Welsh schools adopt open source email

Major educational deal shows that open source is taking off in the regional public sector, say open source consultants
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A Welsh county council has brokered a deal to provide open source email to up to 40,000 pupils and teachers.

Carmarthenshire County Council, which provides Internet and email facilities to 15 secondary schools and 125 primary schools, announced the deal with open source company Sirius Corporation on Monday. The deal was signed off two weeks ago.

Sirius Corporation has been appointed to build a system with the potential to host a mailbox for every student and teacher in Carmarthenshire — approximately 40,000 users. Initially 3,000 to 5,000 teachers will have access to the open source mailboxes, and the main part of the project is due to be completed by the end of October, according to Giles Nunn, ISP Officer at Carmarthenshire County Council.

"We're hoping the central part of the project will be completed by the end of October, with the whole project live by January," Nunn told ZDNet UK.

Staff will use the new system, based on Debian Linux, to create and manage new email accounts. Sirius will design and implement a solution consisting of modified open source packages, including GOsa, an email account management tool, and Squirrelmail, an open source email client.

Staff will use a Web-based GUI to create and manage accounts, with an LDAP database back-end "to improve scalability". The user management will be independent of mail transfer and mailbox management, with different servers "married together" as a system, according to Nunn.

The county council also considered proprietary software solutions but discounted them, partly on the basis of cost.

"Proprietary software came out as being significantly more expensive, mostly because of licensing costs," said Nunn. "Clearly per-user licensing would have been prohibitively expensive."

The council, which already uses a scaled-down Suse Linux email solution developed by Nunn, chose to continue using open source in part because of its adaptability.

"I like having the freedom to see what a system is doing — if open source goes wrong, you can fix it. If a proprietary software box goes wrong, you can't look inside," said Nunn.

Nunn said he also considered open source to be more secure than proprietary software, with "no significant virus hazard". The geographical isolation of many of the primary schools coupled with a lack of specialist IT staff meant that it was "very important the solution was simple to manage at the local end, using remote servers and local client workstations," said Nunn.

Mark Taylor, chief executive officer of Sirius Corporation said he was "absolutely delighted" that the council had chosen Sirius' solution.

"The UK public sector has been behind the curve in open source," said Taylor. "The regions seem more keen. We're having conversations with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly at the moment. It seems to be the public sector in Wales leading the charge," Taylor added.

Editorial standards