Governments getting cozy with Linux

Government adoption of Linux is spreading, and consultants and vendors say it's a trend that's here to stay.

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State governments and federal agencies in the US, along with their counterparts in Europe, Asia and Canada are migrating more mission critical systems off proprietary systems to Linux, or making the OS their first choice in new purchases.

And it's a trend that's here to stay.

Governments are drawn to Linux because it's a better value, especially when compared to Microsoft's expensive licensing for Windows. Open source also allows an agency more flexibility with their software and organization.

"Most federal departments or agencies are looking hard to see how to invest to have a potentially large savings," said Peter Gallagher, the president of Arlington, Va.-based government IT consulting firm Development Infostructure.

Europe and Asia are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to government Linux and open source deployments. Munich, Germany, agencies in France and China are either in the middle of a migration or in the planning stages, while others in Russian, the United Kingdom and Brazil are exploring migrations.

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Vendors like IBM, meanwhile, are finding new cash cows in government deployments. At the recent LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, IBM said it had started working with India's National Informatics Center (NIC), which will join Hawaii, Oklahoma's Department of Human Services and County Essex in Canada as governments or government agencies that have made the move to adopt IBM and Linux technologies.

IBM will also be contributing the military's largest Linux-based supercomputer to the U.S. Army. The 10 teraflop system is to be installed at the Army Research Laboratory Major Shared Resource Center in Aberdeen, Md., for use with the development of advanced military systems.

Jim Stallings, IBM's general manager for strategic initiatives, said that companies in both Asia and India are responsible for some of the fastest Linux adoption in the world, and not as an alternative to an existing platform, but as something they are installing for the first time. Stallings said the governments in these markets are seeing the potential in open standards, especially when it comes to creating new jobs and connecting villages and constituencies.

"They're going through the discovery process like any other, and they're saying Linux is open with a huge community supporting it" he said.

Government standards, different ballgame

Companies wishing to deliver Linux to a government agency as opposed to a commercial customer must follow a slightly more rigid process to work with them.

Stallings said that a corporation like IBM must declare everything in its code and how it works before the agency will begin to evaluate the quality of work. Work must meet a basic test level, Stallings said.

"It's a rigorous cycle -- one year for the first cycle," Stallings said, adding that the process is getting shorter after Red Hat and IBM's achieved CAPP/EAL3+ common criteria compliance.

The Common Criteria is an internationally recognized ISO standard (ISO/IEC 15408) used by the Federal government and other organizations to assess security and assurance of technology products.

Gallagher said that government agencies also tend to be much larger than their commercial counterparts, and thus require more time to migrate to Linux and open source.

Devis has provided consulting services for federal, state and local governments, and has worked with the Department of Defense, Department of Labor and the Department of State, Gallagher said.

"Some of the early adopters of Linux like Google, Amazon.com and Yahoo are all running Linux and have saved a fortune," Gallagher said. "But the federal government has a much broader base of support issues and it takes a lot to change back office infrastructure."

However, Gallagher said that there is a better chance of federal government agencies adopting Linux today than there was five years ago. He added he would be "very surprised" if he does not hear big news on some of the larger government agencies moving to Linux or some form of open source within the next few years.

Last year, the DoD said it believed open source should be handled in the same ways as proprietary software. Gallagher said this was a good thing because it showed people are looking to Linux as an alternative and not as a solution, thus eliminating worries of a monoculture.

"I really think its starting to happen, as big companies and governments look at [Linux] as a support strategy and look at it really as a revolutionary way that eGovernment works," Gallagher said.

"It's much bigger than Linux -- it's the whole [open source] stack."

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