Today's common platform is a far cry from the situation a few years ago. "We had a lot of everything and not much of anything," says Art Gloster, Bryant's vice president of information services. "We had a mixture of multiple processors, vendors, and operating systems." The mishmash of different systems combined with inefficient use of server capacities made the IT department's job more difficult. With 74 servers in three locations, sometimes it was a matter of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing.
To provide cutting-edge technology services to its students and faculty, Bryant decided to standardize on Linux. "Our intent was to really concentrate and build a single platform system," says Gloster. "The idea was to consolidate as many servers as we could and move toward [using] the same operating system." Gloster and his staff knew they wanted to go with an open system that was both economical and secure, and going with Red Hat Linux on IBM hardware was an easy choice. "IBM's announcement about supporting Linux across all its platforms made the decision easier from my point of view," Gloster says.
The standardization project has had some interesting results. Gloster reports they've been able to consolidate down to about 50 servers, with more shrinkage sure to come. "As we've gone down this consolidation road, they've started to come out of the woodwork," Gloster says of the "stealth servers" they've discovered around the campus, where people had converted their workstations into servers in order to circumvent some of the security controls. "They found out it was better to go with the central systems because of the stability of the network," he says.
Gloster says the university has realized a "major" savings in personnel costs since the project came online early in 2004. It's hard to pinpoint an exact dollar amount since some of the savings comes from department offices no longer supporting their own systems. But, Gloster says, there's been no need to increase the information service staff, and on top of that, he's brought many outsourced maintenance tasks in-house. "We've become more efficient, we have a robust network which is the foundation of our whole organization, and instead of buying services externally, we've retrained our people, and they've been able to step up."
Bryant is sticking with Windows on the desktop for now, but Rich Siedzik, Bryant's director of computing telecommunication, says that could change. "We have talked about trialing Linux in some of our classrooms with diskless workstations that download a small client running a Citrix-type application."
Siedzik says now that open source is proving itself on the Bryant campus, some formerly Sun-centric IT staff are seeing the light. "There was some reluctance, but now there's really been a cultural change with them. They're more pro-Linux. They saw some of the capabilities, and some of those barriers of having to deal with Sun support are no longer there," he says. "There are many utilities for open source that just aren't there for Solaris."
Gloster has nothing but good things to say about the transition, and he encourages other educational institutions to make the switch to Linux. "It's very stable, and with the capabilities of open source, you have choices."