Open source saves hospital's old PCs from dump

An Iowa medical center rescued 100 PCs from certain death using open-source software from the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP).

Save the planet and save money at the same time -- sound too good to be true? Not according to Brad Erlewine, a

computer specialist at the Iowa City VA Medical Center. He came up with a plan to rescue 100 outdated, landfill-bound computer terminals -- and saved the medical center more than $60,000.

Erlewine received awards from both the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) and the Iowa Recycling Association (IRA) for his use of the obsolete PCs, which were unable to run Windows 2000. "Quite a few of them were sitting in a closet someplace, collecting cobwebs," Erlewine said.

Aside from the learning curve that I had, it was really smooth. And now that it's running, I haven't had to do any maintenance, other than build new clients.
Brad Erlewine
Iowa City VA Medical Center

Erlewine upgraded the machines using open source software from the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) in order to use them as thin clients in conjunction with the VA's Citrix servers. "We do have thin clients right now that run on Metaframe Citrix, and I thought this might be a good way of saving a lot of money and some resources," said Erlewine.

The thin client machines were then placed in exam rooms and nursing stations, where they provide Windows desktops with access to Outlook and patient records. The hospital's growing patient population required new exam rooms, more doctors and a larger staff, which left them short on equipment. According to Christine Kirkwood, the VA's public affairs specialist, "Every exam room and all of those staff members have to have this thin client in order to do their jobs." Kirkwood said that by utilizing equipment that was destined for the landfill, the VA was able "not only to fill a need here at the hospital but to save what [they] had already accessed."

Erlewine found the system incredibly easy to implement. "Aside from the learning curve that I had, it was really smooth. It didn't take much to get the whole thing up and running. And now that it's running, I haven't had to do any maintenance, other than build new clients."

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