Open Source Software Adoption in the Polish City of Gdańsk

The Polish city of Gdańsk adopted open source software within its city council administration. At the open source seminar Business Management Methods and IT Investments, Wieslaw Patrzek, representative of the president of Gdańsk and responsible for information technology affairs in the city, presented the implementation of open source based services at the city council of Gdańsk.

Introduction

Gdańsk is the Polish maritime capital with the population nearing half a million. It is a large centre of economic life, science, culture, and a popular tourist destination.  
The Polish city is using RISC HP servers, Microsoft Windows and HP-UX as proprietary software based operating systems and Oracle database applications for its main IT systems. Geographic information systems from Bentley and ESRI are used by the city.
Gdańsk has adopted numerous open source software applications. The Linux distribution RedHat as well as the office suites OpenOffice.org and StarOffice were implemented by the city. MySQL and PostgreSQL are used for database services. PGP technology allows Gdańsk to encrypt e-mails, to secure files or disk volumes. Apache was integrated by the IT employees as web server.

Migration Process

Mail server
In 2001, the administration migrated its mail services from MS Exchange running on Windows NT to a RedHat Linux system including the mail server Postfix. According to the presentation of Wieslaw Patrzek, the adoption of Postfix brought with it various advantages, e.g. low costs, operation efficiency, security and stability and support for thousands of user accounts.

Web server
In 2002, the Microsoft Windows NT Internet Information Server was replaced by the Apache web server running on RedHat Linux. Gdańsk determined the following advantages:

  • reduced operation costs
  • enhanced security
  • enhanced operation stability
  • possibility to use the server-side HTML embedded scripting language PHP and the open source data base MySQL
  • more configuration possibilities
  • better scalability

Firewall
The firewall installed is based on the Linux operating system RedHat, the firewall solution iptables, the proxy cache Squid and the proxy firewall Dansguardian. Before the open source software migration, the Polish administration had used a Microsoft proxy server. The open source system provides the city more configuration possibilities (e.g. free and diverse possibilities of creating security rules) and security. It protects the IT environment against external attacks and internal trespassing activities. The introduction of the open source based firewall resulted in a reduction of system costs.

Department of Architecture
The Department of Architecture of Gdańsk decided to replace the proprietary Oracle database by PostgreSQL 7.2, installed on the distribution Debian. About 40 users were affected by the shift.
Due to the stability, performance, low memory usage and reliability, the Department has reached the decision to adopt Debian. Only components that had been tested previously were integrated into the installation.
According to Patrzek, the adoption of PostgreSQL was realised due to the following listed arguments:

  • high quality and efficient service of large databases
  • database engine with long tradition (since 1986)
  • the most technologically advanced open source database engine
  • available interfaces for ODBC, JDBC, C, C++, PHP, Perl, TCL, ECPG, Python and Ruby

 
Database Migration Project
Besides the open source database migration at the Department of Architecture, the city council intended, under the flow of documents and information project, to introduce PostgreSQL on Linux within its administration aiming to replace the HP-UX/Oracle system. About 500 – 700 users were affected by the planned replacement. Gdańsk planned to use the old RISC HP server as emergency server. The new server was based on a quad processor system. 
The attempt to transfer services from HP-UX/Oracle systems to Linux/PostgreSQL did not succeed. The open source database system could not be introduced by the IT department. According to the presentation of Patrzek, the following three main issues were encountered:

  • technical migration support in the case of PostgreSQL could not be ensured
  • lack of stability of large databases
  • server performance

Patrzek stated that an integration of Linux and Oracle would provide an optimal database solution for the city needs, but complained about the large costs of this combination. 

Fire Service of Gdańsk
The Fire Service of Gdańsk is using the office suite OpenOffice.org for required administration tasks. Patrzek lauded the compatibility between Microsoft office applications, the availability of a Polish version as well as the data export possibilities (e.g. PDF or Flash SWF) of the open source software product. But users had to be trained in using OpenOffice.org.

Migration Experiences
The city of Gdańsk evaluated the benefits as well as the weak points of open source software use.
 
Benefits

  • access free of charge and freedom in use of OSS
  • large variety of OSS applications
  • elimination or improvement of unstable applications -> applications containing errors or applications failing to satisfy the requirements
  • open source code allows detailed examination and analysis of the application’s algorithms
  • homogeneous -> availability on any platform
  • flexibility -> possibility to adjust applications to the requirements

 

Weak points

  • lack of complete compatibility with commercial applications
  • weak technical support and service
  • unclear development directions of the OSS
  • incomplete responsibility for applications
  • incomplete documentation of applications
  • small number of complete applications

The introduction of open source software allowed the city to reduce its IT costs. Due to smaller hardware requirements of Linux based computers, the lifespan of systems could be increased. The use of open source software brings along with it an independence from one single supplier and provides the possibility to choose the rhythm of software investment independent of, instead of dictated by, software vendors. The city of Gdańsk claims diverse license issues regarding the applications of proprietary software developers used. Numerous developers such as HP, Oracle or Microsoft do not provide product support after the introduction of new applications. The lack of possibilities to buy a new Oracle software solution without support, “penalties” of the user in case of discontinuation of technical support (Oracle, Bentley) or temporary licenses (Microsoft) have cause the city of Gdańsk much dissatisfaction.
Patrzek lauded the availability of paid open source software service packages that include documentation, training, consultations, integration activities and technical support.

Open Source Diffusion Efforts
On 21 November 2003, Wojciech Szewko, a member of the Ministry of Science and Information, initiated a Forum for the Development of Free Software. The Forum consists of a group of community experts whose main responsibility will be to cooperate with the Minister in the area of supporting the development and wider distribution of OSS in Poland as well as to integrate all the groups that actively support OSS.
According to his presentation the open source related forum is providing the following specified advantages:

  • Diffusion of access to the newest IT technologies
  • Reducing the costs of introducing new information systems
  • Improving the quality and security of information systems
  • Enhancing activity of local communities (by common access to knowledge)
  • Creation of new jobs
  • Significant reduction of illegal IT applications in Poland

Aims of the Forum for the Development of Free Software:

  • Construction and revision of a National Strategy for the Development of Free Software (a document, that will describe in detail the aims and the methods to achieve these aims)
  • Encouraging Polish enterprises, institutions, associations and private parties to create and develop information systems and applications based on OSS which are designed to be used in public administration, local governments, education and other public institutions and other applications which are designed to enhance communication with the above mentioned institutions
  • Diffusion of knowledge about the advantages of using OSS
  • Facilitating the creation of typical application packages for public administration institutions, which would be available as Free Software
  • Formation of “good practice” rules in creating Free Software for public administration purposes in Poland

The city of Gdańsk is campaigning for a wider diffusion of open source software use within public administrations. Gdańsk is demanding an open specification of document formats, transparent rules of licenses and open source software cooperation projects at different levels of administrations.

Evaluation
The partly realised open source software adoption at the city of Gdańsk shows some of the advantages of OSS applications. It reduces IT related costs and provides the possibility to choose the rhythm of investment independently of the dictates of software vendors. However the migration example also demonstrates the problems of open source software implementations. The adoption of the PostgreSQL database running on a Linux system could not be realised due to various technical reasons. Justifiably, Gdańsk is asking for the cooperation of public administrations, migration rules and the specifications of document formats.

Further Information:                 
City of Gdańsk

Paper Versions of this Case Study
 Open Source Software adoption in Gdansk (PDF)
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