Council saves with open source

Penwith District Council expects to be among the e-government trailblazers and save at least £150,000 in software licence fees...

Penwith District Council expects to be among the e-government trailblazers and save at least £150,000 in software licence fees thanks to an innovative network based on desktop terminals and Star Office software.

The network of Sun Microsystems Sun Ray terminals, which covers 240 users at eight key council sites, will link staff directly to a suite of Sun Solaris servers through a graphical user interface, removing the need to load and maintain software on individual desktops.

Andy Mann, head of IT at Penwith, said, "We are going live with all 240 users at eight sites on 5 February. This will enable all staff to access a full suite of admin tools, Internet access and e-mail as well as their range of corporate IT systems."

Smartcard technology will be introduced to enable staff to "hot-desk", he added.

Mann highlighted the financial benefits of using Sun Ray technology compared to a similar Microsoft-based system. He said, "A similar Microsoft solution would have initially incurred approximately £150,000 extra in licensing fees, with the strong likelihood of further significant charges for software upgrades."

These could be as much as £40,000 a year, he added.

The authority's current total IT budget is less than £500,000 a year, and it hopes to save one third of that with the implementation.

Mann, who is keen to emphasise that Penwith is not "anti-Microsoft", confirmed that the council's network of Sun Rays will also link up with about 20 Windows-based PCs. He said, "We are not trying to exclude Microsoft, what we are trying to do is build an open solution where everything can be linked."

Nonetheless, the project is likely to arouse significant interest across local government, where many councils have reacted angrily to Microsoft's licence changes, which the local government IT managers' association, Socitm, has predicted could cost town halls as much as £80m over two years.

Robin Carsberg, president of Socitm, described the Penwith initiative as very interesting, and confirmed that the society's own negotiations with Microsoft over licensing are continuing. He said he was "hopeful" that they will help to reduce the cost of Microsoft software for its members.

Penwith officials also predict that the council's Sun Ray network will help to provide local residents with access to a full range of online services by mid 2004, a full year ahead of the Government's deadline.

Jim McKenna, chief executive of Penwith District Council, said, "I would like to think that we will be in the top few councils which are first to achieve full compliance with the e-government targets."

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