|By Maria Winslow||
|June 15, 2004 12:00 AM EDT||
When the North Carolina Cooperative Extension needed to overhaul the computer system for 1,200 users in multiple remote locations, systems programmer administrator Janyne Kizer found that Linux on thin clients was the best solution.
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension is a joint effort between the state of North Carolina, most of the state's 100 counties, and NC State University. Each participating county has an office that accesses the system, which serves a network of agricultural support staff. 4-H agents, state agricultural agents, plant pathologists, etymologists, and other staff make use of the network to assist farmers with agricultural management. Ninety servers are spread around the state to support 1,200 users, with some as far as six hours from the IT support staff's location.
From Solaris to Problems with a Windows Test DeploymentThe decision to use thin clients had been made long ago, since the Extension had been using Solaris on thin clients from NCD. When it was time for a large-scale upgrade, the original plan was to switch to Windows terminal servers. But to make Windows terminal servers work, many of the workstations would have to be upgraded, making the move more costly than expected. The team started the process anyway, and set up 10 Windows servers as a pilot.
The servers were set up to synchronize their Active Directory settings, but problems were encountered. Many of the counties still had low-bandwidth connections, and because the servers had trouble synchronizing under those conditions, there were some days when some users couldn't log in at all. Eventually, it became clear that a Windows deployment wouldn't work within the limitations of the available network speed and current number of IT staff. The team found that the network infrastructure simply wasn't adequate to support Windows terminal servers. With state and local government budget constraints, upgrading the networking wasn't an option. According to Rhonda Conlon, director of Extension Information Technology at NCSU, the network cost alone to upgrade to T-1 speeds would have been nearly $65,000 per month. So when the team turned to Linux, it wasn't primarily because of the cost savings of software licensing. They were simply looking for a solution that would work within their existing environment so they wouldn't have to upgrade the network.
Linux Thin Clients Did the JobWith Unix experience, it was natural to turn to Linux. Kizer and her staff decided to test Linux terminal servers on the existing thin-client systems. If it worked, then they would deploy Linux for the whole system. They chose Red Hat from a short list of about three distributions. One factor was that Red Hat was based in their home state, and they liked the idea of using a North Carolina company. There was also a campus computing environment at NCSU already using Red Hat, and they wanted to take advantage of existing expertise.
They put together the basic applications that users would need, then put out some beta test servers. They had the first site up within six weeks. Next, they installed Linux servers at five sites. Everything worked just as they needed, so they deployed a total of 90 servers to complete the overhaul.
The thin-client hardware, some of it seven years old, was easily reused with minor memory upgrades. Red Hat was chosen as the distribution provider, along with StarOffice, BlueFish (HTML editor), GAIM (AOL-compatible instant messenger client), Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail, the Netit text editor, and GIMP (a Photoshop-like program).
Kizer tried to maintain continuity wherever possible, so as not to change everything all at once. Users were already familiar with Netscape browsing and e-mail, for example, so going to Mozilla was easy for them. The Extension purchased a support contract for StarOffice.
Kizer said, "We are a very small department, with one system administrator, two support people, and two part-time undergraduates working the help desk. We are able to handle 90 remote servers and 1,200 users. We would have needed many more people to handle a Windows deployment, but we couldn't hire people because of budget constraints. Linux solved a lot of problems for us."
As Conlon says, "We were willing to spend the money on Windows, but we couldn't make it work with the network infrastructure. When we factored in other things such as additional support costs, hardware upgrades, etc., then it was clear that we needed to go with Linux." In the end, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension enjoyed significant savings. Conlon's estimate of the initial license savings is about $368,000. The ongoing license savings is about $150,000 per year.
User AcceptanceUser acceptance has been a bit of an issue, but Kizer believes some of it is simply the resistance to change that is common in government environments. "A user recently got upset that a file he created at home in Microsoft Word wouldn't open in StarOffice. When we looked at it, we found that it wouldn't open in Word, either. Because the software was new to him, he was quick to blame StarOffice, when the problem was really a corrupt file." She has found that users will sometimes complain in a general way about their new systems, but when asked what work-related tasks they are unable to do, they don't have specific complaints.
