Linux for the Long Haul

By Anne Chen  |  Posted 2003-09-01

Linux for the Long Haul

Two years ago, few enterprises would admit they were running Linux. Today, there are few organizations that are not piloting or using the open-source operating system in some fashion.

To get an idea of how the operating systems role is developing in organizations, we revisited two of our Linux case-study subjects from last year: Jefferson County, Colo., and the city of Steamboat Springs, Colo. In both cases, IT managers were happy with their deployments and plan to continue deploying Linux for mission-critical applications.

This is not to say there havent been setbacks. The Linux desktop program at Jefferson County, for example, has not been as successful in its first year as some had hoped. Concerns over legal battles resulting from The SCO Groups lawsuit against IBM, as well as SCOs insistence that organizations using Linux purchase UnixWare licenses, also loom. (See "Vetting SCOs Linux Lawsuits.")

Is SCO smoking crack? Read eWEEKs hard-hitting interview with Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

For the most part, though, both organizations have been aggressively deploying Linux wherever they can. Citing stability, cost savings and security, IT managers said Linux has been successful enough at their organizations that its an automatic candidate for any new deployments.

"Were very happy with the position were in right now with regards to Linux," said Steve OBrien, director of IT operations for Jefferson County. "There are a number of Linux projects were working on that I think will be very exciting."

Last year, OBrien rolled out a program that enabled county departments to order Linux-based desktops running OpenOffice.orgs OpenOffice office productivity suite. The goal: to have 200 Linux desktops deployed by next August. Today, 67 out of 1,600 end users at the county are running Linux on the desktop.

"I would say we are a little bit behind, but we continue to deploy Linux desktops," OBrien said. "The point is that the people who get them dont ask us to replace them with Windows machines."

Next page: Novells Ximian Acquisition a Wish Come True.

Page Two

OBrien, who was very vocal last year about his desire for Novell Inc. to support Linux, got his wish this summer when the Provo, Utah, software company announced it had acquired Ximian Inc., a Linux desktop software company. Jefferson County is a beta site for Novells Linux products, and OBrien said his systems administrators have been pleased with eDirectory for Linux as well as the GroupWise e-mail client on Linux. (For more information on Linux-based groupware applications, see "Messaging Collaboration: Killer Apps for Linux?")

What has OBrien most excited, however, is Novells decision to port iPrint to Linux. OBrien currently uses a printing package called CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) for Linux users and Novells iPrint server for everyone else. By moving everyone onto the iPrint server, OBrien said hell save on management and maintenance costs.

In Steamboat Springs, Manager of Information Systems Kent Morrison is also trying to reduce the complexity of his computing infrastructure with Linux. Two months ago, Morrisons IT staff moved two legacy applications off two Microsoft Corp. Windows NT 4.0 servers and onto one Linux server running Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 7.0. This year, the city also moved all file and print services off Microsoft operating systems and onto Red Hat Linux.

Morrison, who runs Computer Associates International Inc.s ArcServe backup software on Linux, is looking to upgrade the operating system. When RedHat stopped offering a $1,000 per server support contract for organizations not paying software licensing fees, however, Morrison said he began looking to other Linux vendors.

"We are very disappointed with RedHats positioning because its the difference between using a free operating system and paying for support, and buying a relatively expensive operating system outright," he said. "We were one of those companies that supported open source and RedHat by buying support contracts in the first place."

While Morrison said he has not deployed any Linux desktops, he said he has asked his hardware vendor, Micron Technology Inc., to install OpenOffices productivity suite.

"Nobodys using OpenOffice, but I can tell department heads that people who dont need the full Microsoft Office suite can cut their teeth on OpenOffice," he said.

The success of Linux at Steamboat Springs goes further than the city itself. This month, Morrison said he would like to launch an e-government initiative for northwestern Colorado built on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) platform.

Morrison has high hopes for his e-government initiative, but he said there is one possible crimp in his strategy: the licensing challenges involving Linux today.

"Im very concerned but not because of my use of Linux," Morrison said. "I cut my teeth on SCO products, and Im disappointed. Linux has become a key part of our computing strategy. Look at all the potential, excitement and activity surrounding Linux that could go straight down the tube."

Senior Writer Anne Chen is at

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