Telstra goes open-source

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Telstra goes open-source
Michael Sainsbury and Kelly Mills
SEPTEMBER 02, 2003

TELSTRA, Australia's largest technology company, has nailed its colours firmly to the mast of open source software, creating a potential nightmare for Microsoft and sending shivers through a range of traditional platform providers.

Under Project Firefly, Telstra switched on a desktop trial in March using two flavours of Linux and a Citrix-based Windows system, aimed at shifting up to 85 per cent of its computing desktops to thin-client technology.

Telstra chief information officer Jeff Smith said he was determined to end a history of internal duplication and technology incompatibility by deploying open-source software right across the telecoms giant, which spends $1.5 billion each year on information technology. He aims to slice this cost in half within three years.

"I would see a big movement from Windows and Unix to Linux," Mr Smith said. "One of the by-products of Linux having its heritage in Unix is that it is a very stable operating system."

On desktop trial are Sun's Star Office on Linux, native Linux applications such as the Gnome graphical user interface, and the Mozilla browser.

Telstra is also testing a Wyse thin-client terminal with XP-on-a-chip using Citrix.

"It's almost thin-client but not entirely," Mr Smith said.

"We decided to use the desktop as the beach-head for testing web services, not as the end product. Let's go on thin client, and take the arms and legs people out of fixing PCs.

"That generally hasn't improved in 20 years, I don't care what anybody says. The price of PCs has gone down but the average cycle change is still three years.

"We have about 250 desktops in pilot and our goal is to complete that pilot with about 500 at the end of October, draw our conclusions and rapidly roll it out.

"Now we are talking about moving from a three-year upgrade path to a month. That's the key."

Mr Smith said the savings could be huge, with a total cost of ownership reduction of about 40 per cent.

S2 Intelligence analyst Bruce McCabe said Telstra's plans were "laudable" but "too aggressive to meet expectations". "There is nothing new in the concept of reducing desktop costs by moving to thin client.

"However, it is not a magic solution to hardware life cycle costs. They will still need to refresh, and the change over to Wyse would be quite big."

Mr McCabe also questioned whether applications in use within Telstra would be suited to open source.

But all is not entirely lost for Microsoft.

Apart from its thin-client trial, Telstra would retain NT servers for "simpler applications", Mr Smith said, and about 6000 core knowledge workers would retain Microsoft desktop applications.

However, whether those apps will be delivered over a thin client or conventional desktop is yet to be decided.

Mr Smith said the needs of Telstra's workgroups would determine the types of applications and platforms used.

He reaffirmed that Solaris would be the Unix standard.

"We have a number of different ones, but the two big ones are HP-UX and Solaris and we don't need two Unix flavours," he said.

"Right now, by numbers, we have more Windows NT boxes, because we have LAN servers, file servers, applications servers. Linux is small because it is at its introductory stage.

"Unix is where most of our production systems are."

Mr Smith said Telstra's giant SAP finance system, now on HP-UX, would eventually move to Linux.

"The other important thing about Linux is that Sun supports both," Mr Smith said.

Last year, Telstra announced that Sun Microsystems would provide the basic SunOne platform for its web services.

"SunOne runs on both Linux and Solaris," Mr Smith said. "If we need huge scalability we will use Unix. The billing platforms will be in that environment.

"We will be using Linux for web servers and applications servers. We are going through some stuff right now, looking at Windows 2003 as well, and 64 SQL Server.

"Microsoft will be used for simpler things, such as workflow applications -- things that tie into MS active directory service, which we use internally."

Telstra was building a two-tier web service infrastructure, with Microsoft's .NET and the open-source J2EE on SunOne, he said.

"We chose SunOne because it has the best integration from the operating system up to the portals. That stack is much more extensive than Microsoft's," Mr Smith said.

The real game for Telstra appears to be choice and interoperability, and testing is under way there, too.

"We have demonstrated Outlook with Sun mail and a Ximian mail browser on Linux, with Exchange at the back end.

"If we can make those things interoperate, we have options," Mr Smith said.