The Dutch municipality of Haren is preparing for an open source migration project entitled “Harken en Vorken” (Rake and Hayfork). The project aims to build a server based computing environment. Within the year 2005, the municipality plans to connect open source based thin client terminals and servers via the open source tool Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). Proprietary and open source software will run in parallel.
The municipality of Haren in the Netherlands is with its 19.000 inhabitants a relatively small municipality in the northern province of Groningen. On approximately 140 workplaces the municipality administrates civic affairs. In 2002 the municipality started to implement open source software due to a licence structure change of the then-used Oracle database and migrated to the open source data base PostgreSQL. At first the new data base application has been used for the new mail and archive system. The municipality is now developing a proxy server based on Linux and Squid - a Web proxy cache application - and evaluating the use of open source desktop solutions aiming to encourage and to implement free software within the municipality in 2005.
The municipality decided to encourage open source / free software and open standards in particular due to the following reasons:
- Free software allows Haren to decrease dependence on software vendors. It wants to determine its cycle of investment in software independently, based on its own needs, rather than have them dictated by software vendors.
- Haren gets to choose its own time to upgrade software. Updates can be installed if necessary and they fit the general planning within the administration.
- The possibility to integrate applications from third-party software vendors is only possible to a very limited degree in proprietary software, while such
integration and customisation is unlimited with free software.
- The continuity and lifetime of proprietary software products is controlled by the vendor.
- Proprietary software vendors need a long time period to enhance their applications.
- License costs for proprietary software products are high, in particular due to recent changes of the license structure and policies of major vendors.
- Open Standards are the presupposition for collaboration with other municipalitys in the future. Common projects can be realised by the use of open standards.
The 12 month plan of the municipality of Haren sees that open source software use would also bring some disadvantages for the municipality. The disadvantages, according to Haren, are as follows. Numerous applications are written for Microsoft Windows and are not compatible with open source operating systems. Hardware drivers are not always available for GNU/Linux based systems and a lot of software developers are not specialised in programming for GNU/Linux. The fact that numerous complementary software applications do not work with GNU/Linux limits the use of open source software. The variety of software that works with open source operating systems is significantly lower compared with what is available today for Microsoft Windows. Nevertheless, the municipality believes the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages, and believes that with time and increasing open source adoption the disadvantages will reduce in future.
First Step - Common Research Project
To define the potentialities coming along with open source application use, the Dutch municipalities of Grootegast, Marum, Haren, Winschoten and Reiderland started a research project. The study analysed the feasibility of a migration to open source software within the municipalities and aims to identify the current IT situation of the cities providing a basis for a migration, migration costs and operating efficiency of open source software, suitable open source products as well as risk and strategy considerations (see references).
From the economical point of view, open source software use shows significant advantages for the municipalities. Both installation and research costs are greatly lower in comparison to comparable proprietary software costs, according to the research results.
On grounds of the research results, the municipality of Haren strives for the open source project entitled “Harken en Vorken”. The project contains a change from the desktop PCs currently used into open source based thin clients. Office applications will be provided via Server Based Computing technique (SBC). UNIX based servers of the municipality will be migrated to GNU/Linux.
The municipality experiments within the scope of Server Based Computing with the open source tool “Linux Terminal Server Project” (LTSP) combined with a thin client application (RDP – Remote Desktop Publishing) from Microsoft. LTSP is an add-on package for Linux that allows one to connect lots of low-powered thin client terminals to a Linux server. Applications typically run on the server, and accept input and display their output on the thin client display.
At this point of time the Dutch municipality makes use of the Microsoft Office suite and in particular the office applications Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. According to the municipality Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint could be replaced by the application components Writer, Calc and Impress of the open source office suite OpenOffice.org. To evaluate the application field of OpenOffice.org, Haren is running a field test. Ten employees are testing and rating the office suite. Furthermore a migration scenario to OpenOffice.org will be elaborated. According to Albert Krabbe, person in charge of IT of the municipality of Haren, thin clients will be introduced just before the Unix-to-Linux migration.
Server IT Situation of the Municipality
The servers of the municipality run at this point of time under three different proprietary operating systems.
- The file and application server is used for all Microsoft based office applications. The update to version 6.0 of Novell’s Netware is compatible with Linux.
- The PinkRoccade Civility office applications run under a HP D390 and a HP L2000 server. The used operating system is based on UNIX. In January 2005, the software company PinkRoccade announced that its product range is capable of running under GNU/Linux.
- The Citrix server is conjointly used for the connection and communication with the municipality Tynaarlo. The server provides a waste administration application for Tynaarlo. This application can also run under Linux.
All three systems comply with the requirements and can be migrated towards open source software.
According to Albert Krabbe, Unix servers will be migrated to Linux. Employees will hardly notice the shift to open source software within the server environment. At this point of time, the municipality is waiting for an offer from PinkRoccade. They will do the Unix to Linux migration.
The picture is used by the municipality of Haren to promote the IT project. Rake and hayfork share one shaft. The rake symbolises the clients, the hayfork stands for the servers within the network that is created by the shaft. This concept contains the possibility of using open source as well as proprietary software and allows a soft migration to open source software.
The described migration scenario comes along with the ability to realise a soft migration. The research project identified that from the economic point of view, open source software use shows significant advantages for the municipality.
The success of this shift to open source software (GNU/Linux and OpenOffice.org) is an open question. The next few months will show how the elaborated plans can be implemented and if the objectives of the municipality can be reached. But to build up an environment that can handle proprietary as well as open source software seems to be a good decision for a successful open source implementation process.
Paper Versions of this Case Study
Haren Case Study (PDF)
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