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The slow but steady march of open-source

Technology executives talk about why they chose it, what it was like to implement and some of the advantages of moving to an open platform.

By Rosie Lombardi
October 10, 2006 12:00 PM ET

ITWorldCanada - It may not be taking the world by storm, but open-source still has a growing and determined group of adherents. Technology executives at two Canadian users of the technology, Pioneer Petroleum and Vancouver Community College, talk about why they chose it, what it was like to implement and some of the advantages of moving to an open platform.

Money isn't everything. People love finding good deals, like stumbling across an inexpensive but delightful wine. And then they will buy it again -- not because it's cheap but because it's good.

That's the pattern that's emerging with many open-source implementations. Driven by cost containment pressures, many cash-strapped organizations are turning to open-source applications for relief. But once they've implemented a system component and found it is good, they come back for more.

Pioneer Petroleum in Burlington, Ontario, is one such example. The company is the largest independent gasoline retailer in Ontario, with 150 retail locations, many in remote rural locations. Thanks to rocketing gas prices, Pioneer is feeling the pinch. "It's a strange scenario. We have to buy our product from the companies we compete with," explained Dale Sinstead, director of IT at Pioneer.

To pump up revenue sources, the company recently revamped its business model, retrofitting its locations with general stores, fast food and car wash outlets. But Pioneer now had a mass of new data requirements to manage at each site and collaboration with new vendors and suppliers to contend with. "We needed something we could manage from a centralized location that was robust, so we wouldn't have to worry about the midnight guy playing with the computer," said Sinstead.

Pioneer had already done some toe-dipping into Linux for a few years at the server end, and decided to take the plunge last year and implement Red Hat workstations at the client end, with IBM's Lotus Notes for Linux as the collaboration glue binding the system. "We couldn't possibly put Windows machines out there without having to hire a whack of people to manage them," said Sinstead, who estimates he avoided spending about $89,500 per year, net of licensing fees, in extra support costs.

Better still, the system is so robust that current resources can be painlessly stretched further. "Our administrative costs have gone down because we found we could do more without hiring anyone."

Teething pains

There were some initial hiccups. One thing Sinstead's team overlooked was printer drivers for Linux, but a search of online resources resolved that. Some of Pioneer's suppliers balked, as their online ordering systems were designed to work in Microsoft Windows Explorer. But they were persuaded to make a few changes so e-commerce transactions would work with Firefox browsers.

Reprinted with permission from Computerworld Canada. Story copyright 2012 ITworldcanada.com. All rights reserved.
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