HOW AND WHY FLOGAS USED LINUX
HOW AND WHY FLOGAS IRELAND LTD USE LINUX
What are we using Linux and open-source software for?
Flogas Ireland Ltd has a history, like most companies: it runs a mix of
operating systems for historical reasons (see "How did we get to where we are?"
below for why). Linux has become an upgrade path for us, when we want to
upgrade, and a vehicle for new systems.
We run Linux on a EUR 4,000 Dell server that came pre-installed with
RedHat, having hardware Raid and a hot-spare drive plus redundant PSUs and
network cards, so I don't have to worry excessively about hardware failure. I
suppose the initial attraction for me was no licensing costs, allowing me to
experiment with introducing services on a no-cost trial basis. It now supplies
our DNS service, via bind; our internal web site, via Apache, which gradually
has become the centre of our staff communication (it hosts all our ISO 9000
system, staff and customer safety information, and good gossip via our Social
Club's section); finally, all our newer databases use Firebird running on
We are switching our email system to run on it (using a Cyrus IMAP
server). We could use standard email clients like Netscape, but because there
is open-source code available, we are going to run an in-house IMAP client that
uses the open-source Indy IMAP client for Borland's Delphi - this allows us set
out own security and policies within the client, as well as allowing us to give
them the same "look and feel" as their existing client, minimising training
Some time ago, we tried OpenOffice with a number of users on a pilot
basis, which worked very successfully, and are now switching most PCs to
OpenOffice 18.104.22.168, giving us a mix of significant savings and a wider spread
of applications. Our email client will also be using OpenOffice as a "viewer"
for all Microsoft attachments.
We are adding a Linux box at a remote site, to give us an off-site
backup of critical files. Actually, "backup" is not quite correct - it will be
using rsync nightly to update its copies of files with the infrequent changes
to the central ones, which will not take up much bandwidth yet ensure we always
have an off-site copy of our critical files, giving ourselves and our auditors
more comfort from a disaster-recovery point of view - while it may appear to be
a waste of a decent server, it is "small beer" in the context of auditing costs
and risks, and both cheaper and more convenient for us than keeping off-site
tape backups. Anyway, since most of our files are on Novell Netware servers, we
will be using Novell's file serving and account integration software to
integrate the box fully into our Netware system (standard on Netware 6,
relatively cheap for Netware 5). A point to note is that just because we are
adding Linux boxes to our system, it does not mean that they cannot be
integrated into our existing system: anyone who uses Novell's NDS system would
be very reluctant to give it up, because of its ease of user and printing
services administration, but in this way they can integrate Linux boxes into
their system and get the best of both worlds.
And who knows what we will install tomorrow...
How did we get to where we are?
To realise why Flogas eventually added Linux, it is necessary to
describe the history of our system.
Possibly somewhat similar to a lot of other companies, the initial
Flogas computer system consisted of dumb terminals running on an IBM System 34
mid-frame (a simpler world, way back then).
A few stand-alone PCs were bought by Flogas for word-processing, running
a DOS-based word processor called Samna. Subsequently, a small, 4-user, network
was added, to deal with the complexities of our service calls (I am really
talking about a long time ago!) it ran on a Netware 2.1 fileserver using
Borlands Paradox as the shared database. More stand-alone PCs were added,
generally just doing word processing, and PCs gradually changed to a Windows
word-processor called Ami Pro (now, after many transmutations, IBMs Lotus
The need for file sharing, printer sharing (particularly printing to
remote printers), a reliable backup strategy for the PCs, plus adding an email
system (ccMail), resulted in more PCs, all being added to a network, and
becoming a network of nearly 100 PCs using Netware servers across three sites.
At this stage, the network was running Novells IPX only. The IBM System
34 became a System 36 and then an IBM AS/400, gradually getting integrated into
the network, particularly when the AS/400 was fitted with a TCP/IP interface.
Around this time, Linux started making an appearance, and it seemed
interesting, particularly because its history was rooted in TCP/IP, and so
conceptually appeared to be better suited for running TCP/IP services. However,
RedHat was at version 5.X, and installation of Linux for me was problematic at
that stage there always seemed to be some component that would not work
properly (maybe a network card, a video card, or a mouse). It was
experimentation territory for a novice like me at that time, and somewhat
To me, it all changed with the release of Corel Linux 1.0 (regretfully
now dead). It installed perfectly, but more significantly, it was able to set
up a web server with a few mouse clicks the world had changed, and
Corel's input put it up to the other Linux vendors as well as the application
writers - straightforward installation programs rather than source-code
compiling had arrived. My favourite example of this currently is installing the
Firebird database server - download it and run it, it asks no questions, but it
installs itself, gets itself running, and makes sure it starts up when you
reboot (though typically for Linux, you don't need to reboot often, and rarely
after installation) - the ease of getting a rock-solid SQL database server set
up is quite eerie, compared to the prior convolutions needed when Interbase was
Anyway, suddenly for me, Linux was no longer a curiosity, but a
solution. Still somewhat experimentally, I added a desktop-specification PC
running Linux as an internal web server (as well as the DNS server Bind, so
that I could administer the network more easily), and we began a process of
consolidating all our information needs onto that web server guidance
notes for staff, safety statements, and gossip. The fact that we were running a
mixed TCP/IP and IPX system was not (and still is not) an issue the
systems and the possibilities complimented one another.
The next surprise to me was that Linux databases matured rapidly
IBM was releasing DB2 for Linux (at this stage, our financials were running on
an IBM AS/400, which ran DB2) and Borland changed their database, Interbase, to
open-source, and this open-source version was (and is) developed by the
Firebird group. In addition, Kylix was released by Borland, and my initial
tinkering with it showed me that, irrespective of whether it achieved perfectly
portable code, I had a Linux development environment that was familiar to me as
a Windows developer.
What became obvious to me at this stage was that Linux had become a
serious server platform: Kylix, rugged databases, a web server that worked
effortlessly, a respectability by the availability of OEM installations by
vendors such as Dell and IBM, and a realisation that the original lowly desktop
PC running Linux for our internal web site had never been rebooted since it had
been set up.
All the staff had become dependant on the internal web server, albeit
unconciously unknown to them, so it was time to take Linux more seriously: I
bought a Dell PowerEdge server, with disk and power-supply redundancy, which
came pre-installed with RedHat 7.3, which was a relatively dirt cheap but rock
solid tool ...and there was no licensing costs...
That is the history of how Linux started to meet our needs. There are
many applications that we could switch to Linux, but you don't have to - a
mixed-mode environment is not a problem, "horses for courses" is fine. We still
run our core financials on an IBM box (now an eSeries) running legacy System
34/36 code - we don't want to port it because of the associated risks, and we
don't have to (because it integrates fine), but that does not mean we cannot
develop new solutions on Linux that co-exist happily with the rest of our
Technical Services Director
Flogas Ireland Ltd
30th August 2003