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IDA issues Open Source Migration Guidelines

Open Source Migration Guidelines

IDA has recently published guidelines for helping public administrations across Europe migrate towards Open Source Software (OSS). With over 87,000 downloads in their first two weeks of availability, these guidelines have generated wide interest in the e-government and open source communities in Europe and beyond.

The IDA Open Source Migration Guidelines are designed to help IT managers and practitioners in the public sector to plan and perform migrations to OSS. Their objective is to provide them with the necessary information and tools to decide both whether a migration should be undertaken and how it could be carried out. They are based on the practical experience of a number of publicly available case studies, and have been developed with guidance from public sector IT experts from Denmark, Finland, Italy, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. Their relevance and readability were validated with the help of the regional authorities of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany.

Covering a wide range of management and technical issues, the IDA Open Source Migration Guidelines provide practical and detailed recommendations on ways to migrate to OSS-based applications. The main recommendations for a successful migration project are as follows:

  • have a clear understanding of the reasons to migrate before starting a project;
  • ensure that there is active support for the change from IT staff and users;
  • make sure that there is a champion for change - the higher up in the organisation the better; 
  • build up expertise and relationships with the OSS movement;
  • start with non critical systems;
  • ensure that each step in the migration is manageable.

The IDA Migration guidelines show that server computing is normally the place to start with. OSS for server computing is already well understood and extensively deployed, and migrating servers to OSS can generally be done without having any adverse effects on end-users.

For most organisations, however, the largest potential cost savings arise from migrating the desktop to OSS. The guidelines therefore provide practical information on ways to migrate desktops to OSS-based operating systems and office applications. Such migration is nevertheless a much more complex undertaking than server migration, as the new OSS applications will need to be accepted by users and will have to interoperate with existing proprietary applications. It is indeed likely that a heterogeneous environment combining open source and proprietary software will be built, at least temporarily, due to the time needed for migrating thousands of desktops and to the fact that replacement OSS applications may not always be available or suitable. The guidelines therefore provide recommendations for phasing in OSS and making it possible for desktop applications to be replaced with OSS equivalents over time.

In all cases, the guidelines show that the migration of information systems to OSS should provide an opportunity to reengineer them in order to meet new patterns of demand. Issues that need to be addressed include:

  • interoperability: how to ensure the interoperability of information systems within the organisation and beyond;
  • mobility: how to securely identify and support remote and mobile users;
  • management: how to build systems that are manageable;
  • security: how to ensure that security is built-in from the start and not added as an after-thought.

As a complement to the migration guidelines, IDA has built a comparative spreadsheet enabling organisations to compare the cost of proprietary and OSS installations. This spreadsheet makes it possible for IT managers in the public sector to make a cost comparison over a five-year period, with one assumed upgrade of the proprietary installation. It is not intended to be a Total Cost of Ownership model, as it only takes into account the cost of migration and those costs that are likely to be significantly different between the two installations. But it nevertheless provides a valuable tool for starting to assess the cost of moving to OSS.

With the migration guidelines and comparative spreadsheet, IDA provides public sector IT managers across Europe with the necessary tools to make informed decisions about key evolutions of their information systems. The guidelines argue that it is essential to make sure that decisions that are made now, even if they do not directly relate to a migration, should not further tie public administrations to proprietary file formats and protocols. OSS, it says, is a disruptive technology, enabling a fundamental change in the way organisations provide IT services. It is a move from a product- to a service-based  industry. An understanding of this move and of the dynamics of the OSS movement is necessary to undertake a migration project. 'If your attitude to IT is 'Who do I sue when things go wrong?', the document concludes, then perhaps OSS is not for you.'

Access to  the IDA Open Source Migration Guidelines

Article published in the IDA Report 20 - December 2003