Vista: Costs limit Education Dept deployment

Vista: Costs limit Education Dept deployment

Summary: After more than eight months of beta testing Microsoft Windows Vista, licensing and implementation costs have stymied mass adoption at the NSW Department of Education and Training.

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After more than eight months of beta testing Microsoft Windows Vista, licensing and implementation costs have stymied mass adoption at the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET).

Tim Anderson, DET Information Services Director, believes the battery of tests which have been conducted since February provided no compelling business case to migrate its hardware to Microsoft's first major upgrade of its operating system since Windows XP.

The possibility of running Linux-based desktop platforms is real for us


DET considers Linux on the desktop -- Tim Anderson, Information Services Director, NSW Education and Training Department

Anderson is not alone in his reluctance to quickly embrace the new OS. A majority of chief information officers and administrators of Australian companies recently polled by ZDNet Australia are in no rush either.

DET has one of the largest IT infrastructures in the country with 1.3 million users spread across 2,500 locations. Its desktop fleet consists of 250,000 devices of which 160,000 are personal computers. Macs make up 15 percent to 20 percent of the total, and are more common in primary schools. Microsoft is the dominant platform with DET standardising on Windows XP, however, because of the size of the organisation there are some Windows 98 and Windows 2000 legacy systems.

In an exclusive interview, Anderson told ZDNet Australia that the decision to deploy Vista depended on implementation costs -- which includes licensing -- as well as the benefits delivered from migrating to the new OS.

He said the migration costs and the fact that DET's enterprise agreement with Microsoft was up for re-negotiation next year were both a factor in any future deployment decision.

As a result, DET is currently taking a cautious approach to a wide scale rollout of Vista. It is considering other options such as sticking with XP, which could prove less costly in the long run.

"We can stay with XP, it's a good solid platform as it stands.

"It's taken a little while to get there but we're pretty happy with its performance and its security and the way it fits with our educational objectives," Anderson said. He didn't rule out migrating a portion of its computers to open-source software.

Despite his reservations, Anderson admitted DET would conduct a controlled deployment of Vista for training purposes, particularly in the technical and further education (TAFE) sector, where teachers and students needed to have access to the most up-to-date hardware and software.

"Under the early adopter program we are committed to doing 1,000 deployments by sometime in the middle of the first semester next year, and we'll honour that.

"I know there is already a pent-up demand for Vista from teaching staff that want to be in the position to provide current training on the latest products," he said.

Vista under the spotlight
The first beta version of Vista was released in July 2005. It is the role of DET's Information Technology Directorate, to keep an eye on the technology trends at both the operating system level and the applications level. That means taking a close look at Microsoft's roadmap for its products and see whether the technology fits with the department's requirements.

DET was interested in many questions, including: how far back Vista could be retrofitted to its current fleet and whether the upgraded OS would fulfil the particular objectives the department had in desktop management.

An extensive testing regime not only within the IT Directorate, but with a pilot program at Ashcroft High School in Sydney's South West since July has enabled the department to determine Vista's usefulness now and in the future.

"We can see where we would get benefits from the overall management of the fleet by Vista, particularly some of the capabilities it has in image management and the deployment of software," Anderson said.

DET buys hardware from a fairly narrow range of vendors, but at any one time it can have up to 100 different hardware configurations in play. This means that the department needs to maintain an equal number of system images to manage a deployment of a piece of software, which is quite costly.

For Anderson, Vista's image formatting capabilities is one of the reasons to upgrade to the OS. He said the ability that Vista has to separate the various layers of the operating system so that it could manage a single system image for the whole state was very attractive.

"We haven't got down to a dollar value yet," he said. "However, the ability for the department as a whole to deploy a standardised system image and then provide the means for local administrators to tailor that or localise that should have a significant effect on cost."

Imaging capabilities and the ability of the OS to maintain the security of the desktop aside, there are few benefits to switching from legacy systems to Vista, according to Anderson.

