Kennards Hire is ready to replace Windows server with Linux at 90 branches, to accompany 400 desktops already running the open source operating system.
Kennards chief information officer Tony Still said the replacement of Windows was part of a decision to use Linux as the basis of a new point of sale (POS) system. The Australian-owned company offers equipment hire via 90 branches that stretch from Melbourne to Perth to Cairns.
Still decided some time ago that the new POS system would be Linux-based to help centralise its data, which the company had been trying to do for a long time. The existing POS system is written in Java, and runs on DB2 and Windows.
Since his decision, the company has deployed Linux throughout its branches. Kennards has rolled out one of the biggest Linux desktop projects in Australia with around 400 IBM POS terminals running Fedora release 3. Fedora is a Linux distribution derived from Red Hat Linux.
To serve the POS application, Kennards will soon run Linux on the server side. It has deployed one new server per branch, running Red Hat Enterprise, to run the new POS system, but Still said this was still being tested.
"We're certainly not totally there yet, but we're getting close."
The system should be running by the end of the year, according to Still.
At the moment, each branch runs the existing POS system on a Windows 2000 server.
Still said the decision to replace Windows with Linux on both desktop and server was closely aligned to Kennards' IT vision -- to have a standardised system around the country.
After investigating Windows options, as well as Citrix and Unix, Still said Linux proved to be the best based on support, user-friendliness and cost.
"Cost is a big factor if you're looking at 400 Windows computers," Still said, although he didn't have any return on investment figures to hand.
"Cost is always important in a private company, but it never takes over from useability and support.
"With Linux, the ability to lock it down so well was a big factor. [Our staff] could use it without problems.
"[With Windows], the patching for all the desktops was harder than doing it centrally for Linux."
Kennards' technical support is based in Sydney, and supports branch users from Cairns to Perth.
Most Kennards applications are Web-based, and accessed through the Firefox Web browser. Technical support was easier for staff than on Windows platforms, according to Still.
"We're finding it very reliable," he said. "To fix an issue on Linux, even as far as resetting the OS, the guys can do that very easily through Linux. It's totally configurable remotely. "They can get rid of an application, wipe it, without going on-site."
Most of Kennards' branch users were at "entry level" with computers, according to Still, but this hadn't been a problem. The staff have handled the transition well, according to Still.
"And our tech support centre is able to support them by dialling into their machine. [Branch users] are not being asked to put in a CD," he said.
Once the POS system has been rolled out, Still has his sights set on similar Linux deployments at the company's administration offices around the country, consisting of the Sydney headquarters plus regional support offices in each state.
"We haven't moved our administrative offices to Linux yet, but once we get the POS done, it's on the cards," he said. "The only issue would be spreadsheets."
Kennards' administrative staff, in contrast to branch staff, use spreadsheets frequently.
Gaining their acceptance of productivity applications like OpenOffice.org would be "a big challenge", Still said, and was yet to be discussed.
"There's no requirement for them to move across, it's more about being on the same systems."
As part of its changes, Kennards was removing word and spreadsheet applications at branches and rewriting them to be accessed via the staff intranet on Lotus Notes. OpenOffice.org would be used for ad-hoc work, Still said.
"We'll never be able to get totally away from using word and spreadsheet applications."