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The Wrong Choice: After picking NT, Trampoline firm leaps to Linux

Super Tramp Trampolines took a leap of faith and moved its systems and data to open-source from NT 4.0, which had quickly maxed out running commercial applications.

Three years ago, U.K.-based Super Tramp Trampolines bought a proprietary application and chose to run it on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. Both the application and the platform quickly maxed out. So the company took a "safe" route by upgrading to Windows 2000 Server. Soon, the truth hit home: Super Tramp had made the wrong choice, twice.

Super Tramp manufactures water- and UV-resistant outdoor trampolines that are designed to endure many years of use. The company needs an IT network as stable as its products, said Rick Timmis, IT director at Jardine Prentis (UK) Ltd., Super Tramp's parent company. Playing it safe with Microsoft hadn't worked, so Timmis made a "leap of faith" and decided to migrate all Super Tramp's systems and data to open-source.

Super Tramp had been using NT 4, running Microsoft's Exchange Server for three years prior to the migration. At the time, Timmis served as the company's Windows administrator. The firm used Sageline 50 for accounting and Windows 98 on the desktop, served by an NT file server. They implemented a fat client network that had evolved with the business, expanding about 30% annually.

Soon, the company began to experience stability issues with Windows 98 and inherent problems with Sageline 50, because its access database wasn't robust enough. The growing number of users was causing multiple file locks. In addition, Timmis said, the NT file server was struggling, despite being reasonably reliable. "You only need one hole in the system for everything you're doing to fall over," he said.

About a year before the company's Linux migration, Timmis replaced the NT 4 Application Server with Windows 2000 Advanced Server. Still, Timmis said, the Windows network was unreliable. "The terminal server began revoking licenses that we'd purchased for clients to use it." Next, the Windows 2000 server "began to fail and give stability problems as well."

Timmis' plan was to pull out everything proprietary and give Super Tramp greater stability with a Linux-based network. "There certainly was some obvious concern," he said, because he needed to be certain all the necessary applications would be available on Linux. Timmis embarked on a three-month research project.

Then Microsoft introduced its Volume Licensing Program, which would have cost the company 20,000 pounds "to remain static" with the systems it was already using. According to Timmis, this became a persuading factor in Super Tramp's decision to migrate.

He presented his argument: The company could keep an unstable system that would cost 20,000 pounds "or step out on a limb." Despite the untested stability of Linux on a desktop level, Timmis trusted Linux at the server level and was able to persuade his company to give it a try. "We wanted a system that would work, day in and day out," Timmis said.

The migration was planned as a three-stage operation that would take place primarily during the early part of the year, since the busy time for trampoline sales is during the summer and early fall months. Super Tramp deployed using Virtual Network Computing (VNC), providing customer relationship management on a Red Hat server.

The next step was to implement Linux on the desktop. Super Tramp had planned a gradual migration. However, the company's Microsoft Exchange server failed, then its file server. "The decision had to be made whether to restore the servers or move in a new direction," Timmis said of the decision to migrate fully to Linux. "I just deployed it."

"We used a business application called Mobius, which incorporates accounting, SOP, POP, CRM and workflow management. Mobius is a proprietary application, but [it] presents a powerful and cost-effective solution when running on Linux," Timmis said. That Linux implementation is still working, and Super Tramp can now boast that it's had more than 450 days of concurrent uptime.

Super Tramp now runs a 99.5% open-source shop, using, Mozilla Web and e-mail, GIMP, Sendmail and SmoothWall. The company now has only one PC running Microsoft Windows (because of its user's skill with Adobe Photoshop). The company soon began to reap the rewards of its migration, in the form of improved staff morale and smiling faces -- something management couldn't help but notice.

The Linux migration proved to be so successful that "the managing director thought we should consider replicating it," Timmis said. The company decided to help other businesses implement Linux and founded STTechnology, of which Timmis is now chief executive. Employing a programmer and a Linux systems administrator, STTechnology, which is based in Devon, England, the same area as Super Tramp, put together a team to help clients follow Super Tramp's migration example and has moved another company, Devon-based NutriGold, "across to a stable open-source, Linux environment."

Timmis called Super Tramp's migration an "absolute, fantastic success." He said, "At the time we made the transition, it was a leap into the void -- one which paid off and proved hugely successful." And that has the company and its clients jumping for joy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: news exclusive: "The Wrong Choice: Locked in by license restrictions" news exclusive: "The Wrong Choice: Firms balk, considering Linux too bleeding edge" news exclusive: "The Wrong Choice: Company rejects Linux, learns a lesson"

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