He believes the involvement of third party application developers -- who take advantage of Vista's kernel structure -- is needed to make a compelling business case for organisations (like DET) to deploy the OS.

"It's a bit like the changeover from DOS to Windows if you like," Anderson said. "That is until there's an application level driver for changing platforms then it's really more a question of manageability and security of the operating system."

DET is expected to make the final decision about its Vista deployment next March or April.

Topics: Open Source, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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Talkback

20 comments
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  • Linux?

    Windows licence fees: squillions

    Download linux ISO: $0

    Simple.
    anonymous
  • No idea have you

    250,000 devices?

    I don't think software cost is really an issue here; it's a tiny percentage of the upgrade/conversion cost.
    anonymous
  • And to add to that

    As a parent i would want my children taught on a system that is used more widely than Linux. They can learn about Linux at Uni if they want but i think they have far better career options if they come out of school with skills in MS Office not Open Office.
    anonymous
  • Kickbacks

    I guess the Linux distributors must be willing to offer kickbacks and free trips to the U.S. if they want to gain these big contracts.
    anonymous
  • How?

    How is 250,000 times any number better than 250,000 times nothing?
    Clearly someone went to the same maths classes as the MS marketing guys....

    With Vista and Office 2007 being so freaking different, we're all going to need retraining. There goes that cost point.
    Vista is also bringing many new challenges to rolling out large deployments too. So there goes another point.

    See, the thing is, any MS cost comparisons seem to forget a lot of costs on their own side, and inflate costs on the other side (show me a technician who charges more to support Linux than a similarly knowledgable MSCE tech).
    anonymous
  • Practicality is what counts

    Speaking from experience working with the WA Department of Education, Windows provides a non technical knowledge user an ease of use, and ease of management instead of having to type in 50 different commands to do one job on linux/unix environments you simply click here and there type in a few keywords here and there and your done. In terms of management there are more Microsoft trained people out there than there are linux/unix. 95% of all staff and students would fall off their chairs if i were to install ubuntu, or a copy of Fedora Core 5 onto my network. I do agree however with the cost of Microsoft products it should be free to educational institutes due to the fact we are teaching the future their product, i agree in terms of purchasing linux is unbeatable especially in a low budget situation but in terms of hiring technical support officers, and the like. Its far too expensive

    My 12 cents worth
    anonymous
  • Free installs?

    The point is, someone has to go around and install the operating systems - doesn't matter whether it's MS or Linux.

    Unless there's an army of idle and willing experienced Linux administrators with nothing better to do than install and configure Linux for nothing, it's going to cost a fair bit of cash to install the OS on 250,000 PC's.

    You do have to add the licensing costs for MS, but then you also have to add the support costs for Linux (Govt orgs like to have someone else to go to for support so they don't have to shoulder blame for anything).

    In addition, Linux admins are generally more expensive to hire as they are few and far between compare with MS admins.

    Factor in all of the existing education specific windows applications that will have to be re-written (there's probably a couple of thousand access databases out there) and at the end of the day, the actual cost of the MS licence is a relatively small portion of the total cost.

    I'm assuming you don't expect this army of volunteer Linux coders to turn up and rewrite evrything for nothing as well?
    anonymous
  • Is linux really free

    When it comes down to it, the TCO of Windows generally works out to be much less than the TCO of Linux. This is going off topic slightly for the school sector, but none the less demonstrates why Linux is not in alot of cases idea. First of all, Linux hardware support is not as large as Microsoft. The thing is, if you pick up any peice of hardware, 99% of the time, it will have a Windows Driver. The thing is, the same cannot be said about Linux. The drawback? Well, finding appropriate hardware suitable for the linux operating system is going to cost you money.

    Second of all, consider what schools do buy. In alot of cases, they are PC's from Vendors. They already come with a license embedded into the hardware price. Even if they don't come with a license, Site Licenses can be purchased where a license can cost as little as $24. Linux can be installed on these machines, but Windows licenses are already there.

