December 19, 2006

College puts KBOX to the test

Author: Tina Gasperson

Oregon's Portland Community College is one of the largest community colleges in the country, with 90,000 students, five campuses, and a huge network to manage. PCC's policy is to use open source software whenever possible because of its enhanced value. When Technology Solutions Services Customer Support Manager Michael Heuer wanted to find a way to streamline network management, he turned to KBOX, an appliance built on an open source foundation.

"We have a volatile environment," Heuer says. "We are trying to manage PCs across multiple locations, and we're using a lot of different software packages. It's quite a challenge. Trying to keep track of the software licensing count, and where the software was installed, took a lot of manual effort." Not only that, but Heuer had to use many different tools to manage different subsets of the IT landscape.

With an entire section of PCC's computer training department dedicated to teaching students how to use open source software, Heuer wanted to find one tool that would work with Linux, BSD, and Windows servers, because they plan to have all three. "We expect to grow in the Linux arena," he says, so one of the requirements for a network management application was that it operate on an open source software platform.

Heuer looked at KBOX and other server management consoles, such as Altiris, LANDesk, and Secure Elements. "The benefit of an appliance is that there is a limited amount of system administration required," he says. "System backups and release upgrades are fully automated, [so] we were able to add the KBOX to our architecture with very little impact to staff time." Heuer and his team scripted a formal scenario demo and had each of the finalists come on site and install their products in the test environment, "so we could do an apples-to-apples comparison."

PCC selected KBOX. "We really liked the fact that the underlying architecture employs MySQL and FreeBSD," Heuer says. "It has the open source software underpinnings we know are effective. We think those kinds of solutions are now mature and inline with our growth strategy. Open source also helps keep the cost down. Our KBOX cost about $110,000 for the appliance and five years of maintenance." Heuer says the proprietary "megasystems" were more expensive and had a lot of functionality PCC would "never use."

"The functionality [of KBOX] is excellent and it is easy to deploy," he says. "We don't need to staff up -- it's pretty close to plug-and-play, with minor configuration. We had it up and running in a couple of days."

Heuer says his transition challenge was with the school's multiple locations. "We have primarily a Novell network, but have some Windows domains, and so really stepping through how we deployed it took the most amount of time."

Heuer says PCC will continue to seek out open source software. "We like that we get the most for our software dollar," he says. "We're a public institution and look for all those value equations. Having a mature and stable open source platform is very appealing to us. We have also seen an increase in open source software being shipped by more vendors. That's appealing to us as well."

Heuer recommends that IT managers investigate all the possibilities when it comes time to consider open source. "Do a targeted deployment. Come up with a decision tree for your organization that will tell you the good spots to use open source and where it might not be a good solution, and then look for vendors who can support you."


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