Open desktop remains distant at seasoned Linux shop

Application support anchors Windows install base

Successful use of Linux and other open source software for nearly a decade has not translated to any movement on the desktop at one local council, which sees thin clients as a possible path to a lower TCO.

Gundagai Shire Council in regional NSW, made famous by a statue of a dog on a tuckerbox, was a pioneer among local government organizations when it first used Linux and open source on its servers for business back in 1998.

Throughout that time, the council's IT manager, Bruce Baker, said everything has been smooth sailing.

"The beauty with Linux is that the operating system requires very little maintenance," Baker said. "We've not had any issues over the past eight years and the great thing about Linux is that it basically sits there and does its job. There's general housekeeping, but we've found it extremely robust."

The council's Linux journey started when its NCR Unix machine was not Y2K compliant and after looking into the cost of upgrading the servers, IT couldn't see the value in paying "a huge amount of money" for something that it wouldn't utilize for anything more than one application.

After engaging with a Linux consulting firm, the council wasted no time in migrating all its server applications onto the open source operating system, including e-mail, file, mapping, and DNS services, and the Authority vertical application.

A custom Linux-based firewall was also installed, which Baker credits for a lack of security issues attacking the network.

"We now have a backup server in another building with real-time replication as insurance for disaster recovery," he said. "The beauty of Linux is we are able to increase capacity of our servers so we can host everything on one server."

The Red Hat Linux machine is updated remotely and the council still uses external support for significant upgrades and configuring new services.

"I'd be lucky to use five days of external support per year [and] skills is not really an issue for us," Baker said, adding support, while not cheap, is needed so infrequently that it is not a "big budgetary issue".

At the heart of the council's enterprise information is the Informix database which was one of the early commercial databases for Linux, a port that has lived on since being acquired by IBM in 2001.

Baker describes Informix as a "no-frills database" that does its job well, despite the fact the Linux version is no longer free since IBM took ownership.

"IBM's development of Informix has meant we can do data replication in real time at a cost-effective price," he said. "So you can expect to pay for something that has functionality we now need."

Sitting on top of Informix is the Authority local government package with everything from HR to financials and asset management.

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