    When it comes to educating the staff and students, here is where the major costs come in. Although you may be saving say $10 Million in software licenses, this goes straight back into Linux educators (if you can find enough of them) to teach staff who will teach more staff how to use the Linux operating system. Granted, alot of people struggle with Windows as is. As a linux user myself, I still find Windows to be far more userfriendly in a point-and-click environment than KDE with SLED10.1 is (note that SLED costs money aswell).

    Once the staff have been trained, and I know this has been said before, you will need an army of Linux gurus to maintain them. I have crashed the XWindows server to the point of no return multiple times before. The last thing a techie wants to be doing is resetting an XFree86 file often.

    The OpenOffice and Microsoft Office theory is one that I can't see what the big deal is about. For starters, OpenOffice is just as userfriendly (in Version 2) as Office 2003 is. If people like the current interface, then stick with it. For school work machines, OpenOffice is more than capable, however where SharePoint is used (which is quite a nifty feature in my opinion) between staff, you do need Microsoft Office.

    Then comes the software including industry standards. Visio, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Visual Studio .NET are taught in schools right across the country. The last thing you want to be doing is needing a Windows installation to emulate these programs through Wine properly.

    As I have shown, the TCO may be infact greater to implement Linux than Windows - especially when retraining is required.

    Having said this, there is one promising solution I have been following for quite some time now suited to primary schools. Google K12LTSP if interested. Basically it relies on a Terminal Server where multiple dummy terminals can connect and use resources straight from the server via PXE booting. It's a great concept that I could see working in schools where even a $500 box is more than enough to power 15 to 20 dummy terminal for the most basic uses such as the Internet or educational games. The dummy terminals can even be donated 486 PC's as long as they have a Boot enabled network card.

    Anyway, just a theory when it comes to is Linux really free.
    anonymous
  • Windows V's The LINUX

    I agree with comments for both sides but.
    The decisions in any environments are stripped down to 2 things.
    1. What is the most cost effective longtterm solution.
    2. What solution best suits the requirements of the environment.

    Both platforms are greate.. I personaly prefere Linux but in the Educational environment i aggree that currently windows is most viable.

    I belive Linux could one day have a future in the Education environment but they need to clean up their act and market a "Public User friendly version" and get some high rolling software manufacturers on the same page if it is going to move anywhere.

    To cconclude my 2 cents worth - Operating systems are tools and just like a carpenter, "The right tool for the right job...."
    anonymous
  • Windows V's The LINUX (Spell-Checked version) Sorry!

    I agree with comments for both sides but.
    The decisions in any environments are stripped down to 2 things.

    1. What is the most cost effective long-term solution?
    2. What solution best suits the requirements of the environment?

    Both platforms are great.. I personally prefer Linux but in the Educational environment i agree that currently windows is most viable.

    I believe Linux could one day have a future in the Education environment but they need to clean up their act and market a "Public User friendly version" and get some high rolling software manufacturers on the same page if it is going to move anywhere.

    To conclude my 2 cents worth - Operating systems are tools and just like a carpenter, "The right tool for the right job...."
    anonymous
  • Long term solution

    95% of users:

    1. Use only basic functions of the os, and applications such as email, access to a web browser and basic spreadsheets / word / pdf viewer.

    2. Most apps these days run within a browser, and if they dont this should be a priority and where money should be spent rathan than expensive OS's and office suites. Concentration should be on back end systems such as citrix, terminal services and web based systems.

    3. Govt departments should be trying to reduce costs as much as possible! Moving to Linux will simplfy the environment and reduce costs in the long term.

    4.Linux offers more educational value due to open code and vast array of free to use applications.

    5. Most techies forget, the pain $MS has caused over the years due to poor design, poor support and other hidden costs, such as closed standards and $MS's efforts to patch out competing vendors.

