City of Brantford gets in synch

Ontario’s city of Brantford can now count itself among the growing ranks of municipal governments making use of open source software.

Warren Shiau, a research analyst with the Toronto-based research firm The Strategic Counsel , said that it can be difficult for open source software to penetrate into the federal and provincial government, but that municipal governments are often another story. Said Shiau: “They often have specific platform strategies, but at the municipal level, they don’t come under the same sort of constraints that are present at the federal or provincial level.”

City of Brantford database administrator Muzammil Rajpurkar was glad that those constraints weren’t at the municipal level. When he came on to the corporation last November, the database situation was dire. The head execs were calling for better data integration and synchronization, but this was no small task. When it came to these tasks, Rajpurkar said, “We always had to do small bits of code, and then running it, so we always had to change—and maintain—the code.”

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Then, the head office started hankering for better assets management and consolidation of the work order system. “We knew there had to be a better way to do it without having to write everything and maintain everything,” he said.

Rajpurkar turned to Open Studio, an open source data integration solution from French vendor Talend SA. One of the main perks to the solution was its price point. Said Rajpurkar: “It was really cost-effective, when it came to our budget.”

This is one of the company’s differentiators, said Talend vice-president of marketing Yves de Montcheuil. He said, “Proprietary software is expensive, with data integration software often going from $250,000 to $500,000.” Also handy was the ease of use, courtesy of the user-friendly interface. This helped decrease the learning curve. “We were able to get it up and running without much help from anyone,” said Rajpurkar.

Said de Montcheuil: “If the DBAs in-house have to write programs, it can be very cumbersome, and lack sophistication.” This sales pitch taps into the growing open source trend of a neatly packaged solution geared toward the smaller IT shop.

“In the past (and even now), the option of using open source as an alternative wasn’t really a viable option,” Shiau said. “But if you build a tool, then a shop who couldn’t really develop a tool or maintain it could use that turnkey solution as a package. It’s the development aspect that’s usually the sticking point for small shops.”

The system is integratable with all different operating systems and environments, according to de Montcheuil, who said that the company concentrated heavily on interoperability during the development stage and have outfitted it with as many connectors and system hook-ups as possible.

And so, Rajpurkar said, the only challenge came from being spoiled for choice. “We had to understand the adaptors, but that wasn’t the difficult part—just the understanding part,” he said.

In the several months since its implementation, Talend Open Studio has helped the City of Brantford synchronize and move data from the municipal infrastructure database to an Avantis system that will better manage the municipality’s asset management and work orders, and keep the databases better synchronized as well. It worked well enough to snag the company a Best Technical Use award from Talend’s own Ambassador Awards. But, in the end, said Rajpurkar, “It was a very straight-forward implementation—nothing rocket science.”

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