Linux Usage in the Public Sector

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The interest in and adoption of open source software in the public sector has grown substantially during the past five years. Although primarily driven by the quest for cost savings, federal, state and local governments also are recognizing open source software as a way to develop customized applications that will enhance security and boost performance.



“Open source usage in the public sector really has grown from seeds to the point where governments have gained confidence in open source and Linux and are now deploying it for a wide variety of business needs,” said Merry Beekman, senior program marketing manager for the public sector, Red Hat. “Specifically, they are looking at open source and Linux as a way to move off their legacy systems, free up resources — both money and people — to work on new projects.”



Beekman said the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been at the forefront of channeling funds for large-scale open source development. A 2002 report by MITRE Corp. for the DoD highlighted the role that open source software already plays — not only in research and development programs but also in production of mission-critical applications. In addition to MITRE’s report, the DoD recently released its Open Development Technology (OTD) Road Map, which outlines a plan to implement OTD practices, polices and procedures within the DoD.



“It outlined how they could use open source software to develop software that would have high reusability in other agencies or branches within the DoD, thereby leveraging its investment in developing code,” Beekman said.



Today, Linux and other open source software are applied for infrastructure or server deployments, Beekman said, more so than for desktop adoption.



“The infrastructure and server types of deployment are where, typically, you see a lot of open source and Linux usage,” she said. “You don’t necessarily see that level of adoption for desktops and client use unless they are analysts or a technical workstation. Where we are starting to see the emergence of Linux adoption in desktop is in the education space — specifically K through 12 — where they are starting to look at the Linux desktop as something that can be brought into the schools inexpensively.”



In addition to reducing expenditures related to proprietary software adoption, governments worldwide also view open source software adoption as a way to become independent from particular vendors. This recognition, however, comes with its own set of challenges — Beekman said many federal, state and local governments are struggling to understand the open source acquisition process.



“Governments are looking at their current software-acquisition processes and questioning how they acquire open source software, as well as understanding the licensing associated with it,” Beekman said. “The acquisition process is somewhere where there needs to be more understanding in the public sector. Many times governments feel more comfortable if they have a company to call such as Red Hat or MySQL or Novell, so they know where to get support. They want to have that support because when there are issues, they need to be able to call people.”



Despite such hurdles, open source software adoption in the public sector is expected to grow as more government agencies gain insight into the overall benefits of integrating their proprietary systems with open source software. Beekman said the enrollment in training courses at the Red Hat centers in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia attest the increase of Linux adoption in the public sector.



“Although the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia area is not exclusively government, much of the training there is for government-related use,” she said. “Our class enrollment has grown 60 to 50 percent over the last year, and revenue has increased around 35 percent over the last year in just training. This shows a significant increase in people learning about Linux and just shows the fact that Linux usage is a growing trend — especially in the public sector.”

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