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Mississippi deal a landmark for Linux in government

Linux is the OS running a public safety information-sharing initiative in Mississippi, a project that could serve as a model for a similar nationwide program.

Mississippi, deep in the South, sits 2,100 miles from Silicon Valley. It's an unlikely setting for a technology milestone, but history may show that Wednesday was a landmark day for Linux use in a government setting.

U.S. Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) announced the completion of the initial deployment of the state's Automated System Project (ASP), a Linux-based mobile data infrastructure linking officials with public safety information. The project is funded by a $14 million Department of Homeland Security grant facilitated by the senators.

This is a huge opportunity [for Linux]. This project has the potential to be the model for other large regional or statewide information-sharing initiatives.
Chris Alley
Chief architectMississippi ASP Project

By the time the third phase of this project is deployed, police, fire and emergency medical personnel will have access to mug shots, arrest warrants, hazardous materials data and emergency protocols from laptops in their vehicles. Three Mississippi counties will initially deploy the project, but officials with ASP hope it soon goes statewide and regionwide, and eventually serves as a model for a similar national program.

Linux, meanwhile, is the core of this initiative. The initial architecture includes an IBM iSeries 825 server at the back end and two xSeries 445 servers running SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, an IBM DB2 database and Tarantella's Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition remote access software.

Traditionally an IBM AIX shop, ASP chief architect Chris Alley said he believed SuSE's multiprocessor support was better than competing distributions, and that cinched the deal.

"This is a huge opportunity [for Linux]. This project has the potential to be the model for other large regional or statewide information-sharing initiatives," Alley said. "If we are successful, others may follow suit."

Alley said this is the first time Linux is being used statewide.

"I definitely am an advocate for Linux," Alley said. "I feel we'll save money by using Linux where we can."

Security, meanwhile, is a huge consideration in this initiative and another factor in the decision-making process.

"This being a Homeland project, we have access to sensitive information," Alley said. "We are deploying this on a private network. We have a portal that enables access to the Net, but that uses SSL and is locked down to certain IP MAC addresses."


Read's coverage of the Mississippi announcement


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Governments worldwide, meanwhile, are falling hard for Linux. Munich, Germany and Bergen, Norway, recently announced huge Windows and Unix migrations to Linux. In the United States, however, few large-scale projects have been publicized.

"There's a natural affinity for Linux adoption in the government space. We've helped deliver Linux at the lowest-possible cost, even on the zSeries," said Jay Bretzmann, IBM director of eServer products. "We've done very well with the xSeries in the public sector and with financials."

IBM helped bring some of the ASP's iSeries legacy applications to the Web via WebSphere and DB2, Bretzmann said.

"We have taken a need, taken state-of-the-art technology and applied those elements to solve a problem," said Maj. Julien Allen, ASP director. "If it works and we do it cost-effectively, we are looking for this solution to bring the whole state together.

"Like the rest of the industry, we have built stovepipes that don't integrate and don't talk," Allen said. "We are trying to break those barriers to sharing information."

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