SBS tunes into Linux

Viewers of government broadcaster SBS Television will see news reports created with the help of the open source Linux operating system following a system upgrade last month.

The iNews newsroom system aggregates news feeds from various sources, including journalists and media outlets like AAP and Reuters, and converts them into scripts for the news and current affairs presenters.

SBS information systems manager Greg Koen said the information is transferred into a database and is written to the appropriate script for the news readers depending on where the raw material comes from.

iNews is an Avid application running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3.

"The ultimate outcome is the scripts and autocues," Koen said, adding that the database is proprietary to Avid.

The project has been in the works for the last three months and the new system replaces the previous version of Avid which ran on an SGI Irix machine. "It went from four SGI servers to two Linux [on Intel] servers," Koen said. "It was clear Avid wanted to head that way [to Linux]."

Although SBS does use freely available Linux distributions, including Fedora, the decision to invest in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 and a Red Hat Network subscription was clear because of the business-critical nature of the system.

"We're very big on open source and Linux," Koen said. "We built a shot list library to describe what's on tape. The idea is to have a search engine where you can ask in lots of different ways what is on the tape and the smarts are in the text search."

The shot list database is based on LAMP - Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP - application environment, a favourite at SBS.

"We run Sun servers with Apache, MySQL, and PHP (for and internally there is Linux on Intel with the LAMP," he said. "MySQL is efficient and very good and using a Web-based interface means we don't have to write fat, Win32 apps."

SBS has also written a workflow application with open source software, Linux is also used for print serving, and open source powered the "swingometer" at the last election.

"We used Linux to create graphics during the last election," Koen said. "Scripts were used to collect data from the electoral commission which was then fed into MySQL and passed to Macromedia Flash and then on to broadcast."

Koen will now investigate OpenLDAP in an effort to rationalize Microsoft licences, but believes he is paying for a lot of applications the vendors will never port to Linux.

For example, there are a lot of Win32 client applications used by SBS so there is no easy opportunity for Linux on the desktop, according to Koen.

Linux Australia president Jonathan Oxer said the move is indicative of the acceptance of Linux as "the new mainstream Unix".

"For a long time Unix was considered the platform for high-end, mission-critical applications and Linux a hobbyist operating system," Oxer said. "Now Linux has become mainstream and is capable of operating in mission-critical environments."

Regarding SBS's desktop dilemma, Oxer said it doesn't have much of an option when high-level applications are only developed for Windows therefore organizations need to consider the possibility of lock-in when selecting applications for long-term use.

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