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Linux at Legal Aid Manitoba

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Here's how using Linux instead of other standard solutions saved one Canadian agency (and taxpayers) a big wad of cash.
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When businesses discover Linux, they discover many things in the process—increased reliability, stability, security, and the freedom of open source are always cited, but the big news often turns to one of savings. When business saves money, it's certainly exciting, but when government agencies turn to Linux, those savings become a cause for real celebration. That's because the money they save is our tax dollars.

Empty Pockets

"In an way, it's fortunate that we were broke," Scott Balneaves says. "If you have millions, you just go Microsoft and don't think about it. But when you have no budget, you have to get creative." Exploring that creativity, Legal Aid Manitoba turned to Linux. In doing so, they drastically reduced their system administration support issues and saved Manitoba taxpayers a small fortune.

Scott Balneaves is the system administrator at Legal Aid Manitoba. He is quick to credit his boss, James Ramsay, for (as Balneaves puts it) "his foresight, years ago, of realizing that Unix, TCP/IP, and the like were the way of the future, and for being willing to chance all the crazy schemes I've managed to come up with."

Balneaves and his group run the entire Legal Aid Manitoba on 150 workstations and 15 servers over four remote locations (one is 900 kilometers away). After years of running on antiquated software and hardware, it was time for the agency to upgrade.

In the traditional world of Windows, upgrades mean licenses for the operating system and the various bits of productivity software that comes with it. Keeping in mind that any IT organization requires some amount of administration and technical support, the costs for small to medium-sized businesses can still be substantial. For Legal Aid Manitoba, those upgrades covered a large geographical area.

While considering the Linux alternative, other interesting possibilities started to surface. Installing Linux on every PC certainly reduces the costs when it comes to licensing. Given the stability and security of Linux when compared to Windows, there are cost savings in terms of administration as well. Then, in the course of his research, Balneaves ran across the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). The LTSP provided an additional, very enticing possibility: What if you could do away with the process of installing all those PCs? Switching to Linux could be as simple having a workstation boot from the network, and then seconds later being able to get to work. No lengthy installs. A modern Linux workstation installation is already faster than a comparable Windows install (no endless reboots to install software and drivers), but seconds?

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