Roll-outs of GNU/Linux in Small and Medium-sized Organizations

Much has been written about huge roll-outs of GNU/Linux in education and government but most organizations are much smaller in size and have different problems. The schools where I worked were mostly smaller schools not part of a large school division with central IT management. In the real world there are many organization of similar size from a few PCs in a single office to a few buildings with a bunch of PCs in each. Such organizations may not be able to afford the labour of maintaining that other OS and GNU/Linux is an excellent choice.

Canonical, which ships Ubuntu/Linux, describes such an organization, the City Hall of Skalica, Slovakia. With 120 PCs running XP they were working hard just to keep up. They decided migration to “7” was too expensive because they would have to upgrade all the hardware. They chose Ubuntu and had an immediate pay-back, saving €25,000 per annum just on licensing and 70% reduction in IT costs altogether. Also, “We were really surprised by how easily everyone adjusted to the new operating system. We’re talking about users who are between 25 and 50 years’ old. Some of them are coming up to retirement age. They all made the transition with barely any support required from the IT team.” Whoah! That’s quite a different picture than the naysayers tell. It’s consistent with what I have seen. I have worked in schools where orientation sessions of ~1h or none at all were given to staff and once they found their browser, word-processor and printers, they were laughing. “It’s so fast.”, and “It’s just like XP.” were the kinds of comments that I hears. It’s a GUI folks, point and click.

Since they were new to GNU/Linux they chose to pay for an expensive centralized management system and still saved money. A few scripts and openSSH would have done the same for them. Typcially, in my schools, I would get Wake on LAN working and at my convenience start every machine in the building and upgrade the software without leaving my comfortable chair. Chuckle. No need for AD or anything like that if you know what you are doing.

Skalica did its migration within a year. Munich took years to form a plan and years to execute the plan. That shows a huge advantage of small organizations. Since the organization is small the number of tasks needed doing and the interactions between those tasks has barely begun to be a problem of scale. Really, if one can set up BIOSes to boot over the LAN on wake on LAN and from the hard drive for normal booting (e.g. our old IBM machines), one can do a roll-out with an imaging system like CloneZilla or FlameThrower/SystemImager.

There was no angst about applications being unavailable or users finding things difficult. It was mostly smooth sailing for me. Decide to do it and get it done. I recommend Debian GNU/Linux because it works for you and not some corporation.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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6 Responses to Roll-outs of GNU/Linux in Small and Medium-sized Organizations

  1. oiaohm says:

    oldman my support rates are higher than for a windows system. But due to the fact they can add and remove users without issues so only need me in case of hardware failure it cheaper even that I am billing more per hour.

    So yes what I offer does appear relatively expensive. Normally when other customers talk to my clients and find that downtime has basically been zero. Recovery time from hardware failure is fast. Virus resistance in server is good.

    Key thing is using a distribution built for the role.

    Oldman have you ever played with items like http://www.zentyal.org/ what are basically the SBS servers of the Linux world. There is more than just zentyal as well.

    You also find there manuals written in simple english for newbies. So basically 65 dollar licensing cost in a form of a book for a server that basically contains everything a small business normally needs. Yes its more plain and simple english than the MS SBS books.

    Of course if you try using a straight redhat in Small business they are dead man walking. It the same as trying to use Windows enterprise forms in small business.

    Maybe you have seen the guys like me but you failed to go talk to them properly to find out what they were truly offering.

    Yes I am selling them packages normally packages not maintained by my group internally. Internally maintained designs are normally for the higher end businesses with larger budgets.

    Oldman basically I have different levels of clients and stacks of different services to suite their requirements. Most common cost addon to likes of zentyal is installing anti-virus central management for the likes of avg for business.

    Yes is nothing strange not to hear from the Small business users for 2 to 3 years running these linux solutions. Even not hearing from them until there server fails. Small business we don’t see as large profit.

  2. oldman says:

    “I have many small businesses who are running Linux servers that they manage themselves.”

    Which goes exactly counter to my experience. But then again, I suspect that the reason that it works has more to do with the fact that you personally have sold them a integrated documented “package” complete with service contracts or guaranteed support rates.

    In the business environment that I am familiar with, ISV’s offering Small business services based on Linux in my neck of the world are relatively rare and expensive. They will of course provide the same packaging but based on windows and windows applications.

  3. oiaohm says:

    Clarence Moon
    “If it is so easy and economical to break the chain and step off of the treadmill, then the claim of lock-in is not valid.”
    How easy today is ok not the best is the result of 10 years of constant pressure from the open source world to break the vendor lock-in of Microsoft where they could. This is why the massive process for governments to support ODF.

    Even so stepping off the treadmill has to be done with care one mistake and you are face planting it. This is why you should migrate the desktop applications first not the OS. Its like slowing the tread mill down. Anyone include governments who skips the process has had a failed migration.

    I have many small businesses who are running Linux servers that they manage themselves. They cannot cope with Windoww SBS and was constantly stuff it up. Too many options to configure it for what they needed. Of course the vendor lockin had those fighting to use Windows for a long time.

    In fact goverments are more likely to reverse a Linux migration than a company. Mostly due to the fact Windows is so cheap for them.

  4. Clarence Moon says:

    I was not commenting on the costs to migrate, so I think you misunderstand my remarks. I was rather suggesting that disruptions to activities in government agencies are better tolerated since there is a certain expectation on the part of the citizenry that such agencies are inherently clumsy and inefficient. To the contrary, commercial businesses need to appear more efficient and stable to their customers who have alternatives not available in government activity situations.

    Even so, your comment about the costs of migration run counter to the often made claim that selecting Microsoft or other commercial software exposes the buyer to a “lock in” that puts them on an endless treadmill of updates at the whim of the supplier, particularly Microsoft. If it is so easy and economical to break the chain and step off of the treadmill, then the claim of lock-in is not valid.

  5. Clarence Moon wrote, “Government sites, where the cost of IT is pure expense, are much better suited for Linux migration than commercial businesses”.

    FUD! Migrating to GNU/Linux costs organizations less than migrating to Wintel’s next scheme. The simplest cases are the most common and the cost is just the cost of PXE booting and changing the bootloader or disc image by broadcast. Worst case is having to walk around to each PC and push “F12”. In organizations on the small size, walking around with a CD or USB drive may be simpler. I’ve done several types of installation of GNU/Linux and they were all easier and cheaper than migrating to M$’s call. The migration costs are also one-time. Afterwards, the OS permits/facilitates unattended upgrades one way or another.

  6. Clarence Moon says:

    It is not so strange that a testimonial published by a Linux provider would be much more favorable to Linux than what the naysayers are touting. It is interesting that they had to go so far afield to find such a case, though.

    Skalica, Slovakia seems rather remote and it was a government installation to boot. Government sites, where the cost of IT is pure expense, are much better suited for Linux migration than commercial businesses where disruptions to existing mechanisms can result in lost profits and inefficiencies with a new system can affect ongoing opportunities. Governments make no profits and can wave off inefficiencies as just more red tape if things get a little out of hand. Win or lose, they profit from the cost reductions and never suffer.

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