The Truth About Open Source In The Enterprise


When I first got into IT back in the late 90′s as a teen, I was always baffled by the landscape in regards to infrastructure and software.  And coming from a Linux background, who could blame me?  When I went off to get my secondary education, I chose the vocational route and I chose to certify in Novell and Microsoft because they were the two major players at the time.  And in my opinion, Novell was actually doing it right with the NDS operating system which seemed way ahead of windows NT at the time.

Now you have to remember that 14 years ago, Linux was not the OS that you see on today’s desktops and mobile laptops/netbooks.  It was more like Unix –or even DOS –in that the user interacted with it via the terminal and shell on a frequent basis.

Even so, I could not understand why every shop ran Windows servers and desktops.  The money that could have been saved on file servers alone could have paid an actual person’s salary for a year.  It all seemed so wasteful especially on the server side, especially when it came to file servers and shares that could have easily accomplished the same thing using SAMBA.  Heck, you could even have email up and running with Sendmail and Procmail all for free.

One of the broader complaints I hear from net admins –other than Linux is to hard and complicated, which it is not) –comes in the area of user management and shares –because it’s so hard to do –which is easy enough to manage if you’re on an Active Directory enabled domain.  But what is the solution for easy management under linux?   This is a question I always hear, to which I say “I have been using Webmin for almost 12 years now –which pre-dates Active Directory –and let me tell you it is a breeze!”  It allows you to not only manage users and shares on your network, but pretty much all aspects of your network, from scheduled backups, cron jobs, software packages, and clusters, just to name a few.  If you would like to check out webmin, you can download and install it from here.

It is almost as if the U.S refuses to save money on purpose when that money can be used in other areas.  This holds true in the corporate world as well as local, state and federal government where adoption of Linux and open source is slow, if at all.  Meanwhile countries like France and Germany have embraced Linux and open source and have saved millions!

France’s Gendarmerie Nationale, the country’s national police force, says it has saved millions of dollars by migrating its desktop software infrastructure away from Microsoft windows and replacing it with the open source Ubuntu Linux distribution.  A transition which began in 2005 none-the-less, when the police force replaced Microsoft office with across the entire force. After Vista launched in 2007, it was decided to phase out Windows and incrementally migrate to Ubuntu.

A report by the European Commission’s Open Source Observatory gave a few details from a presentation given by Gendarmerie Lieutenant-Colonel Xavier Guimard, who says that the force has been able to reduce it’s annual IT budget by 70 percent without having to reduce it’s capabilities!  Since 2004, the agency has saved up to 50 Million dollars alone on licensing and maintenance costs as a result of the migration strategy which it hopes to complete by 2015 which will encompass all 90,000 workstations on its network.

With figures like that, it’s hard to argue the benefits of open source.  The Gendarmerie migration also demonstrates the significant cost savings that governments and even large corporations can get from adopting open source software.  As the global recession continues to put pressure on budgets, big corporations and the government need to look to open source software as a way to cut IT costs.  No longer can we say “Well I am a windows guy and this is what I suggest”.  The people in charge need to make a decision that will benefit the whole of a company and/or a country.  Think about it, would you rather buy something for a dollar and sell it for two? Or would you rather get something for free and sell it for two?  Microsoft Admins want to preserve their jobs at all costs but the choice is easy, and open source is the way.

Darryl Barnes

Darryl Barnes is an IT professional with more than 15 years experience with both open source and proprietary solutions. With a key focus on Android development, Linux, BSD and Perl scripting.

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  • Rob

    Thanks a lot for that article!
    Personally, I also have to say that by now, there’s really no vallid reason anymore for using Windows at all. Personally, I’ve been running a Windows Server 2003 dedicated machine for a while back in 2005, when I simply lacked the understanding and experience which I’d have needed for running a Linux server. However, I soon figured that this was too limiting for me, and that I kept having major stability issues with Windows Server. However, I still didn’t really have the knowledge and time to host my own Linux root-server, and so I turned to a commercial hoster up until recently. As I ended up getting more and more into Unix-based systems, a few months ago I decided to setup my own Debian-based server from scratch. I had gone through some Linux-related books before and experimented with Linux on my own system, so by that time I thought I had the knowledge I needed to work with Bash and (Debian) Linux in general. So, I then sat down for a couple hours, and then set up the server. To make my life easier, I decided to install the open-source Froxlor control panel, which makes some basic tasks easier but still gives the admin full control over the setup and system-specific workflows. Once I had all the basics in place (LAMP, FTP, SMTP and IMAP as well as DNS), I found that I had a somewhat sollid base and a system which I actually understood and that I could rely on, a feeling I’ve never had with Ms Windows Server. After digging deeper and deeper into the server functionality and some fine-tuning, I started adding more server features, such as a TeamTalk voice chat server and the ejabberd Jabber daemon. Also, I added more security stuff over time and made sure regular backups were scheduled and transferred on to an external storage server. Well, that server’s been running for quite some time now, and I haven’t encountered any serious issues whatsoever! What did it take me to get there? Some basic IT knowledge, a bit of reading, a lot of Googling here and there, several cups of coffee and a good amount of dedication and discipline. But hey, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for getting a bigger project done, right? So, I’d say that anyone with a good amount of technical understanding and an interest in Linux / server administration could go ahead and setup a powerful and reliable Linux server. Sure, I’m talking about the private sector here. But how much more does it take to extend this at least into the SMB sector? Maybe a bit more reading and knowledge, and certain security policies that a single user doesn’t have to worry about as much. However, I think it’s *DEFINITELY* achievable, and would encourage all the enterprises in the world to at least give it a try! It’s free, it’s open, it’s good… and best of all, it works! :-)

  • Tim

    Great article. I agree with your assessment and sentiment. Working in state government, the waste is in plain sight. We’re a “Microsoft shop” primarily… even when something is already running on an open source platform (say, an XMPP server or something trivial), some drone will ask, “Hey is there a Microsoft solution for this?”

    Unfortunately, it is not the technical staff, but the lobotomized manager pants that make these decisions at my work. And let’s face it, Microsoft does very well with the sales game. It’s really quite a shame. Most times the OSS solution is very mature and often better than its proprietary counterpart.

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