Each desktop is running some flavor of Windows; BMW's corporate database system, which allows each dealer to display images and detailed information about car models, along with financing information, is not compatible with a Linux desktop.
The dealership also uses the Reynolds and Reynolds management system, which allows the service department to access inventory and parts databases. Not only that, but a separate accounting system handles financial issues and other internal operations.
"When we first approached Town and Country, they pointed out their requirement to meet BMW's corporate secure network access requirements," says John Gray of Bentor Technologies, a Canadian IT consultant. "We also had to support an open link in the customer lounge, with secure access to the Internet."
Town and Country's size, coupled with its complex IT needs, made for a nightmare when it came to keep the network secure from viruses and unwelcome intruders. "We met with them and said, 'we want you to think differently,'" Gray says. "'Move away from thinking about SQL Server and Internet Information Server running Windows 2000. We want you to sit back and look at Linux as a means of delivering these services into your dealership on a cost effective basis.'"
Gray and his colleagues at Bentor met with initial skepticism from Town and Country. They just weren't sure the Net Integrator Linux appliance Bentor was offering would be able to co-exist and even integrate with Town and Country's disparate systems.
Gray says his consultancy began offering Net Integrator products in the late '90s as a way to keep the total cost of ownership down for its clients. "People basically look at system acquisition as a combination of purchase cost and support," Gray says. "A lot of them are not enthusiastic about the ongoing need for service packs and bug fixes and ongoing maintenance that Windows requires."
That prompted Bentor to begin looking at Linux boxes for its customers. Those customers had to have a very stable system that was not going to be cost-prohibitive when it came to support. Gray says that with Linux, Bentor found it could offer a mail server, automated backup, remote access, virtual private networking, server side anti-virus, and Web server for around $5,000.
That was good, because Bentor had found its car dealership customers really didn't want to go any higher than $7,500 for total cost of ownership in an IT infrastructure. "They didn't want to feel like they were just going to have to go back and buy, and buy, and buy," Gray says.
Bentor consultants took Town and Country through a gradual rollout and evaluation period. It didn't take long for the dealership to feel the benefits of Linux integration through faster file access times and the elimination of virus woes and server crashes. That was three years ago.
Gray is optimistic about continued Linux adoption in small to medium-sized businesses. He says he has seen a 60% jump in Bentor's Linux related income over the past year, including new customer sales, upgrades, and expansions at various businesses such as childcare centers, home developers, and garment manufacturers.