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Armscor eyes open source

Armscor, the military version of the State IT Agency (SITA), is keen to shave millions off its IT budget by going open source and cutting out licence fees.

Armscor ICT enterprise architecture and infrastructure manager Mohamed Ganie say the body spends about R6 million a year on Microsoft licences alone.

“We have a large Microsoft budget that we want to cut and a mainframe budget we want to eliminate,” Ganie says.

He adds that the agency's obsolete mainframe is also costing the government about R6 million a year. Its fate will be decided in the first three months of next year.

Ganie says Armscor last year contracted Real IRM to help revamp the state organ's enterprise architecture (EA). “It is a lead player in the TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) environment and already doing a lot of government business,” says Ganie.

Armscor's move towards open source software is in line with government policy as contained in the Minimum Interoperability Standard (MIOS) for Information Systems in Government policy document published last month.

At the time, the Shuttleworth Foundation's intellectual property fellow Andrew Rens described the policy as a “big deal because it uses open standards”.

Rens said MIOS and, in particular, its adoption of the OpenDocument format (ODF) “shows government is serious about e-government, and serious about interoperability. In a knowledge society, open standards are essential to effective democracy.”

A matter of cost

For Ganie, the sheer cost of licensing is also a driver. “Going open source will, in future, reduce licence costs by at least 40%,” he says. “How do companies survive when they are slaves [to licensed software]?”

Armscor, says Ganie, is also in the process of consolidating its servers. Although the company has about 1 000 employees, it has 114 servers, which by March should be reduced to “less than 60”.

He explains the multitude of servers was in part a legacy, in part because of strict security requirements and in part the result of Armscor's decentralised location. While its head office is in Pretoria, it runs numerous research and development institutes, some as far afield as Simon's Town and Prieska.

Change management

Ganie says he is still resolving some issues around open source software. “We are sensitising the company, it is a matter of change management. People are used to Microsoft, but Microsoft is not an efficient system for enterprise.

“Open source is now quite mature in many respects and is used by SARS (SA Revenue Service), SITA's executive management and by FNB (First National Bank), where 12 000 people use it.”

The Armscor EA architect adds that the agency wants to spend some of the money saved on developing and customising open source applications to develop an “end-to-end open source system”.

He says open source enterprise resource planning, customer relations management and supply chain management software have become sufficiently mature to deploy.

This will be a step towards a “single managed infrastructure” within Armscor that will drastically reduce maintenance, server and support costs – and in an environment dominated by skills shortages – require fewer people to manage it, he says.

Related stories:
Govt OS policy boosts industry
Citizens win with interop standard
Govt takes first open source step
Fraser-Moleketi appointed OSS patron
Armscor wants R60m for IT
SMEs land Armscor deal
Govt-wide enterprise architecture looms

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