End users receive training from their local office technology liaison and from several trainers employed by the state. The IT staff gave a series of train-the-trainer sessions, and the training staff did the rest. The local technology liaisons also help users with issues. None of the IT staff has received any formal training in Linux.
Support IssuesThe only real problem uncovered after deployment of the new system was solved in house. When some remote sites ran into problems printing from an envelope feed, Kizer uncovered the source of the problem as an incomplete printer driver. Her team solved the problem themselves by fixing the driver, and submitted it the Linux community. You don't have to be an expert Linux kernel hacker to improve the operating system. With access to the source code, you can make changes to meet your requirements, and bug fixes will benefit the community at large.
The free support has been the best available for Kizer's team, but they have also purchased support from more than one open source vendor. Her strategy in keeping current on technical issues is to read technical books and magazines, and become active on the local Linux User Groups lists. Kizer is lucky to have two groups nearby with plenty of expertise - NC State has one on-campus, and there is also a very active group nearby in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
'My Life Is Easier Now'Kizer's advice to other technical managers thinking of migrating to a Linux thin-client solution is to go ahead and do it if you can. "It just makes your life a lot easier. It's super easy to support, with great disaster recovery. When we started this project, we typically had an average of 100 problem tickets open at any given time. Now that we have made the switch, we have under 25 open tickets at any given time. We probably spend as much time supporting the 100 on-site Windows users as we do the 1,200 offsite users. The system is very stable."
Open Source Software Utilized
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension provides Linux desktops on diskless thin-client hardware with all the office basics for 1,200 remote users scattered around the state.
Open source products used are:
- Red Hat Linux on diskless workstations
- Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail
- BlueFish for HTML creation
- GAIM for instant messaging
- GIMP for image editing
- Netit for basic HTML editing in plain text
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
May. 28, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,315
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
May. 28, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,479
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participa...
May. 28, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 969
We’re entering a new era of computing technology that many are calling the Internet of Things (IoT). Machine to machine, machine to infrastructure, machine to environment, the Internet of Everything, the Internet of Intelligent Things, intelligent systems – call it what you want, but it’s happening, and its potential is huge. IoT is comprised of smart machines interacting and communicating with other machines, objects, environments and infrastructures. As a result, huge volumes of data are being generated, and that data is being processed into useful actions that can “command and control” thi...
May. 28, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 905
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
May. 28, 2015 11:08 AM EDT Reads: 370
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fil...
May. 28, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,326
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
May. 28, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 4,544
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
May. 28, 2015 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 3,153
The worldwide cellular network will be the backbone of the future IoT, and the telecom industry is clamoring to get on board as more than just a data pipe. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Evan McGee, CTO of Ring Plus, Inc., discussed what service operators can offer that would benefit IoT entrepreneurs, inventors, and consumers. Evan McGee is the CTO of RingPlus, a leading innovative U.S. MVNO and wireless enabler. His focus is on combining web technologies with traditional telecom to create a new breed of unified communication that is easily accessible to the general consumer. With over a de...
May. 28, 2015 06:00 AM EDT Reads: 5,021
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
May. 28, 2015 05:00 AM EDT Reads: 6,257
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
May. 28, 2015 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 6,723
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
May. 28, 2015 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 7,168
Grow your business with enterprise wearable apps using SAP Platforms and Google Glass. SAP and Google just launched the SAP and Google Glass Challenge, an opportunity for you to innovate and develop the best Enterprise Wearable App using SAP Platforms and Google Glass and gain valuable market exposure. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian McPhail, Senior Director of Business Development, ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, outlined the timeline of the SAP Google Glass Challenge and the opportunity for developers, start-ups, and companies of all sizes to engage with SAP today.
May. 28, 2015 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 5,392
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
May. 27, 2015 11:00 PM EDT Reads: 6,432
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
May. 27, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 5,796
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
May. 27, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 6,464
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
May. 27, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 5,398
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT.
May. 27, 2015 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 6,848
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
May. 27, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 6,333
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
May. 27, 2015 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,568