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Open source movers: IT director Bryan Tidd moves a city to Linux

IT director Bryan Tidd started the city of Canton, Ga., on the road to Linux and open source software as soon as he got that job in 2000.

If the big names in Linux and open source are the shakers, then the movers are the unknown people in the trenches -- the IT shops. It's IT managers who convinced their companies to use Linux, made it work and now put open source software in the corporate IT fast lane.

Bryan Tidd
Bryan Tidd

IT director Bryan Tidd, for instance, started the city of Canton, Ga., on the road to Linux and open source software (OSS) as soon as he got that job in 2000. A devotee of Linux since trying Red Hat Linux 5.0, Tidd plans to move as much of the city's IT systems to Linux and open source as he can.

IT managers like Tidd have played the Linux/OSS card well, knowing when not to shove a round peg in a square hole. This restraint has kept enterprise Linux and OSS on the plus side in successes.

In this interview, the first of our profiles of open source movers, Tidd describes a day in his work life, his early computer experiences, and his Linux and open source successes.

Why did you start switching the city of Canton's IT systems over to Linux?

Bryan Tidd: In 2000, I ported the financial applications to SuSE 6.2, and they're now on Red Hat 3 AS. I [also] moved the mail system (from Microsoft Exchange on Windows) to Red Hat 3 AS in 2004. It saves us money in license fees annually and fits with the city's stand to not spend one more dollar than appropriate to provide the best service. [Read more about Tidd's move off of Exchange in Rapidly growing city bets its future on Linux messaging platform.]

What mission-critical open source apps is the city running?

Tidd: Our accounting system is open source, and I'm moving some of my J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] needs to JBoss.

What open source tools and applications do you use as an IT manager?

Tidd: I use Eclipse and several plug-ins for Eclipse. Also, Apache Foundation software is common here.

IT director Bryan Tidd's first encounters with PCs, Linux

"I was just a kid when my older brother got a computer [TI TRS-80]. It had two floppy drives, one for the system disc [and] one for storing programs. It was like Mr. Spock beamed us down the coolest thing ever. I was immediately hooked. My brother would let me play with it from time to time. Sometimes [I used it] when he didn't know it. I'd leave a little basic program repeating things to the prompt like, 'I ate the last can of Spaghettios.'

"I started using Linux with the release of Red Hat 5. I had to buy the Motif license, and we ported to Linux for a cost saving for our customers; nonprofits, local governments and schools. It took time for customers to get comfortable with the idea of using Linux, as there were few third-party support offerings back then."

Are there any city of Canton apps that just can't be switched to Linux?

Tidd: Yes, currently some of my development tools only run on Windows (ESRI ArcInfo, for one). Then, there are those [users] dead set on Microsoft Office.

What innovations have you made using Linux?

Tidd: I deployed Terminal Services and Citrix to speed PC deployment. I use thin clients as much as possible, employing appliance-based security and vulnerability systems. [For more on this project, read this article: Cutting out Windows and fat clients.]

What's next on your agenda for the city of Canton?

Tidd: I'm working on a Macromedia Flex-, ESRI ArcIMS-based Internet GIS [geographical information system] application [running on Linux]. It is to connect spatial and relational data to make information more approachable and available by putting imagery and data together. One instance would be thermally mapping water usage in the city to assist in the water and sewer capital improvement plans.

Let's move from the general to the specific: What did you do at work today?

Tidd: I worked with finance to prepare for audit, tax bill generation, and spec'ing out PCs, thin clients and servers for the new fiscal year.

Then, I did some [Macromedia] Flex development, had a meeting with stakeholders in the city's community center about IT needs, and extracted data from our utility billing, real estate and business license systems to provide a list of eligible addresses for YMCA–City Rate, as well as for culling residential addresses for the preparation of the roll that will be used in the November elections.

Next, I worked out some details on a presentation for the XML 2005 conference in November and on meetings while in California for the Macromedia MAX conference. Also, I devoted time to my favorite pollster [i.e., this reporter].

What IT trends do you find most disturbing and most exciting?

Tidd: The most disturbing is outsourcing. If the person writing the code doesn't know the wheres and whys of the processes and procedures, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

The most exciting is enterprise acceptance of open source and Rich Internet Client applications.

What was your first IT job?

Tidd: After graduating with my masters in physics, I got married and decided that a good paying job was necessary. The perpetual student got a job.

I started at a small software company, RDA Systems. My duties went from support for existing clients to implementation and data conversion for new clients. My title was senior systems integrator. It was basically a do-whatever-needs-to-be-done job. All the applications I supported were based in Unix using Motif X-Windows systems.

What would your dream IT system look like?

Tidd: I dream of having the funding and people power to bring more of my dream applications forward. Maybe I'd head up a larger IT group that needs to be turned around fiscally, productively and spiritually [as in morale]. I like problem solving.

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