August 23, 2005

Linux and VMware add up for Connecticut nonprofit

Author: Tina Gasperson

Family Services Woodfield (FSW), a nonprofit organization in Bridgeport, Conn., is dipping its toes in open source waters with the help of virtual machines.FSW helps families through difficult life situations: anything from illiteracy, domestic violence, or HIV, to helping a youth coming out of juvenile delinquency or a family caring for an aging grandparent. FSW maintains partnerships with other agencies it uses as resources, and it is continuously designing new programs to better serve its constituency.

The agency receives government funding as well as private donations, and so must keep up with reporting requirements, and since it provides psychiatric care for children, it must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). FSW is always looking for ways to get the most out of its $10 million-plus annual budget in order to better serve its client base of more than 23,000 people in the communities surrounding Bridgeport.

One way it has done that is to begin using Linux and virtual machines from VMware. FSW was a Microsoft shop before Joe Foran, the agency's director of IT, came on the scene seven months ago. Right away, he knew what needed to be done to save the agency significant money on IT costs. "I came over from Unilever, and I had participated a lot in their VMware projects over the last couple of years," Foran says. "I had a wealth of background and I knew where FSW could save money."

After making his case, the board of directors gave him free rein to purchase VMware and begin deploying it on two new Dell PowerEdge servers running Red Hat-based distributions. On those two servers are four instances each of Linux -- mostly CentOS and a basic custom kernel running a firewall. Applications running in Linux include CommuniGate Pro groupware, the LifeRay portal, Jive Messenger, a LAMP stack, OpenLDAP, Samba, and SSL-Explorer.

Foran keeps a separate Windows box going in order to house Medisoft medical billing software (for HIPAA requirements) and MIP accounting software. "Those are outside of the virtual environment," Foran says, "on the 'if it ain't broke' theory of operations management."

An anonymous donor recently provided FSW with 58 used desktops. Foran would like to roll them out to FSW clinicians, outfitted with CentOS 4, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Evolution, so he's performing desktop development testing with unused servers and VMware workstation.

Between Linux and VMware, Foran says he's saved the agency at least $79,000 in IT costs. "The cost estimate for rollout would have been about $103,000, but with what we did it ended up being $24,000."

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