Open source desktops are far cheaper to maintain than proprietary desktop configurations, says Rolf Schuster, a diplomat at the German Embassy in Madrid and the former head of IT at the Foreign Ministry.
Schuster was one of the participants in a discussion on Open Standards and interoperability that took place last week Tuesday during the Open Source World conference in the city of Malaga, Spain.
The Foreign Ministry is migrating all of its 11.000 desktops to GNU/Linux and other open source applications. According to Schuster, this has drastically reduced maintenance costs in comparison with other ministries. "The Foreign Ministry is running desktops in many far away and some very difficult locations. Yet we invest only one thousand euro per desktop per year. That is far lower than other ministries, that on average invest more than 3000 euro per desktop per year."
The ministry has so far migrated almost four thousand of its desktops to GNU/Linux and expects to complete the move by the summer of 2009, Schuster said. About half of all the 230 embassies and consulates have now been switched over. "It is not without problems. Our developers don't know Japanese, so they don't understand the problem and we have to look for a developer in Japan to help us with some font issues we have in OpenOffice."
"The embassies in Japan and Korea have completely switched over, the embassy in Madrid has been exclusively using GNU/Linux since October last year", Schuster added, calling the migration a success.
The Foreign Ministry in 2001 began migrating its back-end IT systems to open source in order to provide all embassies and consulates with Internet access and email. "Our strategy was to use as far as possible Open Standards and Open Source. Reduction of costs was the main reason for this decision." Upon completion of this project, the ministry decided in 2004 to also migrate the desktops.
The biggest hurdle proved to be to convince the two hundred IT workers a the ministry. "Their issues were not technical. They just did not know anything about Linux and Open Source and we had to change their views. We took some of them on a crash course of using Linux servers and configuring Apache. There they discovered that it really works."
Schuster added that his data should not be mistaken for so-called Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) numbers. "We do definitely have by far the lowest IT cost in federal ministries, and therefore I would claim that we have an unbeatable TCO, but one should not give figures about TCO without a clear definition what you mean by that and how you measure it."
(Article updated on 2 November: update quotes)