Road to Open Source

Rhode Island uses LAMP model to reduce cost of online portal.

Whether its determining what constitutes a milk quality grade or finding out when you can dig for clams in Narragansett Bay, the citizens of Rhode Island are some of the first in the nation who can find their government-issued dictates on systems created with open-source tools.

Rhode Island put itself on the cutting edge of hot-technology uptake last year when it became one of the first state governments to get beyond traditional government conservatism and implement open-source technology. The gamble is paying off: The bill for the states rules and regulations database came in at $40,000—only $6,000 of which was hardware costs—and took one consultant four months working only two days a week to complete.

The project entailed putting a long-awaited rules and regulations database online with MySQL, the open-source database from MySQL AB, of Uppsala, Sweden. The implementation followed a model for open-source deployments called LAMP that includes the Linux operating system, Apache Web server, MySQL database and any of three development languages—PHP, Perl or Python.

The portal, which is available to anyone through the states Web site, runs under Red Hat Inc.s Linux 7.2 and sits on a Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge server that came with a MySQL database pre-installed.

The idea of using open-source software was proposed by Jim Willis, who put forward the plan when working as an independent consultant for Rhode Islands secretary of state and who was named director of e-government services for that department last month.

Willis had to overcome more than a little skepticism to push open source into the state government. The sticking point for many government IT officials boiled down to the fact that, simply, they had never heard of the open-source technologies and didnt trust them to be enterprise-worthy applications, Willis said. "They were fearful that they had never heard of any of this," said Willis, in Providence. "Theres a lot to be said for name recognition. When I mentioned using Perl or Apache or PHP, people associated it with freeware, not with being robust tools that people had been working with for years."

The database isnt large, containing about 300MB of data. It received about 28,000 visitors in its first nine months of operation and is regularly accessed by more than 90 state agencies, some of which file regulatory changes two or three times a week.