UPDATED: White hats don Red Hat

U.S. Marshals' move to Linux OS saves money, adds security

The U.S. Marshals Service is switching the databases at all 94 of its district offices in the United States and its territories to Red Hat Linux.

The Marshals expect to have as much as 80 percent of their production databases and all of their data running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux by the end of June, said John Campbell, an information technology specialist for the Marshals' Justice Detainee Information System. The move will include all databases for prisoner information, some financial databases and decision-support systems.

Red Hat Enterprise Server is cheaper and has better features than the Sun Microsystems SCO Linux the Marshals have used for years, Campbell said. 'It was a natural for us to consider Red Hat as an [operating system] to run on,' he said.

The federal government is following the lead of financial and other private-sector enterprises by simplifying its infrastructure, said Paul Smith, Red Hat's vice president of government sales operations.

Since starting the Red Hat government sales division in February 2005, the company has reported sales increases of 40 percent overall and 80 percent in the government sector. The company is doing a significant amount of business with the Justice Department's Criminal Division, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI.

'The whole IT community is really behind Red Hat,' Campbell said. Application and database vendors are making more products to run on it, he said.

Because Red Hat provides open-source software, it's easy to download a free evaluation copy, Campbell said. It also doesn't have to run on proprietary equipment like Sun products do, which lowers the total cost of ownership.

'Agencies don't have a ton of money to spend,' Campbell said. The Marshals expect to save $50,000 to $100,000 a year by using Red Hat.

Another benefit is that Red Hat Network allows the Marshals to patch and monitor servers remotely, Campbell said. That's important because the agency doesn't have IT staff in every office to update software manually, he said. 'This makes our life so much easier,' he added.

The Marshals are using Red Hat Enterprise Server Version 3.0 for most applications and are introducing Version 4.0 on some machines, Campbell said. When Red Hat releases Version 5.0, due in December, the Marshals will consider it, too.

Red Hat supports other software the Marshals use and provides better technical support than other vendors, Campbell said, adding that Red Hat supports Enterprise Server 3.0 for eight years, while Sun only supports SCO for five.

Upgrading operating systems allows federal law enforcement agencies to migrate from the proprietary applications and hardware they have, said Helmut Kurth, chief scientist and lab director at atsec, an IT consulting firm that evaluates products for Common Criteria certification.

The Marshals chose SCO Linux years ago because it was one of the first operating systems that ran on the Intel Pentium processors the agency has, Campbell said. Solaris and other operating systems now run on Intel machines, but the Marshals prefer Red Hat, he said.

Federal agencies want uniform software platforms to run on varied hardware, Kurth said. 'Linux is one of the few [operating systems] that can achieve that and provide the security they need,' he said.


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