Open source making inroads

Dale Sinstead needed to improve the collaborative technology between Pioneer Petroleum’s 150 service centres and its headquarters. To do so, he needed to install workstations at all the locations and instead of opting for Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system he chose Red Hat Inc.’s Enterprise Linux WS 3.0.

At the recent LinuxWorld in Toronto, Sinstead, Pioneer’s director of IT, was one of several Canadian directors of IT who spoke to Network World about the use of Linux to solve business-specific problems.

Pioneer’s stations are spread across much of rural Ontario and Sinstead wanted them to connect back to headquarters to collaborate on in-store promotional material. The existing solution required a combination of fax and phone to collaborate on promotions for things as chips and drinks.

This was time-consuming and not particularly effective, nor did it allow users to easily create store-specific promotions, Sinstead said.

Pioneer opted for Red Hat in part because the company was already using it in its server room with great success, Sinstead said. And though a simple user interface was important, Sinstead said the ease with which he could lock down Linux machines — often left unattended — was a big selling point. With Windows, boot programs are readily available to override lockdowns, he said. (Longhorn, the next version of the Windows operating system, will apparently solve this problem. See “Startup gets locked down” Quick Link 059005)

Today, Pioneer is in the process of installing 150 Dell OptiPlexes running Red Hat. Sinstead said the install has been relatively painless and that users have adapted quickly to the Red Hat GUI. Pioneer also has six back-end Linux servers running IBM Corp.’s Lotus Domino and Workplace, and an Oracle Corp. database. Sinstead said the collaborative work is all done through Workplace.

For the Toronto Harbourfront Centre, the move to Linux has been gradual, said George Rodaro, the Centre’s director of IT. In the late ’90s the entertainment complex on the shores of Lake Ontario was operating a “ragtag” group of PCs for its ticketing department (Harbourfront hosts over 4,000 events a year) and e-mail. An administrator took an old Pentium 1 machine and created a Linux-based e-mail server that was used for two years.

The Centre’s Web site was eventually moved in-house and run on the Apache operating system, he said.

The workhorse behind the scenes today is an IBM eServer BladeCenter. The four blades run the ticketing system (on Microsoft Server 2004 and SQL 2000); e-mail (on Redhat Linux Enterprise); Samba, for file and print (on Redhat Linux Enterprise) and Websphere Portal Express (also on Redhat Linux Enterprise).

The city of Timmins, Ont. is also expanding its Linux footprint. “Cost is a big driver,” said David Laneville, the city’s director of IT. “If I can show them how to save 10 cents, they’ll look at it.”

He said the cost savings from, for example, moving all of the city’s library kiosks to Linux can be passed on to other projects.

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Related links:

IT looks for answers to Linux questions

Novell seeks peaceful Linux coexistence with Windows

World’s largest Linux migration gets major boost

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