July 28, 2005

Linux pumps up fitness retailer's network, desktops

Author: Tina Gasperson

Fitness equipment supplier LA Gym Equipment is getting its information technology in shape by moving from Windows to Linux.LA Gym, founded in 1988, sells fitness equipment from 13 locations around Southern California. The company also has a commercial sales department that consults with and outfits professional gyms, providing layout and design help, delivery, and installation of equipment.

Windows was giving LA Gym's IT manager Brian Scott a workout every time more than one user accessed a file on the network at the same time. "The company was having trouble with Paradox 4.5 lockups," Scott says. Every time it happened, "it forced us to ask 75 users to log off and wait" while Scott and his staff got the network unstuck. The problem was Windows' annoying little habit of locking in-use files.

Paradox is a relational database that LA Gym uses to keep track of inventory and manage sales. The executable must be installed on each individual workstation, while the data is stored on a Citrix server. It is DOS-based, but LA Gym executives weren't interested in upgrading to a GUI product.

When Scott came on board last March, he saw that "everyone pretty much relied on Outlook and Microsoft Office," and because none of the company executives realized that most of the instability and frequent network-wide lockups caused by file sharing problems could be blamed on proprietary software, no one was champing at the bit to switch to open source software.

Scott devised a plan to switch to Linux. "I proposed a solution for reliability and better security -- SUSE Linux. It took me a while to convince the president to move to open source.

"I took the Paradox database and made an isolated environment with it, running SUSE [on a file server]. I showed them that by running it off an open source platform, it didn't lock up," because Linux allows more than one user to open a file at the same time. Scott's boss agreed that the Linux file server stopped the frequent network lockups and allowed him to deploy it company-wide.

"Our first step was to get about 40 workstations upgraded and the printers online with HP Jetdirect print server boxes running with Novell iPrint. Setting up the NetWare servers and migrating the users over from connecting to NetWare instead of Windows NT was not a big problem at all," Scott says. Since the company wanted to stick with Paradox, Scott installed SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with VMWare GSX. "We used GSX to run multiple Citrix servers in order to house the Paradox database. The final step was the hot swap of the database from the NT server to NetWare, which was pretty easy since NetWare fully supports Paradox."

Making the switch to Linux has been good for network security and stability, but it's been great for the bottom line, too. Scott says the company has saved at least $400,000 in licensing fees, upgrades, and new software purchases, as well as realizing payroll savings with reduced staff needs.

But, Scott says, LA Gym isn't really done with its Linux conversion yet. "When we're done, the 13 stores will be running Novell Linux desktops with instant messaging and OpenOffice.org, as well as Paradox," he says. By moving the desktops to Linux, Scott hopes to save even more money, as well as tech support labor. He expects that conversion to be complete within eight months.

"Twenty percent of our employees are already running OpenOffice.org on Windows. Our first task was to train them on OpenOffice.org; then we will switch to Linux." Converting employees to OpenOffice.org brought formatting problems when converting files from Word format. "When people first used OpenOffice.org, the formatting was somewhat distorted," Scott says. "We sat down and worked out the differences with them. Now we have everyone first create their documents in OpenOffice.org." Other than that, the migration hasn't caused any problems. Says Scott, "It's been pretty easy."


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