De Bortoli Wines gets a taste of Linux

De Bortoli Wines is staging a nationwide rollout of Linux terminal replacements and plans to move over to new Linux desktops by the end of 2005.

De Bortoli's IT Manager Bill Robertson said there were several reasons for moving much of its application base to open source software, citing ease of deployment, portability, adaptability, avoiding vendor lock-in issues, flexibility and cost savings as key factors.

The wine maker is running an extended trial across all of its Australian sites, which includes Bilbul in NSW, Brisbane, Sydney, the Yarra and Hunter Valleys and Perth.

The rollout is planned to gradually replace the entire fleet of green screen telnet terminals in use around the company.

De Bortoli currently has 13 Linux based terminals running "Morphix". Morphix is a "live" CD Linux distribution that is based on Knoppix and Debian.

"Morphix allows us to set it up the way we want, burn multiple copies to CD or DVD, and then run it from bootable CD/DVDs on standard Dell PC hardware, with plenty of RAM for caching," Robertson said.

Robertson said this DVD solution was ideal for keeping costs down and creating a uniform user experience.

"It also makes for extremely easy rollouts, upgrades and retrogrades," he said.

Another advantage of the DVD system, according to Robertson, is security -- as viruses cannot write back to a DVD-ROM like they can to a hard drive.

"Whether Linux itself is proven to be more secure than Windows is still purely theoretical. I expect it's only a matter of time before virus writers get better at creating Linux viruses," he said.

By using a "live" CD/DVD based device, Robertson is gaining the resilience and reduced support costs of dumb terminals while providing 95 per cent of a desktop PCs functionality.

"This means the end user is happy because their machines can now do more than before," he said.

Robertson added that some people would always have trouble accepting and adapting to change, but as an IT Manager his first priority was making decisions that are good for the business.

The Linux desktops enable IT helpdesk support via VNC (xf4vnc), Lotus Notes access and intranet browsing via Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox, desktop publishing support with "Scribus", Network fileserver access and browsing with LinNeighbourhood and office productivity with OpenOffice.org.

Other functionalities of the desktop replacements include Mfg/Pro ERP access via Telnet, image manipulation via The GIMP, secure connections and file copying via "ssh", printing support via CUPS and xpp, and local storage via a USB flash drive.

De Bortoli has been experimenting with open systems since 2000 when it turned some of its x486 machines into Linux terminals. It also uses an extensive range of open source software including GNU/Linux, SAMBA, TightVNC, The GIMP, Apache, Filezilla, GanttProject and Freemind, MRTG, Webmin, ghostscript / ps2pdf, ssh & rsync, and other miscellaneous applications such as SciTE, VIM, a2ps and Pine.

Robertson said that at the end of the day going open source was a hard-edge business decision, not a religious or philosophic one. "Although we are an IT department, we are driven by business before technology," he said. "The decision to go open source was driven by return on investment, cost benefit analysis and all the boring business stuff. The irony is that through making sound business decisions we come up with innovative technology solutions.

"We are no more an open source shop than we are a proprietary shop. Microsoft Office is a great package. It's just that the file formats are proprietary and it just doesn't suit us because we can't run it on the platforms we want.

"The analogy I often use is that if the Ford Motor Company tried to sell cars that would only work with Ford petrol, Ford tyres and only ran on Ford roads, what is the likelihood of anyone buying their cars? Our other business units wouldn't find it an acceptable proposition, so why should IT?"

Robertson said that when individual offices within De Bortoli need a specific Windows application, for example Excel, for which there is no Linux version, he was happy to run it.

Robertson said that an added advantage of keeping the costs down is that he could keep his IT department in-house and not have to offshore or outsource.

However, he added that some of the upfront costs saved in not paying licensing fees must go into training.

"You have to invest in people," he said. "For example, our IT staff have undertaken the Red Hat Linux essentials training, and we are in the process of ongoing OpenOffice.org training for the organisation."

Robertson said he was able to make innovative technology investments largely because of the support he received from management.

"We are lucky that the organisation's management sees IT as a valuable and strategic resource," he said. "This makes a big difference to our ability to make innovative and effective technology decisions."

De Bortoli has 350 staff overall, which expands to about 450 during grape harvesting. Its IT department is based in Bilbul and has five full-time staff and several key external consultants.

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