Internet vendors depend on Linux to keep their mission-critical computing infrastructures running.

3/ Rebooting times

After covering availability and stability, we have to give some attention to the time needed for a system to reboot. The latest PCI DSS states that production operation systems have to stay up-to-date and all critical patches have to be applied within one month of being issued. Running the MS Windows server requires a system reboot after the installation of service packs and security fixes. The same applies for Linux as well, where a similar requirement might be a more secure Kernel replacement. Such a reboot will take about the same time on Linux as for Windows. No win for Linux this time? Not at all. Linux has several ways of allowing you to swap its Kernel even while running, cutting the outage from tens of minutes to milliseconds. Running a Linux system may mean that the next time you will be rebooting your system will be because of a server’s main-board replacement.

4/ Scalability

Linux is simply more scalable than Windows. Both Linux and Windows have versions, which are designed to run embedded devices such as cell phones and networking equipment. The speed at which the two run on a PC is also very similar. However, when you get into larger systems with many processors, and huge disk arrays, the differences are much clearer. With Linux, you can link many individual computers together to form a system cluster that will work as one supercomputer. Windows does not have anywhere near the scaling capabilities of Linux, and its file system is not suited for huge files distributed between many devices, like databases for example. The superb scalability of Linux is the main reason that more than 75% of the world’s supercomputers now run on Linux. This scalability allows Google to get the computing power it needs to run their massive search engine and is how the movie studios animate  entire movies using computers.

5/ Costs

Have you seen your company’s latest invoice for MS Windows lately? If not, I think you should check it out. The per Microsoft retail price for a single Windows 7 license in April 2013 is an almost unbelievable $426 AUD here in Australia. I’m not familiar with Microsoft’s corporate license agreements, but it would be difficult to beat Linux, which is usually distributed for free.

It is also worth considering that the total bill for a Microsoft-free company would be free of all the necessary add-ons such as  anti-viruses, software firewalls and Microsoft’s over-breaded MS Office package.

6/ Performance

There are some ways of comparing Microsoft Windows and Linux performance. Many of these benchmarks have been made, but they are also difficult to judge as they are dependent on so many things – actual hardware, system settings, application tested, key parameters being compared. Some of these comparisons are fair, some are unfair and others are simply poorly conceived. However, we all know about the London Stock Exchange (LSE), where deployment of a Microsoft Windows solution became a major disaster, while the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) seems to have done well for many years by having their trading systems running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

At – EFTlab – we do regular bench-marking of our software on both platforms and we guarantee our clients 2000 TPS for Windows and 3000 TPS for our Linux build (sharing 99% of the source code). The results of our tests are a good indication of how we see this performance question internally.

7/ Windows XP desktop appearance

The time when Linux was just a “command line tool” for computer geeks has long passed. Some of the latest Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Mint have learned their lesson – having a very “Windows XP” look and feel. Are you using an App Store from Apple or its Google equivalent? You will find the Synaptic manager very familiar. Just find your application there and install it from your system official repositories. There is no need to “Google it” and go through the pain of a typical Windows installation process; everything just works straight away and updates to the latest versions as needed. Do you need to open your Word document, Excel, or PowerPoint presentation? No worries, Linux knows how to open all these and it will make you feel very comfortable even without the “ribbon”.

8/ System administration and productivity

There is an old cliche which says that Windows is easier to maintain because everything can be managed through a point-and-click approach, whereas Linux requires lines of commands to be entered into terminal. However any Windows administrator will confirm that not everything can be done this way. And the same applies for Linux. Linux administrators know well where to find their configuration tools, but the terminal shells are available on every Linux system and the ability to script any action in a platform-neutral way is priceless. This also hugely increases productivity, where the majority of administration, starting with user desktops and ending with production systems, is carried out through batches of semi-automated scripts.

9/ Monitoring and auditing

There is nothing easier than utilizing some of Linux’s native features for system monitoring and auditing. These two are clear requirements for providing a reliable payment service with high security. These days it is well known that the biggest fraud risk is from the company employees themselves, so their activities need to be audited for possible future forensics. While Windows provides tools for performance monitoring and system log, these applications are not robust enough to deliver information of sufficient quality, and these also leave room for manipulation post-mortem. The same can be done with Linux, but the knowledge and effort needed for achieving similar result is much higher.

10/ One OS fits all

A diverse environment creates high requirements for its upkeep and maintenance. Some form of Linux can run on today’s desktops, production servers, network devices and it is good at fitting in where Microsoft leaves machines behind due to Windows’ ever-increasing minimum system requirements. Keeping a company’s environment consistent may significantly reduce the resources needed for solving inter-operability issues, allowing employees to concentrate on their work.

These 10 reasons are why we at EFTlab see the future of the payments industry in Linux. Some may like it and some companies may not, but there is a clear movement towards this operating system on many levels in many companies, while there are very strong arguments stating why it is happening. Linux is taking over in some of the most active economies these years and this is a reason why EFTlab is at the forefront in delivering payments testing and analyst solutions for this platform.


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(just a joke)