Hard cash, cold logic: Linux

30,000 computers and 1,880 servers migrate to Suse Linux

On May 26, 2006, Elcot (Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu) let in its first penguin. Things would never be the same again.

That day, Elcot's managing director, C. Umashankar, walked into his office in Chennai, Tamil Nadu and was handed a brand new laptop. He recalls promptly giving it back to his PA. "I asked him to load Suse Linux on it. I guess he was surprised. But when the installation -- complete with drivers and wireless networking -- only took 45 minutes and very little external effort, there was a new confidence in my PA." That confidence spread quickly. And with it came more penguins. Within weeks, the Rs 750-crore Elcot was undergoing a enterprise-wide migration to Suse Linux. A year later, Umashankar and his team had moved 30,000 computers and 1,880 severs belonging to some of the state's schools to Linux -- creating possibly the largest Linux rollout in India.

March of the Penguins

The decision to move to Linux could not have been anything if not daunting. As the nodal agency for information and communication technology of a state with the population of the UK, Elcot has enormous responsibilities -- current projects include creating an electoral database and photo identity cards, computerizing land records and driving licenses, producing eight million farmers cards and 18 million family cards (used by families below the poverty line to draw monthly rations from the PDS), among others.

In short, there are a million ways they can blow it.

And with no vendor support, the odds were against them.

Meanwhile, in his office, Umashankar had other problems. Like many pioneers, his vision held good only where his voice reached. Leading his secretariat to his vision of the Linux-enabled enterprise was one thing, convincing other government agencies that Elcot shifted gears with, was another.

But Umashankar knew what needed to be done. He was convinced that it was only a matter of time before the price of staying proprietary became crushing. With every technology refresh, with every piece of additional hardware, with every new school that his department provided for, with every new service they wanted to offer various government bodies and with every new PC Elcot bought, staying proprietary came at a significant price.

By the first week of June 2006, Umashankar started moving Elcot's desktops to Suse Linux OS. The entire organization followed in phases, and slowly at first. The migration of over 200 desktops at Elcot's HQ took just over eight months.

"During the migration although there were no issues, like all new things, it faced resistance. But once people started using it, they saw benefits and became fond of it. We won't go back, this is an irreversible process," says P.R.Krishnamoorthy, senior business development manager at Elcot.

As users caught on with Umashankar's infectious enthusiasm, they started getting more familiar with the features of their new OS. Soon a cycle of interest developed and users found new ways of switching mail clients to work on Suse Linux.

"First they migrated from Outlook Express to Mozilla Thunderbird for Windows. From there they took the mail folder and put it into the Suse Linux system, and started operating Thunderbird over Suse Linux system. Novel, isn't it?" Umashankar asks proudly.

This interest helped his campaign to migrate completely to Suse Linux, from a 100 percent Windows environment.

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