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Hungarian city of Miskolc: Saving €3,000 per user per year on licenses

Author: Adrian Offerman

After a false start, the Hungarian city of Miskolc is now in the middle of a transition to an open IT environment. Despite the higher complexity of the current heterogeneous infrastructure, the city administration is already saving €3,000 per user per year. Although the administration was not able to reduce the number of applications, it did manage to dramatically reduce the costs of Microsoft licences.

In 2009, under the leadership of the vice-mayor, the administration of the city of Miskolc in Hungary started a transition to open source software and open standards. The primary goals were to reduce costs and find alternative solutions for IT services.

At the start, under the control of service provider Open SKM (in Hungarian), there were no project-like qualities attached to this transition: it had no roadmap, no stages and no milestones.

According to Dr. János Kovács, head of the Miskolc IT department, the plan also included some bad ideas, like converting document formats from .doc and .xls to .odt and .ods, respectively, as part of the move from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice. The original plan was to process as many as 600,000 existing documents to free the city from its data lock-in. However, important questions concerning the rationale and cost of this conversion were not considered.

Open SKM was the first partner in this project and they started the implementation in 2010. It should have been completed by the end of that year, but they are still working on some tasks. These will be finished by the end of 2012.

Refocus

After an election in 2010, the new city administration decided to continue with the open source project — despite serious project management issues — but in a completely restructured way. The priorities of the various project parts were changed, and the company Rendszer Kontroll (in Hungarian; System Control) was asked to provide professional consultancy and project management services.

The project control committee also extended the scope of the project to include:

  • IT service centralisation;
  • full IT infrastructure consolidation (of both servers and applications);
  • transition of IT services to open source based solutions, such as a central service desk, and a central project control and management information system.

All in all, the focus basically shifted from the desktop to the server side. The project now includes the entire IT infrastructure of the Miskolc mayor's office, converting all existing IT service functions to open source and implementing new open source solutions.

The new project

Based on the centralisation and consolidation of IT, the project aims to:

  • reduce cost of Microsoft Office licenses;
  • fully convert the implementation of all IT functions to open source, and where this cannot be achieved, to minimise the cost of licenses;
  • create highly automated, reliable, and secure systems, based on open technologies.

More specifically, the city will:

  • convert 500 clients to the Linux operating system, deploying Libre Office, creating a central template library, and training users in Ubuntu Linux, Calc and Writer;
  • convert all server systems to Linux, and introduce server virtualisation;
  • replace all server-side services with open source solutions, i.e. mail, network perimeter protection, and network and systems management (UPSes, storage systems, and general application and service management, featuring SMS notifications);
  • deploy OpenLDAP, create login scripts, and centralise authentication;
  • develop automated client installation (operating system and Libre Office, update repository, and printer installation);
  • introduce open source tools for remote services;
  • perform tasks involving migration and file conversions;
  • deploy Open-AudIT, as well as an individual monitoring application running on Linux or an emulator;
  • deploy a high-availability terminal server installation for Windows applications;
  • support custom applications, using an open source engine for incident and change management;
  • develop a management information, project management, and project tracking system using an open source engine.

The criteria for success are:

  • the transition should be transparent, without disturbing the users' daily work;
  • the migration tools should not require additional resources;
  • temporary additional server resources should be provided through virtualisation;
  • the new open source systems should deliver at least the level of service and availability of the previous system, and the operation should not require additional human resources.

The deliverables of this project are:

  • a new open source based infrastructure;
  • documentation for the applications and custom-made software;
  • manuals for users and operations;
  • well-trained users, training materials, and study aids;
  • a trained team of operators, operator training materials, and study aids.

Starting point

Miskolc, in north-eastern Hungary, has a tradition of heavy industry. Home to 170,000 people, it is the fourth largest city in Hungary, behind Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged.

The mayor's office houses over 620 employees, each with his or her own computer system. Currently 80 per cent of these computers run Windows, 20 per cent run Linux. Computers are constantly being replaced, and new systems invariably come with an Ubuntu Linux installation. Of the more than 60 server systems, half are now running Linux.

At the first start of the project on some of the PCs both Microsoft Office and OpenOffice were installed. In line with the security policiy of the mayor's office, applications are now centrally managed, so users can no longer install their own software.

At the same time, the city is building an internal cloud infrastructure. In the future, PCs will be virtualised, and desktops will be replaced by thin clients and mobile devices.

Open source server software

On the server side new open source services and applications were installed, including Moodle (an e-learning platform), Postfix (a Mail Transfer Agent, MTA), Samba (a workgroup file and print server), Horde3 (a PHP-based groupware/collaboration development suite), OpenLDAP (an open source LDAP server), IlohaMail (a web-based mail client), ILIAS (a web-based Learning Management System, LMS), and Drupal (a PHP-based Content Management Framework, CMF, and Content Management System, CMS).

The most important requirement for these packages was that they should work together with the remaining Windows servers. The open source applications also needed to provide a high level of security.

Lessons learned

The most critical part of this transition was to change the mentality and habits of both users and decision-makers, Kovács says. Initially the users did not believe in this project. Even well-trained users still had serious doubts. Yet we managed to migrate our users without any reduction in service quality or functionality, and we did not require any more operational staff. So we confuted their fears through practical training and the success of the project itself.

We do not use Windows emulators like wine to run problematic programs. We have no issues with the character encoding. And because we have not gone ahead with bulk conversion of existing documents from DOC to ODF, we have had no problems there. The main problem we have is with the documents we receive from the national government, companies and other institutions. They send us Microsoft Word and Excel files containing special macros, causing compatibility problems with our open source office software. So in one to two per cent of cases we have to open the documents using a Microsoft Office program. We wish we could ask our partners to stop sending us documents containing macros. The lesson we learned here is that external factors make it impossible to fully migrate to open source software at this moment.

These issues sound familiar, and are a good example of how proprietary technologies can lock in a complete market, and frustrate individuals migrate to the open world. For the German city of Freiburg this is the very reason to consider ending the use of the open source office productivity suite OpenOffice and revert to Microsoft Office for all of its nearly 2,000 desktop systems. The Freiburg administration is experiencing serious interoperability problems because the ODF standards (Open Document Format) are not yet supported by other local, regional, federal and European public administrations.

Results

Obviously, a heterogeneous IT infrastructure like this is much more complicated to run and maintain than a homogeneous infrastructure. Despite the higher management costs of this environment, the city of Miskolc is already saving €3,000 per user per year.

According to Kovács, this is an important motivator for the users. Their experience is not better or worse than it was on the Windows computers; to them it is just a new system. They do have a lot of problems with the office software, but our IT department is helping them to make it work.

We have found it very easy to get and keep the users involved and enthusiastic, says Kovács, as they are all very aware of the savings we are achieving using open source software. Since this is an ongoing project and we are migrating users constantly, these savings are increasing every year. And because of budgets reductions, we need to continue this transition to open source.

Although Miskolc has not been able to reduce the number of applications, which was one of the targets, it has managed to dramatically reduce the costs of Microsoft licenses. The training of users on all the new software is still in progress.