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Government IT Linux

The Woes of Munich's Linux Migration 314

mikrorechner writes "The H Online has a writeup of the problems encountered by LiMux (Wikipedia entry), one of the most prominent Linux migration projects in the world, trying to introduce free software into the highly heterogenous IT infrastructure of the City of Munich. Quoting: 'Florian Schiessl, deputy head of Munich's LiMux project for migrating the city's public administration to Linux, has, for the first time, explained why migrating the city's computing landscape to open source software has taken longer than originally planned.'" Here is Shiessl's blog, in which he details some of the transition problems.
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The Woes of Munich's Linux Migration

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Then their IT infrastructure will be homogenous.

  • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:45PM (#31542606)
    Everyone always underestimates how long anything non-trivial is going to take. In this case it seems like not only were they trying to migrate to a new platform, but also trying to undo every past mistake, oversight and quickly implemented solutions that appeared on the surface to work just fine. That's going to take just a little while to get done.
    • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:55PM (#31542744)

      Every major project always takes longer than expected because so many small details are exposed as you uproot any existing system or workflow process. Instead of looking at this as something that may have been "more trouble than they bargained for" we should learn from it and understand that migrating to Linux won't be any easier than migrating to or from any other platform. I think there are two things to take away from Munich's Linux migration:
      * It can be done.
      * Being on the leading edge carries with it a lot of responsibility to those who will follow you.
      • by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @07:05PM (#31545334)
        but it sounds like most of the problems were due to underestimating how many non-standard development tools and products were used and the trouble getting those over to GNU/Linux. Many of them required either the original vendor to port to an open standard or replacing the existing product with one which was based on open standards. The first option meant that most likely a Microsoft Partner Program member would have to be hired to provide the same product for the GNU/Linux clients. This might normally be an easier option except being a _Microsoft Partner_ often times means you are not allowed to work on other platforms. So the 2nd option is most likely their only choice and that is more expensive in that it would require all users to change the underlying software they currently use for the task.

        All in all, this sounds like confirmation that Microsoft's strategy of proprietary API's and patented IP was successful in making it costly to leave their platform. It also shows that it is not impossible and in the long run, it will probably be shown that getting off the Microsoft treadmill might be expensive up front but over time, become very cost effective. Rip and Replace most often ends up resulting in a better, faster, cheaper solution when managed well.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Everyone always underestimates how long anything non-trivial is going to take.

      That's Hofstadter's law []. "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."

  • by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:45PM (#31542622) Journal

    Converting all computers to the Open Document Format (ODF) standard has overcome dependency on a single office software suite.

    Does ODF now define formulas for spreadsheets? because my understanding was that this was still ambiguous in the spec, and it is a pretty big problem if it is.

    • I believe you have to use the non-ISO versions of ODF for formulas. I'm not sure OASIS has submitted anything newer than ODF 1.0 to the ISO.
    • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:59PM (#31542802) Homepage

      It's not ambiguous in the spec, it's undefined in the spec. But one thing is defined in the spec: a way to do application-specific spreadsheet formulas without breaking the standard and without conflicting with a standardized way of expressing formulas when it's finally standardized. The expectation is that applications will do formulas their own way, possibly recognizing other application-specific formulas (there actually aren't that many different formats). When formulas are finally standardized applications will begin using the standard and will convert any non-standard formulas they recognize into the standard form when the spreadsheet's read in, resulting in a quiet upgrade to the standard form.

      And in the meantime, ODF can be used for things like word-processing documents that don't require formulas without having to wait for one spreadsheet-specific feature to be completed.

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:47PM (#31542646) Homepage Journal
    1. Move them all into CLOUD computing 2. ??? 3. Profit!
  • Bad title is bad. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Statecraftsman ( 718862 ) * on Friday March 19, 2010 @03:49PM (#31542668) Homepage
    I recommend to read the blog as it's more informative and it's also rather optimistic. Not just woes as the title would lead you to believe. Of course making the switch to free software takes work, but it's a great opportunity for constant improvement and as Mr. Shiessl points out, there is much digital waste to be cleaned up on exit from the proprietary.
    • kdawson is a Microsoft shill. At least that's what I'm told.
      • Re:Bad title is bad. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:27PM (#31543206) Journal

        Can't speak to that, but having read the article, it bears little resemblance to the posting title. From what I can tell, this sounds like some mistakes in planning the migration early on. That would happen if you were moving to any new system, FOSS or proprietary.

