Focus: G-men take to Linux

While whole government agencies overseas are looking to Linux as a low-cost, powerful computing platform for their infrastructures, some federal agencies in the U.S. are also adopting the technology for critical applications.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is one agency that is moving Linux in while moving out more costly Unix-based systems. The FAA recently installed a cluster of two Dell servers running Red Hat Linux Advanced Server and Oracle9i database at its northern Virginia facility to run its centralized information logging system. The FAA is also using the Linux cluster for capacity management applications and for distributing severe weather rerouting information to airports.

"One of our requirements is that these applications can't have downtime," says John Kelly, project manager and senior database administrator for Kenrob and Associates, a Northern Virginia technology contractor for the FAA. He adds that he has found Linux a reliable and secure alternative to the Sun and Hewlett Packard Unix servers that once ran separate databases. Consolidating separate databases onto one Linux cluster not only saved the FAA in terms of management labor, but also server hardware and software licensing costs, he adds.

At the National Security Agency (NSA), the old adage "close enough for government work" certainly doesn't apply when it comes to computer system security. Unhappy with security of commercial operating systems, the NSA decided to build its own OS based on Linux. Last fall, the agency released Security-Enhanced Linux, a distribution that the agency co-developed with Network Associates to be more secure at the kernel level than standard Linux distributions.

Linux has also caught on at the state government agencies, such as the New Jersey State Police, which uses Linux file and print servers running Samba to server PC and Unix clients throughout the police department's network. Linux is also used a remote access server for modem connections, as well as an Apache-based HTTP server for the departments Web site.