When companies buy offices and manufacturing plants, Information Services support isn’t always part of the deal, and that means tech executives often face the task of establishing new services for employees.

That’s exactly the scenario that MIS Director Lisa Gibson at PalletOne, the nation’s largest manufacturer of shipping pallets, found herself grappling with when her company bought 12 manufacturing plants from Houston-based IFCO Systems last fall. Gibson needed to act fast to support 125 employees, at 12 different locations, who no longer had a centralized Web server, e-mail, file and print services, or Internet access.

While she had the opportunity to rent IS services from IFCO, there was a high cost involved. Instead, Gibson opted to use IFCO’s IS systems for a limited time while searching for a cheaper alternative.

Why open source won out
With the aid of Orlando, FL-based MASC Data Systems, a training and consulting company specializing in UNIX/Linux and Windows interoperable solutions, Gibson choose to use open source systems to solve PalletOne’s IS needs.

She purchased two HP servers running Open UNIX 8 because the UNIX platform provided a stable environment to run Linux applications. Gibson also selected Caldera’s Volution Messaging Server, a Linux application with functionality similar to Microsoft’s Exchange Server, the mail server at IFCO. For file and printing services, PalletOne went with Samba. For its Web server and proxy server, Gibson elected to run Apache and Squid, respectively.

WorldCom installed a new T1 at PalletOne’s headquarters in Bartow, FL, and fractional T1s to 11 other offices within eight weeks. A two-person team from MASC Data Systems set up, tested, installed, and verified the servers at PalletOne in seven days. In the end, the changeover cost around $60,000.

The selection process
Gibson chose a Linux solution largely because of the low overall cost of setting up and running the services, she said. The tech leader was also comfortable with basic UNIX, noted MASC president Mark Fishman, because PalletOne had been running an AIX machine for a custom application.

MASC Data Systems and Gibson evaluated several hardware and software vendors and chose HP NetServers because of compatibility, features, price, and onsite maintenance availability, according to the consultant.

Among mail server applications, MASC evaluated several solutions; Caldera’s Volution product won out due to price, upgrades, and reliability. The tech team then added extra virus protection to boost security features.

A few glitches
Although installation and operation of the Linux solutions went smoothly, Gibson did run into a few problems.

“My users run different versions of Windows and setting up e-mail to run on each computer was interesting, to say the least,” acknowledged Gibson.

With persistence, patience, and time spent drafting up basic user documentation, Gibson eventually got users to establish new e-mail, file sharing, printing, and Internet access services on workstations. A key part of getting it all to work was making the documentation overly simple so users could easily follow it, she said.

Despite the users’ hurdles, the servers and the new back office services have run remarkably calmly since installation last November, said Gibson. The system has only been rebooted twice following updates and external power problems.

“I would do it all over…wait, did I actually say that?” Gibson said with a laugh. “I am glad we are moving away from Microsoft, and I am pleased with the solution we chose.”