This article focuses on messaging systems. These systems traditionally consist of e-mail and associated applications like address books, calendaring/scheduling, task lists and notes. Nowadays, real-time and multimedia applications such as presence/status information, instant messaging (IM), internet telephony (Voice over IP, VoIP) and video calling are quickly becoming part of the typical messaging suite, in integrated form referred to as unified communications.
In this case we stay away from the related field of collaboration/groupware applications, containing workflow, chatroom, wiki, bookmarking, videoconferencing, file sharing, collaborative editing, task/project management, application sharing, revision control, and other functionality that is used to create a collaborative working environment.
We do realise, however, that all these applications are part of a continuum spanning personal communications, via groupware and enterpriseware (e.g. blogging and intranets), all the way to publishing to the whole (online) world (i.e. social media).
Messaging platforms as they are currently deployed in organisations are often a legacy from the days when mail, office productivity and file & print services covered most needs for professional communication and collaboration. Vendor lock-in, an investment in the skills of users as well as of system managers, familiarity with the interfaces, resistance to change (also related to the relatively high age of public servants and their risk-avoiding behaviour), unhealthy relations between suppliers and buyers, and other non-technical reasons have often prevented the move to open, modern environments that are more secure and less expensive.
Messaging naturally depends on the interoperability of the systems and clients used by the connecting parties, which nowadays cover the whole world. Only very large providers — 'Big Internet' companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn — have user bases so large that they can afford to create so-called walled gardens by using closed or tweaked communication protocols. This closed character, the lack of privacy, and uncertainty — about the location where your data is stored, the risks involved and the security measures taken, your legal position and the applicable jurisdiction — should all in themselves be reasons to avoid these services.
The rest of the world, including the open source community, has to adhere to open standards for their software to be practically useful. For e-mail those standards are SMTP and IMAP/POP. There is LDAP for directory services, SIP for internet telephony, and XMPP (Jabber) for chat.
These standards often come with stacks of associated protocols for additional services. Some examples for mail are TLS to secure connections, PGP to encrypt and sign messages, and DKIM/SPF/DMARC to fight spam, viruses and other nasties delivered by mail. SIP sports SDP, RTP, SRTP and ZRTP for session management and encryption, and SIMPLE and MSRP for presence information and instant messaging. OTR is often used to encrypt instant messaging conversations.
The availability of all these open standards, and the need for software providers to adhere to them in order to connect, mean that all sorts of components — even closed-source and open-source — can be mixed and matched with relative ease to form a complete solution.
Here four different types of fully or partially OSS-based implementations are listed, ranging from a best-of-breed constellation to a monolithic solution. Below various examples of implementations are presented, showing the diversity of what is readily available or can be composed from popular open source software packages.
Here various examples of OSS-based implementations of mail/messaging systems at public agencies are presented. They show the diversity of the software that is readily available and solutions that can be composed from popular OSS packages.
Using open source software helps to save public resources,senior IT administrator Aleksander Podsiadły was quoted.
Spending this on proprietary alternatives is a waste of money.
It is part of a mail relay service including anti-virus and anti-spam based on Trend Micro,network architect Jan Colpaert explains.
According to Juan Conde, Chief of Staff for the Promotion of Free Software at Junta de Andalucía, the economic gains of this best-of-breed solution relative to proprietary solutions must be huge.
Vendor proposals end prematurely when we mention that our present costs are around 4 euro per user per year. In 2012, we were serving about 250,000 people at a total cost of €983,500.
According to the Berenschot benchmark for Dutch municipal ICT costs, the City of Ede managed to spend 92 percent less than its peers on software licenses.
In 2011, Ede's ICT management costs were at exactly the national average. One year later, after correction for the services provided to external customers, these costs were only slightly higher (5-10 percent) than the average. But these costs were more than offset in reduced licence fees: the City paid only one tenth of what other municipalities were paying for their software. All in all, Ede's annual total ICT budget of 6 million euro was 24 percent less than what other municipalities of comparable size were spending.
The City of Ede is using dozens of open source software packages, including the Zarafa messaging system and the Asterisk software PBX (i.e. an internet telephony exchange).
The savings on the PBX system and its maintenance alone are huge, Ede's then Computerisation and Automation director Bart Lindeboom told us last year.
Our open source soft-PBX costs only one third of a traditional or branded PBX. Furthermore, we now are able to buy smartphones of our own choice instead of those supplied with the PBX. That means we pay 200 euro for a phone instead of 400-500 euro for a 'compatible' device.