Highway patrol gives Linux a green light

The Missouri State Highway Patrol hums along on Red Hat Linux, as aging Windows NT systems are given a life sentence.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Microsoft's support for Windows NT Server 4.0 grinds to a halt, many enterprises will be tackling challenging server upgrades.

Information systems directors, like Cliff Gronauer of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, have tuned and tweaked NT servers during recent years to keep systems afloat. Gronauer has decided to avoid the "expense and pain" of upgrading to Windows Server 2003 and opt for Linux when support from Microsoft concludes at the end of 2004, he said Wednesday at the Enterprise Linux Forum conference.

"Our planning started a year and a half ago and, during the last six months, we've gotten everything of substance implemented. The functionality is there and the performance is there," Gronauer said. "Most customers don't even know we've converted, which is a good thing."

The highway patrol is now humming along on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1, running on Dell rackmount servers. The boxes are production machines, doing everything from file and print services to Web serving, plus supporting internal staff and users on the Web. Eventually, Gronauer said, Linux will have a presence deeper in the data center, doing database serving and other mission-critical work.

"NT was working fine for us. It all boils down to support issues," Gronauer said. "So far, we've been lucky enough to find [the applications] we've been looking for. We do a lot of our core applications on the mainframe. Most of what we're looking for right now is available: Web services, like Web serving and e-mail, file- and print-serving applications."

Gronauer said his biggest challenge might just be in-house expertise. Moving from Windows to command-line Linux requires extensive training in some cases, more so than moving from a Unix environment. Gronauer said some admins with AIX Unix experience have already begun working with Linux.

"Finding people with Linux experience is going to be our biggest challenge," he said. "We're in Jefferson City, Missouri. It's not exactly a computing capital."

Gronauer said his department is also undergoing a server consolidation project, making it difficult to gauge cost savings. He added that not paying hefty Windows licenses will be a welcome relief in a cost-conscious government setting.

"The decision was mine. I've been in this business 20 years, and I've watched it evolve and develop," Gronauer said. "I had a number of discussions with some colleagues that I respect and decided to try Linux on a smaller basis in our enterprise doing file serving. Myself and the admins in my division decided it was a stable environment and said we should press forward."

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