A switch to open source software has enabled a huge expansion of the Specsavers optician chain, the company’s CIO has said.

Michael Khan told delegates at a Westminster eForum event in London that “one of the big drivers” for the adoption of open source software was the company’s ambitious international growth plan.

Specsavers migrated its IT infrastructure, including servers, desktops and tills, away from Microsoft Windows 2000 to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system earlier this year.

Khan explained that the optician firm had 500 high street stores, mainly in the UK and Ireland in 2003, but aimed to double this number by 2008. “We developed a strategy to be able to deploy a full-scale operational retail infrastructure anywhere in the world at a quick speed.” he said.

Open source software provided an “economy of deployment” for large volumes of IT equipment, he said, adding that the IT department had recently provisioned 14 new stores “in 14 weeks from scratch”.

Cost savings from using open source rather than proprietary software mounted up for large-scale deployments, Khan argued. “Everything you buy you have to multiply by thousands.”

He added: “It’s a fallacy that you can’t find open source software that worked. It’s a matter of are you looking hard enough.”

Khan said: “One of the key things we look for in all open source products we have is interoperability. Specsavers is implementing an enterprise message bus that is open source using [open standard] XML. All our applications are integrated through that message bus.”

Specsavers has three Microsoft servers and around 800 running Linux, said Khan, adding: “I have more difficulty trying to get integration with the message bus with Microsoft applications.”