Using an open source desktop lowers the total cost of ownership by 40%, in savings on proprietary software licences and by reducing costs on IT management. Using Ubuntu Linux massively reduces the number of local technical interventions, says Major (Commandant) Stéphane Dumond. "The direct benefits of saving on licences are the tip of the iceberg. An industrialised open source desktop is a powerful lever for IT governance."
The Gendarmerie now employs 37,000 Ubuntu Linux desktops. In the summer of next year, it expects to have completed the switch, and will then have 72,000 Ubuntu-Linux workstations. That makes it Europe's and possibly world-wide the largest example of a public administration using open source on workstations.
"It is possible to deploy thousands of Linux desktops. We did", the Major said, speaking at the Evento Linux conference, which took place in the city of Lisbon, Portugal, on 26 September.
Next to the massively lower TCO, the benefits include being independent from commercial software vendors. "This is priceless." The desktop migration allowed the Gendarmerie to structure the IT organisation, saving time, human resources and money.
Using Linux on desktops allows the police force to control costs when deploying new technologies. "It is a risk, but a controlled risk, counterbalanced by the lower service costs."
Dumond, who works at France's ministry of the Interior, described how the preparation for the switch to Linux desktops took about four years.
In 2004, the IT department of the police force faced a major challenge. "At minimal costs, we had to provide all users access to the internal computer network, greatly expand the use of standard office productivity tools."
The Gendarmerie began by using OpenOffice. It's installed on all 90,000 PCs, making obsolete 20,000 licences for a proprietary office suite. The police force at that point also switched to using the Open Document Format for its internal reporting solutions.
In 2006 it installed web browser Mozilla Firefox and email client Mozilla Thunderbird on all PCs, followed in 2007 and 2008 by other free and open source desktop tools, including image manipulation software Gimp and multimedia application VLC. In 2008 it implemented Ubuntu Linux on the first 5000 desktops and began preparing for its industrialised large-scale deployment.
In 2011, the Gendarmerie added 20,000 Ubuntu desktops, and in 2012 added another 10,000. This year, it added 2000 so far. Between March and June of 2013, the police force also performed an update of Ubuntu, upgrading to version 12.04 from 10.04, over its network. "This January, the last constraints will disappear, and we will replace the last proprietary desktop PCs by Ubuntu."
The IT strategy at the police force is now based on a large-scale use of open source solutions, the use of Internet standards and a centralised supervision of the life cycle of desktop applications. The process is ITIL compliant, Major Dumond said. "IT is now one of the means to achieve the CEO's goals."