    6. Linux scares $MS techies - the fear of the unkown. Therefore the resitance.

    Life is great with Linux, MacOS and the mature versions of windows. If you are considering moving to Vista, read the fine print, licensing woes and restrictions placed on you by $MS in a dictator like fashion, and cross your fingers.
    anonymous
  • Uh huh....right.

    Yes...much better career options.

    So your kids can come out of school to the wonderful $10/hr that awaits them typing up memos for someone. Of course, if they learnt Linux instead of the "what button do I click now?, is that a robot come to replace me that I hear?" system they'd be able to afford no end of MS Fanboi $10/hr wannabes to do all those tasks, like typing things up, making coffe, and running off to do the postage.

    yes, yes, great idea I say...I'm sure they'll thank you for it!

    Get a clue.
    anonymous
  • what ??

    Craig, you're retarded.

    Plain and simple.

    Actually, no..I take that back. While it certainly is possible that you're merely clueless it's more likely you're a MS shill.

    Either way you're talking garbage.
    anonymous
  • Ridiculous.

    If you asked you'd probably find that %95 of your students are already running Ubuntu or Suse, nevermind MacOS.

    Get with the times man.....I bet you still think an ipod is a big deal.
    anonymous
  • RE:

    Craig provided reasons for his claims while you just did a personal attack.

    Microsoft is a lot more User Friendly then linux users such as you
    anonymous
  • Re: What

    *Either way you're talking garbage.*

    Although I don't believe what I said was pure garbage, I am up for a discussion on my points as I value other peoples input, however with a comment like that - I'm wondering if you actually understand the concept of Total Cost of Ownership. If you have some statements to back your claim of my entire contribution to be total garbage, then go right ahead - I'm up for constructive criticism. It's a shame that a person of your intellect fails to acknowledge a major budgeting area of Information Technology. While I agree that for the long term, Linux ultimately would work out cheaper, as with most things in life to switch an entire infrastructure costs a phenomenal amount which may blow the Information Technology budget out of proportion.
    anonymous
  • hehe

    OMG! IM SPREYING CUM EVERYWERE!

    seirously... are you dumb or something?
    anonymous
  • RE - Free installs?

    Not an issue for DET. They have 500 plus IT support staff spread across NSW. They do major roll outs of hardware and software every year so they have the staff to do this sort of stuff on a large scale.
    anonymous
  • Automated Zero Touch Deployment

    There is a solution to deployments of this size and complexity that will enable you to remotely deploy the new OS and a single image throughout the enterprise. It will also take into account the need for deployment of specific applications to each workstation and will reimage the workstation with all of its required drivers and user settings.

    The solution is called SWIMAGE from a company called Intrinsic and is being successfully used for large scale deployments at several U.S. government agencies and commercial companies.

    This will eliminate the need for the IT Specialists to have to touch each workstation to deploy VISTA. It will also help them in supporting workstations in a break-fix mode after the deployment.
    anonymous
  • DET IT Support Worker viewpoint

    Depends where the technology is deployed as to whether one technology is more appropriate than another.

    An Operating System, is the base layer to run applications and an Operating System on its own on a computer is useless in an educational environment.

    Windows has merits with the quantity of available software titles, wide hardware support and ease of implementation, and thus less cost.

    A massive issue of software support will be faced if Windows is discontinued especially in schools.

    Of course retraining (user and support community) is another issue, but potentially this may be addressed better in an educational industry (though something that would require serious work).

    DET should have the buying power to enforce that station vendors only supply systems with complete Linux support. Hardware wiould not be an issue.

    Potentially there will be savings on hardware costs as Linux tends to have lower requirements on hardware than Windows.

    Unsure of deployment and whether multiple images would need to be maintained. Believe that desktop image administrators would need to become more clever. Repackaging software to install unattended will be far easier under linux.

    The biggest change will be in the support personnel attitude. Linux is considered as an evil operating system, that is obtuse and too difficult to learn.
    anonymous