Free and open source solutions are a common component in the ICT infrastructure of Heanet, Ireland's National Education and Research Network, serving about one million students and staff in the country's research and education institutes. Such tools are chosen over proprietary alternatives whenever possible, says Glenn Warren, one of Heanet's IT security specialists.
Examples include IT network monitoring tools such as Munin, Nagios, Icinga and Cacti. Many of the services offered by Heanet use the common bundle of operating system Linux, web server Apache, database system MySQL and programming language PHP. The organisation uses open source tools such as FreeRadius, Shibboleth and Puppet to offer users network and file access, and GNU Gatekeeper and Varnish for video conferencing and streaming.
Heanet even contributes to open source solutions, including Filesender, allowing authenticated users to share large files, and Edugate, allowing organisations to share access information for users and ICT resources.
Warren was one of the speakers at the annual conference for all libraries that use Heanet's services, which took place at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, part of the Trinity College in Dublin, on 21 March.
The IT specialist invited libraries to consider open source. When choosing open source, he recommends to see if the skills of the IT staff match those required for using the software, and to check if there are IT service providers that can offer support. When Heanet selects open source, the organisation looks at the community that is involved, wanting to know if the software is actively developed and if the community is supportive. It also wants to know if a project is deployed in many other organisations, and how well it integrates with other parts of the infrastructure.
"Open standards are critical for the interoperability of open source and commercial software", Warren said. "Particularly where commercial Internet routers, videoconference or telephony devices interoperate with open source software on a users desktop or management server."
Other speakers at the conference showcased their use of web-publishing platform Omeka and integrated library system Koha. Scott Wilson, Service Manager of OSS Watch at the University of Oxford gave tips on how to go about procuring open source solutions. "We did our best to counter fear, uncertainty and doubt, trying to encourage libraries to seriously investigate open source."
"Procurement processes and policies in place in education institutions can often put open source at a disadvantage", Scott says. "Raising awareness helps rectify that, levelling the playing field for open source. Ultimately universities and libraries need to source solutions that deliver sustained value and meet their users needs, and to do that you have to ensure that market-leading open source options aren't being excluded from consideration."