Municipality Terneuzen: “open source is not a choice between all or nothing”

Published on: 30/03/2005
Last update: 16/10/2017
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In 2001 system manager Ad Koster introduced open source software in the Municipality Terneuzen. Because of these positive first experiences, the municipality now uses open source software for many tasks. Ad Koster feels that choosing for open source software doesn’t mean it has to be all or nothing. Hybrid solutions, using both open source and closed source software, are more realistic. With open source software Terneuzen has been able to realize high quality applications with relatively low investments, since there were no license costs involved. Based on his own experience, Ad Koster states that “every governmental organization should use open source software in one way or another”.

Municipality Terneuzen

The municipality Terneuzen came into existence in 2003 after a regrouping of the former municipalities Sas van Gent, Axel and Terneuzen. With 55.000 inhabitants, Terneuzen is now the largest municipality in the province Zeeland.  

The number of workstations is about 500, which are controlled by an ICT department of 9 people. The department is sub-divided into a branch for information and one for automation. The first branch takes care of management tasks, while the second branch is responsible for technical matters.

In addition to the main building (city hall and city office), 9 other buildings are connected to the municipal network.

First steps

Open source software was introduced in Terneuzen by the middle of 2001. The first Linux machines where then installed to realize the desired coupling with internet. An important reason for this was the safety and stability of Linux.

The initiative came from Ad Koster, network- and system manager for the Municipality Terneuzen. Koster has been “working and playing” with various open source products since 1999 and by now has a good amount of experience. Other system managers have also started working with Linux and open source software. Next to internal instruction, Linux courses are taken at IBM Netherlands.

Open source software, all or nothing?

After the good first experiences, the use of open source rapidly increased in Terneuzen. Many applications that have been realized after 2001 depend on open source software. To the present day, all open source applications are server oriented. In each individual case open source software is considered as an alternative, paying attention to costs and quality. The resulting hybrid environment of both open and closed source software is the only realistic approach, says Ad Koster: “open source is no choice between all or nothing”.

Overview of the applications

Below the different applications are summarized. The products are all open source software and therefore available without license costs and with source code included.

a)       Infrastructure

Linking the main location with the sub locations is done with Linux-routers. It turns out that with minimal hardware, excellent, almost support-free routers can be configured, that perform just as well as expensive commercial products.

b)      Mailservers

For sending and receiving external e-mail a so-called mailrelay-server has been created that is based on Sendmail and runs on Linux. On this mailrelay-server spam filtering takes place using SpamAssassin, and virus scanning using Mailscanner. According to Ad Koster, sendmail is the absolute standard on the internet when it comes to e-mail traffic. He also points out that SpamAssassin has been crowned most effective spamfilter more than once, and that Mailscanner is one of the most frequently used applications in the field of e-mail security.

Many large internet Service Providers use this configuration, taking care of the e-mail traffic for millions of users.

c)       Proxy servers and firewalls

To enable a controlled internet access a squid proxy-server is used. This proxy server is provided with DansGuardian for content-filtering, with DansGuardian adapted in such a way that the internet content is being scanned for known viruses with virus scanner Clamav.

For Firewalling a combination of OpenBSD and Linux is used. OpenBSD is known to be very secure, which shows from the fact that no more than one “remote hole” has been found in the standard installation in the past 8 years. The firewall code that is used in OpenBSD is packet filter, for Linux it is iptables.

d)       Remote acces

To enable system managers to perform tasks from external locations a VPN solution based on IPSEC has been realised using FreeSwan/OpenSwan . IPSEC is the open standard for secure internet connections. The IPSEC standard will also be integrated in IPV6, which is the successor of the current open standard IPV4. The IPSEC-connections are also used to deliver remote access to the network for aldermen and members of the management team, so they are able to work from home.

In addition, OpenVPN is used. For configuration purposes OpenVPN is a good alternative for connections based on IPSEC-technology. For data-encryption OpenVPN uses SSL. 

e)       File- and printserving

Samba is used for file- and print serving for windows-clients. It turned out to be a highly stable and fast alternative for windows servers. Early 2005 a start will be made with integrating Samba, running on Suse Enterprise Linux 9.0, with the IBM I-series server (model 520) at the municipality Terneuzen. 

f)        Intranet

The intranet server at Terneuzen uses Linux as control system, Apache as web server, completed with MySQL as database server and PHP as scripting language. This LAMP-combination is the standard on the internet and according to Netcrafts latest statistics it has a market share of almost 70%.

g)       Management applications

For monitoring servers, network components and so on, open source applications such as Nagios, NTOP and MRTG are in use. These applications allow for a pro-active control of the server park and the network components. Especially Nagios is an application that is used a lot by ICT-companies for remotely monitoring their clients´ networks.

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Open standards

So far open standards have not really been an issue in making decisions about the purchase of software. However, the municipality Terneuzen is already using open standards in various places. This is a result of choosing for open source software, that normally uses open standards. The importance of open standards is acknowledged by the ICT department, and they intend to point out this importance to those responsible for management, as to prevent so-called “vendor lock-ins”.

 

Results and experiences

The experiences with open source software have been very positive. Achievements that are no less than those of expensive commercial products can be obtained with minimal means. In practice, servers running on Linux usually have a very high uptime and hardly need any support. Uptimes of hundreds of days are no exception. The record at the municipality Terneuzen was 670 days when this article was written, and it was still counting. In case a problem comes up, patches usually become available through the community or the supplier within several hours.

Financially the municipality Terneuzen has had a lot of benefit from open source software. It is estimated that the municipality saved between 300 and 400 thousand euros so far by using open source software.

Ad Koster indicates the migration to open source software should be as transparent as possible for the end-users. Transparency makes it easier for end-users to accept new software. In the operations that have been executed so far, no real problems have occurred.

To this day, all implementations of open source applications have been executed independently; no external implementation was needed (yet). In 2004 the municipality has actively approached other governmental organizations for co-operation. Locally a close collaboration with the Waterboard Zeeuws Vlaanderen came into existence in the area of open source. The goal is to develop this collaberation even further in the near future, and to expand it to other regional organizations. In addition the municipality participates in several open source communities.

Plans for the future     

In 2004 the municipality Terneuzen decided to purchase a IBM I-series server, model 520. Server consolidation is therefore an important topic in the future policy of the municipality. In practice many organizations, including municipality Terneuzen, are confronted with an ever growing server park. An IBM I-series is a perfect environment for integrating different servers in one machine, thereby significantly simplifying the management and possibly reducing the costs. With regard to the I-series project there are deliberations with the municipality Haarlem on a regular basis.  

Besides AIX it is possible to run Linux native on the latest I-series. The distributions that are supported in this case are RedHat en SuSe. A major advantage of the I-series machine is also that integration of windows servers is fully supported.

SuSe Enterprise Server will function on the I-series as file and print server for the windows-clients. In addition, the municipality will start testing Oracle databases under the Linux operating system, which is an obvious move since Oracle indicated they will use Linux as primary platform for future developments. The Oracle database is used for Centric applications. Although good open source databases are available, like PostgreSQL, using these is not an option, since Centric only uses Oracle databases.  

In 2005 a pilot will be launched for testing OpenOffice.org as an alternative for Microsoft Office. Centric, the main supplier of municipal backoffice applications, says it will support OpenOffice.org.

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