      • Re:Bad title is bad. (Score:5, Informative)

        by mikrorechner ( 621077 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:35PM (#31543384)
        OP here. I have to defend kdawson this time - he just posted what I submitted.

        Myself, I'm certainly no Microsoft shill - I'm a Linux proponent, and interested in the LiMux project because I live in Munich.

        If the title seems overly negative, I apologize - I'm no native speaker and might have chosen the wrong words.
    • Re:Bad title is bad. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:10PM (#31542956)

      Very true, by the sound of the blog most of their problems stem from how poorly the systems were managed before. Different versions of Windows running different levels of updates; hundreds of authorized apps, many with overlapping or duplicate functionality; unauthorized applications that had made their way into the work-flows without being documented; proprietary software that didn't follow open standards. I wonder how much of their effort has gone into just getting their infrastructure should have been before the transition even started.

    • there is much digital waste to be cleaned up on exit from the proprietary.

      This is not a proprietary/FOSS issue. Every programmer knows that version 2 of the code is better than version 1. More than once I've "rm * .o" and gotten rid of more than just the objects on the way to recompiling them all, and every time that happens, the code I write to replace what went away is tighter, cleaner, and runs faster. I already know what works, I already know the processes, and I usually come up with a better solution

  • They're installing Debian, which takes approximately 18 - 19 years for a full install.

    This task involves downloading 142909 .iso images, burning and installing each disc on to every computer.
  • sounds like they spent a lot of money. what is the difference in spending the money on OSS compared to MS software? the software might be free, but it sounds like you will spend the same amount of money on making everything work like it did before with the same functionality

    • with MS, you've got the pleasure of renewing licenses and/or upgrading every few years ?

      • by dave562 ( 969951 )

        With in house you have the pleasure of spending money on developers. Either you pay Microsoft developers or you pay your own developers. Don't like MS developers? You can pay IBM devs, Oracle devs, India devs, Vietnamese devs, American... (who am I kidding).

        You CANNOT escape the fact that software requires maintenance. It comes down to cost. Is it more cost effective to do it yourself, or to pay someone else? There are benefits to each solution. You don't get a free lunch. How is an in house solutio

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by obarthelemy ( 160321 )

          aren't you missing something, in between closed source and custom ? like .. open source ? which is what TFA is about ?

    • by sammyF70 ( 1154563 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:12PM (#31542990) Homepage Journal

      They aren't trying to make "everything work like it did before with the same functionality". They could have

      We could have switched to linux clients in just a few months, giving the order to all 21 IT units to set up a linux client until end of 2008. No further specifications, no standardization and no consolidation. I’m pretty sure they would have done this excellent and then I would have published great news in 2007 or 2008 “LiMux done, Munich completely on free software”.

      but the aim is/was to move from a very heterogeneous network (in terms of used OS and software solutions) to some overall standard, which is why it takes so long.

      Can I still keep my geek card if I actually read TFA?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can I still keep my geek card if I actually read TFA?

        Hell yeah. Those haven't been bound to the /. Card for years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CityZen ( 464761 )

      It's not really possible to asses that. The article really doesn't have much to say about Linux, so much as it was about all the crufty patchwork of multiple systems they were using before. There's a big cost associated with continuing to use the current kludges, though it is difficult to assign hard numbers to, since they come in the form of lost opportunities and inefficiency spread throughout the whole organization.

      Moving to any modern, unified system, whether based around Microsoft software or OSS, is

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      I can think of some befits.
      1. The money be spent on in house staff and or local consultants instead of on Microsoft Software. That money will say in country and flow through the economy and not be exported out of country.
      2. Long term savings. Once the migration is done there will be no need to purchase new versions of Office, Windows, and other proprietary software.
      3. Enhanced expandability. To add a news server or clients do not require purchasing more CALs. also if you have spent the money on in house tal

    • If I remember correctly, switching to open source was more expensive than keeping the propietary software. But they still went for open source and open standards, because long term it would be more cheap - no licenses, possibility of choosing different software that implements the same protocol, posibility of choosing better software vendors, not just one...etc etc.

