[nSLUG] Possible Berwick Migration

Jim Haliburton jim at on-site.ns.ca
Thu Mar 1 18:07:44 AST 2007

Hello All:

Robert Ashley Of Berwick was musing about a migration to Linux.  He was 
not clear if he was thinking Desktop or Server Migration.

I have used in one form or another, sometimes successfully and sometimes 
not, Linux as a server.  I have struggled as have other users, with the 
Linux desktop scenario and cannot afford to waste time on it.

I have several clients using Linux as a file and print server on a daily 
basis, without being aware of the OS.  For file and print services that 
is the way it should be.

For any other than basic file and print service, specialized, 
complicated, and hard to find would be the way to describe support for 
the server.  If Berwick was to contemplate a move to Linux as a server I 
would suggest some very careful study of the entity's needs and user 

Let's start with e-mail.  How is their mail currently handled?  Do they 
use Outlook? Outlook Express?   Are the users mail files stored on a 
server or the local PC?  Are all the systems using the same version of 
Outlook / Outlook Express so a user can move from desk to desk, login and 
see their own Outlook files??  Are some users popping their mail and 
others getting it from an Exchange server?  If they use Exchange, and the 
calendering and appointments system, what will they use in the future?  
What will the training cost be?  Will there be functionality 

 What feature loss or gain will be a deal breaker or maker for the users?

How will the Blackberry's be handled?  No BlackBerrys, what about syncing 
to the 10 different PDAs they have?  ( He did indicate they have about 10 
users. So 10 different PDA's would not be out of the question.)

Do they run a small database??  Maybe they run a host based app that runs 
on a Windows box.  When I say host based, I mean a Windows OS of some 
sort running an app that all (most) users use in a Workgroup setting.  
How will this app be handled in the future?

Are all the versions of Word Processing they use, the same??  I have a 
client with 4 different versions of MS Office on only 7 computers.  
Outlook handles mail and appears differently on each of the 4 versions 
and their respective patch levels.  And their mail goes back 4 years and 
they have some 5000+ messages and attachments.  In some cases they have 
had to split up the mail as the mail store has exceeded 2Gb for each of 
several users!  They all have individual contact lists, and Address 
books, as well as the system wide.

>From a support point of view it is a nightmare, yet they are all 
reasonably happy and don't want change.

Now lets look at mission critical apps.  Is there a municipal billing 
package that is common among municipal units?  Are they all expected to 
use it?  What if a Berwick strays from the mold.  They would have to 
develop their own support system, or pay dearly.  How would they access 
historical data if the old system is on one platform and OS, and the new 
and improved is on another?  Can a small 10 user entity afford 
virtualization and to maintain OS licenses and support for legacy apps?

Lets say Mr. Ashley develops and configures a new Linux server system 
with all the attendant unique configurations and apps for the municipal 
unit and they are happy.  What will  happen, and I am not meaning to 
imply that I want it to happen, but if the notorious highway through the 
valley claims his life and the laptop with all the carefully developed 
system tools and documentation??

If they had a non-Linux box with a corporate vendor, they would call up 
the vendor and find another experienced support admin.  As they are 
generally similar in operation, support would continue with a new name 
attached to the support role.  Now if it is a Linux box, who you gonna 
call??  Do they support that flavour and version of the OS?  Debian, oh 
well we only support XYZ Linux.

I have worked with the RedHat / Centos releases since RedHat 4.x (not 
RHEL 4.x but those versions before Fedora).  At one point we tried to 
change to SUSE.  The OS was the same right?  Wrong.  File locations, 
functionality, tools, all usually different, located in what we regarded 
as weird points in the directory.  But it was Linux right?  We gave up 
and continued with RedHat / Centos.  Much of the difference is that the  
cultural difference and thought processes of the creators, are not the 
same.  A manual written by an English speaker in the UK will have much 
less readability for a North American English reader.  Now just make it 
German thinking translated from English to German and back into English.  
There is as much difference from SUSE to RedHat as from a Mercedes to a 
Toyota.  They are both cars right?

So what is Berwick to do?  As a responsible admin, and I find it hard to 
believe that a group with 10 users even needs an admin person, the 
foremost task is to satisfy the needs of the users.  IT is a support 
function and an enabler of the task.  "IT" is not the reason that the 
Berwick Municipal unit exists.  One finds the needs, both legal, and 
operational of the users.  Find / develop a solution at the right cost in 
dollars to acquire, administer, and support that municipal function.  
Find best in class software solutions that meet their needs, from both a 
server and desktop perspective, and go with that.  If linux can provide 
the solution then go with it.  If another solution is better, then the 
admin is obliged to do what is best for the entity being served.

Now I am in favour of an e-demo of a potential solution for small 
municipal units.  But before that is attempted the real needs of serving 
the community must be defined.  


Jim Haliburton
James A. Haliburton
On-Site Computer Services of Halifax
Suite 100, 25 Walton Drive
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada     B3N 1X6
Office/ Cell           : (902)499-5250
Home/After Hours : (902)477-8342
e-mail      : jim at on-site.ns.ca

Please avoid sending me Microsoft Office attachments.


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