State Agencies Use Open Source to Cut Costs, Too


The further the economy slumps, the more stories we see in the tech media about companies turning to open source, or investing further in open source, to save money. The latest is this piece from LinuxInsider.com, which explains how companies like E*Trade are trimming their budgets using open source software.


A few weeks ago, Tech News World suggested that unlike businesses, few state governments are adopting open source -- economic downturn notwithstanding. Though that may be true for state governments overall, I have found since then that the same may not be true for state agencies.


For instance, the Massachusetts Geographic Information Service (MassGIS) makes use of servers and software from OpenGeo (a division of the Open Planning Project, based in New York City) to make all of the geospatial information for the state available for other state agencies, and to a certain extent, for the public. OpenGeo CEO Chris Holmes told me in a recent interview that the agency serves up all of the state's aerial photography and maps -- 600 or more layers of map information, he said -- using open source technology.


It's the extra capacity provided by open source that allowed the agency to open the information to the public. And it's information that's used in a variety of ways -- from property valuation and taxation, to transit system mapping and routing to zoning and planning. And though he says MassGIS made the decision to go with OpenGeo before the economy began to show signs of trouble, Holmes indicated that the organization has seen an increase in interest of late.


Added capacity is also a driver for Michael Tutty, an enterprise architect for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, who says his organization is consistently pointing clients toward open source, especially when it comes to Web hosting and application integration. In a recent interview, he said:

We're trying to move away from the more expensive platforms and toward virtualization. We can take a server, and under Linux, we can get 200 applications on that one server. Under Windows, however, we can only get 25 or 30 applications on a similarly-sized server. So it's a big driver for us to move everything over to Linux-based hosting.
As for application integration, Tutty says Iowa DAS "stumbled across" Jitterbit tools when the organization was having problems integrating an ERP system. He noted:
It was open source. You could just download it. It had a very robust forum -- thousands of postings and a lot of responses from the principals at the company. It looked like a viable thing...I downloaded it, and an hour later I was doing something productive with it.
Deborah Bryant, who directs the Government Open Source Conference, agrees that open source integration tools are popular among government agencies, as are network monitoring and management tools. Three things are driving continued government interest in open source in these areas, she told me recently:
The applications have matured to what we call "enterprise class..." There are more vendors and systems integrators available that are open source savvy and can help support that process -- because governments are never going to go it alone. And the third piece is, more agencies are finding each other looking for use cases and networking and learning from each other.