    • by Josef Meixner ( 1020161 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:25PM (#31543170) Homepage

      They hope to save in the future. As a lot of the costs are consolidating their terrible IT landscape it is not clear, what a migration to the latest MS offering would have costs, either. It is not as if it would have been free either, who knows how many of the macros would have broken down when run in a current version of Excel, who knows how many old programs might stop working on Vista (and be it due to a stupid installer). It would have been cheaper, at least probably because a lot would have still worked, but when they write that they found 21 different Windows setups with differing patch levels and security settings, I am not so sure if it really would have been cheaper.

      What they probably hope is, that the next migration will be cheaper, the OSS they use won't cost them to upgrade, the costs of the upgrade in work to be done by their IT department are probably not very different when upgrading a Linux solution from a MS solution. But all the work to get their systems closer to a common base might actually make the next big roll out simpler and therefor cheaper.

    • I wonder how much of the cost is migrating away from Windows and how much is migrating to Linux.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Todd Knarr ( 15451 )

      Well, migrating an entire organization to the newest version of Windows (with the accompanying upgrades to all the other MS software) isn't exactly cheap. That's why so many corporations are still running XP: they can't justify the costs of upgrading to Vista or Windows 7.

      I note that a lot of the problems they ran into weren't problems with the Linux-based software, they were problems with the proprietary (Windows and Windows-based) software not wanting to play nice with anybody else. One advantage of movin

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:02PM (#31542846)

    Previously, around 1,000 staff had been maintaining the 15,000 PCs making up the Munich computing landscape in 21 independent IT centres. There was, according to Schießl, no common directory, no common user management, no common hardware or software management. There were more than 300 applications in use, many of which did the same job. On the desktop side, there were 21 different Windows systems with different update levels and security settings

    You can't convert a bureaucracy like this anymore than you can build a political/military empire by invading a dozen good size countries and trying to integrate them all at once. Rome wasn't built in a day. They should have gone in first with the intention of standardizing things, straightening out all of the kinks and quirks each little fief had. All of the file servers here where possible, all OpenOffice there...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oatworm ( 969674 )
      By the sounds of things, that's kind of what they ended up doing. Thing is, when you have a hodgepodge like this, you have to standardize on something, and that's going to affect and change whatever is around that isn't already adhering to that standard (i.e. most everything). The problem that they had, near as I can tell, is they decided on the solution before they determined what the problem was - they decided they'd standardize on their LiMux client, then started filling in the blanks. Granted, with a
  • Wrong approach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sub Zero 992 ( 947972 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:03PM (#31542852) Homepage

    Well, they tried a horizontal migration strategy, moving from location to location and department to department. That meant the problems never stopped.

    A better approach might have been to do a vertical top-down migration: Servers: first roll out a directory server infrastructure, then a CIFS strategy etc.; Clients: migrate away from MSIE / Active X, then to CUPS, then away from MS Office etc.. And then, finally, to change the desktop OS out from underneath.

    A suggested strategy for those planning something similar: 1: migrate the server services (and create a shiny new unified and consistent infrastructure); 2: migrate the desktop apps to FOSS alternatives (chose apps which will work under your target desktop OS); 3: switch out the desktop OS for linux (the users retain the apps they have become used to).

    Just my 0,02

    • Re:Wrong approach (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:44PM (#31543498)

      A better approach might have been to do a vertical top-down migration: Servers: first roll out a directory server infrastructure, then a CIFS strategy etc.; Clients: migrate away from MSIE / Active X, then to CUPS, then away from MS Office etc.. And then, finally, to change the desktop OS out from underneath.

      They seem to have taken a more blended approach. A separate project was revamping many of the servers at the same time. They did immediately move away from MS Office to OpenOffice and ODF because they could do so without having to worry about the servers and they laud it as one of the biggest benefits so far. I don't know of any good reason why they should have held off on that. The problem with a top down migration is that many times you don't know what all the services inside your organization and out are actually used. So rolling out a series of Linux clients in every department allows you to discover what your platform specific dependencies are. In some cases they changed the Linux client to work with those services and in some they changed the services to work with Linux.

      A suggested strategy for those planning something similar: 1: migrate the server services (and create a shiny new unified and consistent infrastructure);

      The problem here is in your first step you may have broken a bunch of things and users will have to start changing the way they work. From their perspective you've downgraded the system. That's because they're using a client that does not work as well with your new servers as your Linux clients will. So you've just given the majority of your users a bad taste for the whole thing and generated tons of pushback that can kill your whole migration.

