Linux docks at Harbourfront

Some Canadian organizations are enjoying success with the Linux operating system for specific solutions, as was evidenced by various customer stories at last month’s LinuxWorld conference in Toronto.

The Toronto Harbourfront Centre’s 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. “Linux was supposed to be a stop-gap solution,” Rodaro said.

The Centre’s Web site was eventually moved in house and run on the Apache operating system, he said. From there, IT staff started building internal applications like a content management system created with PHP and MySQL. Today, the ticketing system uses a Microsoft solution (as do about 200 PCs), while the e-mail runs Red Hat Inc.’s Linux Enterprise.

The firewall, DHCP server, photo server and print server all run on a variety of open source solutions. Since Harbourfront is a not-for-profit organization and is often cash-strapped, extending machine lifecycles with Linux has been a key to the Centre’s adoption of the OS, Rodaro said.

Pioneer Petroleum, on the other hand, was looking for a specific solution to increase collaboration between its 150 gas bars and headquarters. Relying on fax and phone to distribute in-store advertising was not a viable option, since it did not allow users to create store-specific promotions, said Dale Sinstead, director of IT.

Pioneer needed to install PCs at all 150 locations.

Sinstead said Pioneer opted for RedHat in part because it was using it in its server room with great success.

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. Today, Pioneer is in the process of installing 150 Dell OptiPlexes running Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS 3.0. Pioneer also has six back-end Linux servers used for IBM Corp.’s Lotus Domino and Workplace, and an Oracle Corp. database.

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 (it is a cheaper OS and has a longer hardware lifecycle) can be passed on to other projects.

But though the city is looking to deploy Linux to the desktop, it is not without some hurdles, Laneville said.

He has looked high and low for a Linux version of AutoCAD without any luck. Without that one application available on Linux there is no way city engineers will make the migration off of Windows, he said.

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