How open source saved a school district's IT department

California district slashes expenses, improves productivity with open source software

Heather Carver faced major dilemmas when she became the IT director at Windsor Unified School District in California one year ago. There was no virus protection, no data backup, and upgrading to current Microsoft technologies would have cost more than US$100,000, half of the district's IT budget. Buying security from Trend Micro to cover all seven schools would have cost US$200,000 a year.

"When I got here a year ago they did not have an IT manager or director," Carver said this week while giving a presentation at the Gartner Open Source Summit in Las Vegas. "It was basically someone who had some computer experience who fell into it. I had to do a complete review of my entire district, the desktop and servers, software licensing."

The solution to most of Windsor's problems boiled down to two words: open source.

Carver dramatically reduced costs by moving about 60% of software to open source, while also saving on hardware expenses by employing virtualization and thin client technology.

Windsor spent about US$2,500 on AVG security products designed for open source operating systems, a fraction of the prices charged by Trend Micro, according to Carver.

Windsor's "mixed source" approach includes OpenOffice, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, and proprietary technologies like Microsoft Windows Server, Novell NetWare and Novell ZENworks.

IT operating expenses and travel time were cut by 50 percent, since the new products can be managed remotely for the most part, and have fewer problems. "OpenOffice doesn't have bugs like Microsoft Office has," Carver said in an interview after her presentation.

Reducing travel time was crucial for Windsor's staff of four technicians, a number that includes Carver.

After the staff workload was reduced, "of course I gave them more workload," Carver said. "More projects and more projects, that's how technology works, always going forward."

Carver's small team manages 70 servers, two full racks at each school, 2,000 computers and 200 thin clients.

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