Virus deluge prompts Atlanta suburb to take up Linux

Canton, Ga., Mayor Cecil Pruett, left, and IT director Bryan Tidd expect both savings and e-mail safety after converting users to Oracle collaboration Suite.

For Bryan Tidd, director of technology for the town of Canton, Ga., the Nimda worm was the last straw.

Tidd updated his antivirus software religiously, yet Nimda still found its way by
e-mail into city systems, leading to three consecutive 18-hour days of cleanup. He decided to look for a new e-mail server.

Like many other government administrators, Tidd had been running Microsoft Exchange Server.
He found a Linux alternative in Oracle Collaboration Suite, which provides e-mail, calendaring, file sharing and searching built around an Oracle database management system.

'Once people find out about it, the Collaboration Suite will be an Exchange killer,' Tidd predicted.
The city now suffers from fewer viruses, and he enjoys easier administration and licensing, he said.

As a booming suburb of Atlanta, Canton has a population of 7,709 and a staff of 120 public servants ranging from firefighters to utility clerks. Tidd, the sole IT employee, must work with a small budget while planning for growth.


When Nimda struck last fall, he was running Microsoft Exchange 5.5 for e-mail and scheduling on a Dell Inc. server under Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server. At the time, Tidd was testing Exchange 2000 but had not yet installed it because of configuration problems.

To clean up Nimda's mess, he was forced to delete some users' e-mail folders and, in some cases, entire mailboxes.

'No system is completely safe, but we have to look for the best solution out of the box,' he said.
As an old Unix hand, he wanted to replace Windows 2000 with a Linux variant, which he considered easier to secure. But to do so, he had to find an e-mail server that could support e-mail clients with features similar to Microsoft Outlook, which city employees were comfortable using.

Tidd considered SuSE OpenExchange server software, now sold by Novell Inc., whose groupware supports Outlook 98. Then he heard at a technology conference about Oracle Collaboration Suite.

He bought 80 seat licenses for $4,200, which he said was less than the cost of upgrading to Exchange 2000. The city also purchased a dual-processor 3-GHz Dell PowerEdge 4600 Xeon server with 8G of RAM and 120G of storage configured at RAID Level 5.

Tidd installed Red Hat Linux Advanced Server 2.1 from Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., plus the Collaboration Suite, which includes the Oracle9i enterprise DBMS and Oracle Application Server. He imported the list of employee log-in names and passwords, already in Lightweight Directory Access Protocol format, into Oracle's LDAP authentication directory. The whole installation, including Linux, took less than seven hours, he said.

'I never used Oracle before,' he added. 'It made a believer out of me.'

Weekly maintenance time dropped from about four hours with Exchange, largely applying security patches, to about 15 minutes, he said.

Another timesaver came from reducing the number of desktop applications, which meant fewer support calls. Users can access all Collaboration Suite software by browser.

Originally, Tidd had switched the city's employees over to Oracle's Web-based reader, but when some of them pined for Outlook, he added the option of accessing mail through Outlook, which the suite also supports. Outlook retrieves e-mail through an Internet Message Access Protocol session with the Oracle software.

The suite also has the same interface for the Outlook calendar feature. So again, Tidd gave employees both options. Today, about half the workers use Outlook scheduling, while the rest use Oracle's similar scheduling software.

'The nice thing is that it doesn't matter which you use,' Tidd said.

Microsoft Corp., however, has stated that the Oracle Collaboration Suite supports only some of Exchange's e-mailing and scheduling features and does not have group scheduling and advanced spam blocking features.

In addition to e-mail and scheduling, the DBMS serves as a file repository where users can share files in personal workspaces.

'If someone wants a workspace, they can do that without coming to me to set up the security attributes they need,' he said.

The single DBMS also relieves some of the burden of learning different file-handling and storage peculiarities for each new application. The search feature can search across different application files that use the single database.

Should Tidd's operation grow beyond the capacity of the Dell server, he said, Canton could buy a second box and use Oracle's Real Application Clusters software to spread the application and storage loads across the two machines.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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