      I think it would make more sense to switch to as many platform agnostic applications as possible, first. Then implement the servers and desktops simultaneously in one part of the company, while letting the users have access to their old desktop via a remote session. Fix the compatibility problems and move on to the next chunk of the company until you can start repurposing the old servers and getting rid of the remote desktop sessions altogether.

  • Similar stories (Score:5, Informative)

    by diegocg ( 1680514 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:06PM (#31542890)

    Regional government of the autonomous community of Valencia (Spain) also switched [] to free software, last year they released a detailed report [] (english) of the problems they found and how they fixed it. It took a lot of time to complete it (4 years) and they still depend on propietary software for some systems. These migrations need a lot of work...

  • Why so prominent? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mark_in_Brazil ( 537925 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:22PM (#31543130)

    Why is the Linux migration project in Munich so prominent, as mentioned in TFS? I know of much larger migrations, both in terms of the number of computers and the geographic area covered. The Brazilian government has been migrating to Free Software in mass. The Bank of Brazil, for example, has over 100,000 computers running Firefox and BrOffice. As of last June, the estimate was right at 100,000, with 65,000 of those machines running Linux and 35,000 running other operating systems. The Bank of Brazil has branches and offices all over Brazil, which is a very large country. The mass migration happened in 2006, before the migration really began in Munich. The number of machines involved (counting the Linux boxes only) is about 5 times as large as the number of machines to be involved in Munich, and instead of being located in a single city, they are spread out all over a country that's larger than the US would be if it didn't have Alaska, but smaller than the US with Alaska (i.e., larger in area than the "lower 48" plus DC plus Hawaii). In the year 2006 alone, the Bank of Brazil estimated that it saved R$20MM by using Free Software.

    FWIW, I've also seen Linux desktops at the ITI (Brazil's IT Institute). Even totally non-nerdy ITI employees seemed perfectly at home on Linux desktops when I was there as long ago as early-to-mid 2005. The Bank of Brazil branch where my company has its account has all Linux desktops. The managers who take care of my account think it's funny when I crane my neck to look at their monitors and geek out on the software their 'puters are running. They are total non-nerds and not only appear to be happy with the Linux desktops, but told me they are. It took them a minute to figure out what I was asking - they didn't think of using Linux desktops as anything all that unusual.

    • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @07:31PM (#31545548)

      Why is the Linux migration project in Munich so prominent, as mentioned in TFS?

      Because the guy who wrote it is German and lives in Munich.

      There's nothing stopping you from writing up a submission about Banco do Brasil yourself. You seem to have access to a source with a whole bunch of good information, I'm sure a success story like the one you described would get coverage on slashdot too if someone made the effort to submit it.

  • Because ripping out an infrastructure that relies on closed-source proprietary software and replacing it with free, Free software is hard. Really, really hard.

    Yes, it's easy to rip out that clunky old Exchange server that has never really worked right, and slap in something running Exim and Courier-IMAP. The tricky bit is all the little edge cases and micro-applications - things that are *really important* that rely on someone running an Excel macro on the right machine at the right time. No, I'm not say

  • by bigredradio ( 631970 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:35PM (#31543360) Homepage Journal
    la la la la la la la ...I can't hear you la la la la la la la
  • Perspective (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday March 19, 2010 @04:42PM (#31543456)
    How does this compare to the problems experienced by people migrating 15,000 clients running various Windows releases to Windows 7? Is migrating to Linux more or less costly than migrating to the latest release out of Redmond?
  • by Pav ( 4298 ) on Saturday March 20, 2010 @03:32AM (#31547966)

    How come in these discussions noone ever mentions the software they're using (eg. GOsa, see [] ) ? GOsa is a web admin front-end which allows management of clients and servers through an LDAP based infrastructre and RPC backend. Services that can be managed include Samba+PDC, email+groupware, FAI & OPSI (for auto-install of Linux and Windows clients), DNS, DHCP, Squid, Asterisk, Linux terminal server clients, and quite a bit more. It IS very hard to get working though.

    Hmmm... I just noticed that Munich is no longer listed as a reference on the GOsa site - I wonder if there is a story there.

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