Charles Hagen saved approximately $10,000 when he used Linux and Apache to set up his nonprofit Web hosting business, and now he’s hoping to save tax dollars using the same formula.

The TechRepublic member, owner of Hagen Information Technology in Watertown, WI, also used Linux to set up a nonprofit organization, The Kevin Hagen Foundation, to help children suffering from leukemia as his son was dying from the disease in December 1999.

From the outset, there was no question as to what OS Hagen would use to drive his foundation Web site project.

“Linux seemed to be the answer when we first decided to undertake this project,” said Hagen. “It was free, had a great and easy-to-configure Web server, and could run on something less than a supercomputer,” he said, adding that he ran it on a generic PII server. “Our server cost less than $450 for the whole kit and caboodle.”

Now that Hagen has used Linux to establish an organization that worked to save lives, he’s hoping to help his local municipality benefit from using the open source system as well. But he’ll have to turn the tide on an impressive amount of Microsoft loyalty before he can help save his local community some hard-earned tax dollars.

Still saving lives

Since its inception, The Kevin Hagen Foundation has merged with a group called One Voice Across America, which raises money for the National Childhood Cancer Foundation. Both groups support the families of children battling leukemia. Hagen’s company still hosts a couple of sites, including the Wisconsin Knights of Columbus. Hagen is currently investigating setting up an integrated e-commerce site for the nonprofit organization, where people can make donations online.

Attractive features
The features that first attracted Hagen to Linux—especially its reputation for stability and security, as well as its no-cost licensing—are the same features that he believes should make it a boon for his local government.

“The cost was free, and when you’re a nonprofit organization raising money, that’s an important factor,” he noted.

Also important was the relative lack of maintenance: Hagen’s Linux server at one point had an uptime of two years, and Hagen claims he’s seen Windows NT hacked in 31 seconds.

“Two years without having to reboot—you’re not going to find that with any Microsoft system—not one, new or old,” Hagen said. “The open source community has people picking things over and checking things every day. It’s tested daily by thousands of people.”

Hagen even claims that Linux and the Apache Web Server are easier to set up than the alternatives. “As soon as Webmin came into the market, Apache became a walk in the park.”

Webmin is a Web-based interface for system administration for UNIX. Using any browser that supports tables and forms (and Java for the File Manager module), you can set up user accounts, Apache, DNS, file sharing, and so on. Webmin consists of a simple Web server, and a number of CGI programs that directly update system files like /etc/inetd.conf and /etc/passwd. The Web server and all CGI programs are written in Perl version 5, and use no nonstandard Perl modules.

Hagen first operated his Web host service with a T-1 DSL line, a generic ATX form server with 256-MB generic RAM, and a 15-GB high-speed drive. He used a 100 BaseT Intel NIC card and started with Red Hat 6.1. He now uses Red Hat 7.3—and is looking into the Linux distribution’s 8.0 version—all free for the downloading.

Pitching Linux to city leaders
Hagen, whose company sets up Linux networks and telecom systems and installs and administers Microsoft and Novell LANS, used a similar model to bid on a city government project this fall.

The city project would provide Web access through six or seven cable modems, each with up to eight simultaneous virtual private network users. The bid included a Linux server with centralized e-mail for about 60 current users.

Two competing bids for the city project came in at over $17,000, not including the cost of the cable modems, while Hagen’s bid was $9,000.

The savings, which are similar to savings Hagen estimated on his Web hosting business, are based primarily on license fees, including a Windows 2000 server and license.

“A couple of jaws in the room hit the floor when I showed them that,” Hagen said. “It was great.”

Hagen also argued the city’s costs could significantly increase under Microsoft’s new licensing program, the Software Assurance Program, if the number of users grew.

The city, which Hagen prefers to keep confidential for now, liked the bid but balked because the setup didn’t include a Microsoft Exchange-like component so users could have similar functionality to Outlook.

Hagen is researching alternatives so that front-end users could still use Outlook on their desktops.

Despite a potential savings of $8,000, the city has not yet accepted Hagen’s bid. “They already have a small Exchange package, and some of the people don’t want to give up the features,” he explained. “The Microsoft bias I’ve come across with just one or two people is really incredible. (They’re) promoting a product that’s twice the cost and doesn’t allow for growth, and is insecure but needs to be secure.”

Hagen also said that the city leaders should be reviewing Microsoft’s security record compared to an open source system. “Hack into the network, and what do you have access to? Let’s see: police records, insurance records for the city, tax records, the fiscal records for the city—they’re a matter of public record, but [if a hacker were to] change a few numbers, chaos would unfold,” he pointed out.