Thrifty speeds up IT revolution

Legacy system replacements fuel innovation

Ageing Linux and Unix systems have prompted national car rental company Thrifty to modernize its server platforms and direct investment towards more innovative applications.

Thrifty's IT manager Michael Morton said the transformation initiative began about eight months ago when its Red Hat Linux and SCO Unix systems were becoming outdated.

"All servers were falling behind and we were hit by a rootkit two years ago and that was a catalyst for wanting things to be up to date as possible," Morton said.

Thrifty's in-house Linux administrator did not have the skills to overcome some of the issues the company had so it contracted Sydney-based open source consultancy Solutions First to spearhead to modernization project.

"We wanted to get car the rental system, Cars Plus, onto a new set of servers," Morton said. "In doing so we looked at Solutions First and one of its recommendations was to move away from Red Hat to Ubuntu Linux, which we did."

The Cars Plus reporting software, IQ Reports, had support for it stopped with Linux kernel 2.4 releases so Solutions First did some "fancy footwork" to enable it to run on kernel 2.6 systems.

With Linux and Unix comprising about 70 percent of the server infrastructure and the remainder Windows, Morton said there is no clear migration path for Cars Plus but IQ Reports will be replaced with a more modern reporting mechanism.

Another part of the car rental system architecture is SCO Unix which was being relied on for printing management.

To overcome this dependency, Solutions First developed software to convert raw text to HTML, which is then converted to a form where it is printed at Thrifty's 48 branches. CUPS is now being used for print serving.

"We have one more step to do which is to get rid of UUCP to transfer data to and from the thrifty network," Morton said. "SCO will be out by the end of February and we can then use the WAN instead of dial-up."

The NRMA-owned Thrifty will now turn its attention to adding more value to the business by upgrading its Web site, also on Red Hat, and intranet.

"We have had a very good experience with Linux and open source and are looking to assess it more this year in terms of CRM and our intranet," Morton said, adding by the end of the financial year all the server work will be completed.

Thrifty's messaging infrastructure is powered by CommuniGate Pro on Linux and its desktops are either Windows 2000 or XP with Microsoft Outlook and Office.

Morton will assess the newly-released Windows Vista in time but it has already arrived pre-loaded on some new notebooks.

Solutions First managing director David Kempe said Thrifty now has a fully-redundant, two-node cluster running Ubuntu with an IBM FastT SAN.

"The central booking database Cars Plus is a Cobol database running on SCO binaries [and] they were stuck on Red Hat 7.3 and we upgraded them to Ubuntu Dapper," Kempe said. "You just can't do that on platforms you don't have the source code to."

Kempe said the ideas and philosophies of open source is beginning to influence purchasing at Thrifty.

"The idea of vendor lock-in is becoming more of a priority because they have been burnt in the past," he said. "That's the reason why people choose open source. You also have freedom as a service provider to change the solutions you offer. We are not locked into recommending one product [so] we can offer better service."

On the new printing system, Kempe said Solutions First used Ghostscript and Mozilla to render the application in HTML and then print it out which ended up costing one-third of comparable proprietary software "without the limits".

"We are in the process of writing some software to decommission an old SCO box that does UUCP transmits of core business software to different locations," he said.

Kempe said Thrifty is acquiring a lot of branches and wanted an integrated way to access its files so Solutions First developed a file system application in Ruby dubbed "Carsfs".

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