Woodbine Entertainment puts money on Linux for GroupWise upgrade

Microsoft’s Exchange and Windows may be the front-runners, but Toronto-based race-track operator Woodbine Entertainment Group has placed its bets on Novell Inc.’s GroupWise collaboration software running on a SUSE Linux server and on ZenWorks, Novell’s automated desktop management software.

Woodbine operates Toronto’s Woodbine race track and the Mohawk race track in Campbellville, Ont., the Champions network of off-track betting establishments, the Turf Lounge restaurant in downtown Toronto, a giant sports bar in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan, and other gambling and entertainment businesses.

Betting on Novell is nothing new for the company, which has used GroupWise for a number of years. Randy Folmes, Woodbine’s director of information services, admitted he gets occasional pressure from users who are accustomed to Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail client to switch to the more widely used software, but when Woodbine has studied the implications of such a move, it found that “it was going to cost a lot more money and it wasn’t really going to gain us any benefit.”

Folmes also prefers GroupWise for security reasons. First, the Microsoft software’s popularity means most e-mail viruses are designed to exploit it. “Microsoft’s got a big target on them right now and that’s who everybody’s going after,” he said. Beyond that, though, Folmes said the design of GroupWise is more secure in some respects than that of Exchange. For instance, in either product a system administrator can get access to any user’s e-mail, but in GroupWise the administrator must change the user’s password to do this, so it can’t be done without the user’s knowledge.

A few months ago, though, the company faced a need to replace the aging server that supported GroupWise running on Novell’s NetWare operating system. Woodbine chose to switch to Linux running on an existing IBM Corp. blade server, so there would be no need to buy new hardware.

Woodbine chose Linux because of lower licensing costs, manageability and performance, Folmes said.

Ross Chevalier, chief technology officer and chief information officer at Novell Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont., said customers are turning to Linux because it is easy to operate and use and because of its reliability. “I don’t have to reboot this thing every week,” he said.

Also, he argued, Linux is “a build-up kind of OS” that allows customers to choose the functionality they need, whereas with Windows “you get everything and like it, whether you need all that code or not.” The ability to install only what is needed for the customer’s particular purposes often allows a customer to save on hardware costs, said Chevalier.

According to Brad Dillon, an analyst at International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto, Linux’s share of the Canadian market for servers based on Intel Corp. x86 and compatible processors increased from 22.12 per cent in the first quarter of this year to 23.47 per cent, measured by unit shipments, in the second quarter. 

Chevalier also said customers are beginning to show interest in Linux on the desktop.

Woodbine Entertainment has also been using Novell’s ZenWorks management software for about three years. Folmes said ZenWorks has allowed his company to move away from updating desktop PCs by hiring costly consultants to travel to various sites. Now, operating system and application updates and patches can be downloaded automatically from a central server.

ZenWorks lets Woodbine download an operating system upgrade automatically, sometimes scheduling the operation to take place at night, he said. When the user logs on the next day and opens an application, the application is updated in a matter of seconds.

Microsoft offers many of the same capabilities as ZenWorks in its Systems Management Server (SMS), but Folmes said ZenWorks offers a more complete set of management tools. “There’s not too many people who actually have a package that actually does all it, all from one console,” he said. Chevalier added that ZenWorks supports non-Windows desktops as well as mobile devices such as Palm Inc. and Research in Motion Inc. handhelds. There is “nothing wrong with (SMS) as long as everything you own is Windows,” he said. 

Cross-platform support is important for Woodbine because the company has some Apple Computer Inc. Macintoshes, which run GroupWise clients and can be managed with ZenWorks.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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