National gallery paints open future

Linux and open source infrastructure streamline service delivery

By steadily overhauling individual pain-points in its IT infrastructure, the National Gallery of Victoria's (NGV) multimedia division has adopted Linux and open source software resulting in an improved service delivery capability.

The NGV has divided its IT operations into two distinct areas - corporate IT for regular business applications and desktop support; and multimedia systems to control external facing information like Web sites and digital displays.

Multimedia systems developer Maksim Lin told Computerworld many of the IT change projects of the past year occurred on a case-by-case basis rather than a concerted transformation directive.

"Initially the changes were at the application level, rather than the operating system," Lin said. "We had a number of custom built internal systems that were showing their age so I started replicating their functionality in different environments."

With limited IT support, Lin wanted to make the gallery's infrastructure as simple as possible.

One example of this was the custom CMS that handled content for the five plasma displays around the gallery. Lin viewed Windows 2000 as overkill for that service so migrated the application to Linux running the Helma Web application framework.

"Switching to Linux allowed me to reuse an existing server with minimal resources [and] because [Helma is] Java-based it can run on any operating system," he said. "I use a corporate Windows desktop to develop on and put it in production on Linux."

Lin said a key part of his work is to "keep everything cross platform" and keep to standard Web-based applications because it makes it easy to move from one platform to another.

"We have rack-mounted mini servers driving running Windows with Firefox," he said. "We anticipate a hardware renewal project and will look at running Linux on hardware rather than Windows."

Also in the pipeline is a refresh of the gallery's touch screen applications, which may involve moving from custom application to Web-based system.

"I try to use the right tool for the job [and] I don't choose Linux and go looking for an application for it," Lin said.

The multimedia department also uses a number of open source tools to facilitate job tracking, knowledge management, and software version control.

"For those apps I chose Linux because the hardware would not be high enough spec to run Windows," Lin said. "Whereas I could run Linux stripped back of any extraneous services and they run comfortably."

"The nice thing about Linux is without much customization you can have single purpose machines dedicated to particular tasks. The previous approach was to have high-spec machines to run multiple applications."

Lin said he inherited a Wiki to host documentation when he first started and so decided to promote its use.

"Last year the newer stable versions of JSPwiki came out with the functionality we needed [and] not having to maintain it in-house is a big time saver," he said.

The team of 12 also uses JTrack for job tracking, Subversion for source code control, and a number of other Web applications that are in-house developed.

"It wasn't a concrete transformation project, but lots of small projects coming together," Lin said. "The feedback from people is they are very pleased with how much more functionality they are getting and how much more responsive we can be towards a request. We can now do other things faster and deliver more functionality."

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