LinuxWorld: IT users looking to fill gaps with open source

From cautious corporate onlookers trying to gauge how Linux and open-source software fit into enterprise IT systems to the companies now looking to expand their use of open-source applications, a broad swathe of IT users are in San Francisco at the annual LinuxWorld Conference & Expo.

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What they are looking for depends on where their companies are in the ongoing convergence of corporate IT and open source software.

Stewart Savage, director of IT for the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District in California, said he's looking for more non-proprietary software that he can add to the school district's infrastructure.

"We come here to see how Linux is maturing over time," Savage said. "I first came here five years ago, and I was very confused. But a critical mass was achieved where the complexity of learning it was greatly reduced. It's no longer just for Linux gurus."

The school district still uses Microsoft's Windows on the desktop for its 24,000 students and 1,500 staff members, he said. But all students use the free OpenOffice productivity suite. Teachers get Microsoft Office, but they have the option of using OpenOffice. "A lot of curriculum [applications are only] available for Microsoft Windows, so it's hard to make that translate to the open-source world," Savage said.

When the school district first brought Linux and open-source applications into its data centre in 2002, it was primarily to cut costs. "We like to get as much money as possible into the classroom, so if we can save money in the data centre with a high level of reliability, we will definitely go with Linux." For the school system, the focus isn't on what is cool in IT but on what is good for the students, teachers and supporting staff, he said.

The district is a long time Novell shop, with various versions of NetWare, and it runs Novell's SUSE Linux in the data centre supporting a myriad of back office applications, such as Web content filtering, Web servers, domain name servers and Oracle databases. "We try to do whatever we can with NetWare and Linux," he said. "What we like to do with Linux is take a look at the technology and see if it's viable for our environment and see if we can implement it on a cost-effective basis."

Hai Nguyen, a branch server administrator at Sierra Pacific Mortgage, a wholesale mortgage company in California, said he was attending LinuxWorld to look for backup and disaster recovery tools for his Linux and open-source back-end infrastructure. "In this day and age, securing your data and having a backup copy is important," he said. Lost or stolen data "could literally cost millions a day in lost revenue," he said.

Nguyen said his company runs CentOS Linux in the back office for everything from file servers to Web servers, databases and e-mail systems to support about 650 users, who are still running Windows on their desktops. "Right now, the user base isn't really that tech-savvy. And as users, they prefer to use things that they are familiar with," he said. "At home, they're on Microsoft [software], so it's easier for them to have Microsoft at work."

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