Linux taken for a ride in the Old West

Linux taken for a ride in the Old West

Summary: Open source can be a boon for the public sector, as the man leading Steamboat Springs' open source moves explains

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Three hours drive west of Denver and over 2000m up in the Colorado Rockies, lies the town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It has a long tradition of ranching, although nowadays it is better known as a winter resort, due to its location below one of the largest ski mountains in North America. The town only has a total population of around 10,000, although around 15,000 people visit the town every week during the ski season.

But although it is a town steeped in tradition, the city administration is open to new technologies, and has been using OpenOffice.org, Firefox and various other open source applications for a number of years. It has been using Linux servers for five years and is considering a move to Linux desktops in the future. Open source has also proved invaluable to Steamboat Springs and its neighbouring towns in enabling e-government services.

ZDNet UK spoke to Kent Morrison, the manager of information systems at Steamboat Springs, to find out more about the city's migration to open source. Morrison is responsible for two other members of staff in the town's IT department, which supports 160 networked workstations and approximately 220 email accounts across the town.

Q: Steamboat Springs' first use of Linux was on the server. What sort of applications are you running on these servers? Are you still running Microsoft Windows servers as well?
A:In the last five years we've made a lot of progress — we've moved all our file and print servers, approximately 90 percent of our Web server activity and several mission critical applications to Linux. The server running a mission critical revenue generating application has been an extremely stable machine — if it hadn't been for a major power outage, it would have been running for three years without a reboot.

We maintain a Windows 2000 Active Directory domain because of our relationship with another local government department and still have Microsoft Exchange 2000. Altogether we have six Windows servers and seven Linux servers, but this year we intend to retire Exchange and replace it with an open source application.

What open source messaging and collaboration server do you plan to use? Will you migrate the mail clients also?
We're still deciding which open source [server] product to use. Ideally for the users I would keep using Microsoft Outlook and attach it to a different backend. But I don't think that will be practical so we'll probably switch to a Web-based interface for users.

Do you use commercial or community Linux distributions?
We use a blend of the two. We run systems such as our backup applications on Fedora [Red Hat's community distribution], but decided to buy Red Hat Enterprise for our mission critical server. Red Hat Enterprise is not an inexpensive product, but we can call the company when we want to and get immediate answers. Although, when we have problems with our less mission critical servers, it's amazing how quickly we can find an answer by searching on the Internet.

What about Linux on the desktop — is this an option for your organisation?
We've discussed it. With Linux' ability to emulate Windows improving every year, we see that as a possibility. We would build a Linux image for the majority of users, but for the 20 percent of users that run Windows-only applications we would keep them on the same platform. We would try to make a Linux desktop look like our Windows environment [the organisation currently runs Windows 2000, but will start rolling out XP this year] as we don't want to retrain our users. We don't have a time frame for installing Linux yet, though.

We've already installed OpenOffice.org and Firefox on users' machines so people can slowly get accustomed to them. We put these applications on our replication images in 2003, so since then every time we replace a workstation we use that image. Then, when we sit a user down in front of their new machine we say, "it has Microsoft Office and...

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  • If only their attitude would be considered in my locale!

    I am a K12LTSP supporter and user in a large school system, thus I have learned a lot about how local governments work here in the USA. I would *love* to see K12LTSP in every school in my district. But, sadly, I won't anytime soon. It is unfortunate that the prime consideration in the minds of decision-makers is "we don't have the money for the 'real' product, so let's try out the open source toy." Then, and only then, do they discover, as this article describes very nicely, that the "open source toy" is actually a heck of a functional tool. For example, my county is filthy rich. Thus, it happily sends millions of US dollars to Redmond every year. The reason? When the system blows up (and it has several times--I mean our entire Craptive Directory here), then the decision makers can say, "Oh, but everyone uses Microsoft, it's not our fault, don't fire us for using the 'industry standard'!"

    This attitude is, as you Brits say, bullox (sp?).

    Free/Open Source software (FOSS) is a matter of freedom. *That* is why the software is so stable; we have the *freedom* to improve it. It's also why costs are so low with FOSS. All of these benefits come from the freedom that comes with FOSS. This is why Microsoft is fighting so desparately and hard to somehow stop Massachusetts from mandating the OpenDocument file formats.

    User freedom equals user power, as this article shows. The City of Largo, in the state of Florida (USA), is another wonderful example of this.
    anonymous