NSW Education begins integration overhaul, flirts with Linux

With a desire to streamline its IT operations, the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) has started an integration project across a number of systems including a Linux database cluster.

A source familiar with the project said the impetus came from the DET's desire to integrate data from "numerous, disparate systems".

"The motivation originates from a need to integrate data from a number of disparate systems, including older mainframes," the source said, adding that the project started in January.

A DET spokesperson confirmed the data integration project is under way, but could not provide explicit details because "the project has only just begun".

Details of the project's budget and the number of systems to be integrated have not been disclosed; however, another source said one test run within the DET involved some 50 million records.

According to the source, the department is using specialist integration software from IBM and Informatica for the project.

While there are a "number" of Linux initiatives within the department, the source said the most significant is a pending Oracle 10g database cluster on Red Hat Linux which the integration project will incorporate.

Another source told Computerworld that the hardware vendor for the cluster is yet to be decided and is between HP and IBM.

The project comes 18 months after DET announced a three-year, $37 million enterprise and services agreement with Microsoft for some 163,000 desktops and 2300 servers.

The department signed with Microsoft after fivemonths of negotiations and "extensive research into alternative commercial and open source options", according to the company.

Senior IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac said integration is a sensible approach by DET.

"I never recommend a rip-and-replace strategy unless the systems themselves were incredibly difficult to maintain," McIsaac said. "The problem is rarely with the software, as with all large, complex projects it comes down to a properly defined scope and a real business stakeholder doing a good job of assessing and mitigating risk."

McIsaac said integration projects can work well providing people have "an expectation of what they want to achieve".

"Incremental integration can be effective, but big bang projects can be disaster," he said. "I don't think there is a simple answer for why integration problems happen, but part of it is to do with the history of the systems."

To avoid problems, McIsaac recommends organizations "make integration a part of every strategy".

Regarding the decision to deploy an Oracle-Red Hat cluster, McIsaac said running Oracle on Intel would be "pretty much mainstream now".

"I'm a big fan of using commodity Intel servers as much as you can," he said. "A moderate database can run on a 4-way Intel box. If you need high availability, then clustered Oracle on Linux starts to be of interest."

McIsaac encourages end users to ask what the premium is for going with clustered Oracle.

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