South African Business Uses Linux to Connect

The story of a company replacing Windows systems with Linux to obtain better speed and greater reliability.
Improving the Intranet

Now that the Hotel reservation system was up and running in a manner that pleased management, it was time to start working on the Intranet. Our primary objectives were:

  • Gains in productivity

  • Ease of use

  • Improvements in speed

The applications the Intranet could be used to accomplish were:

  • Phone/e-mail book

  • Comments/Suggestions/Gripes list

  • Billboard

  • Training course enrollment

  • Stationery/Computer shop

All the applications were written in ANSI-C. No actual HTML files exist for these applications, as the HTML is created dynamically through the application. Although this increases the time required to update the pages (having to edit, compile, etc.), it's a small tradeoff compared to the resultant simplicity. As a minor alternative I have enabled some applications to read an external file, parse it (for any replaceable tokens) and redirect it to stdout. This too produces more overhead, but offers easier HTML page maintenance.

In order to provide database functions and non-trivial HTML POST/GET form handling, two ANSI-C object/libraries were created. All the libraries were written in ANSI C and compiled with gcc.

Apache and Java

After a couple of weeks, it was time to upgrade the web server to Apache 1.2b10 giving better speed and security. The upgrade to Apache from NSCA was relatively painless, with a few alterations made to the /conf/*.conf files to reflect my new directory structure.

Java was the next item on the list of “things to think about”. To me, Java is a great idea offering what C has almost been offering for a long time. However, the thought of going back from thin client into “medium-thin” was not something that interested me much. Linux is a reliable, powerful OS. I have full confidence in its ability to handle the load of the CGI applications we run. The reduction in administration by sticking with thin-client applications far outweighs the increase in server load from having to process every application transaction—this is why we chose Java.

Next Projects

Next, there was the need for an FTP-type file warehouse. Since most of the clients that are running within the Intranet are Windows-based, few are keen on using FTP. Samba was installed in order to alleviate this “barrier”. Samba enabled all Windows 3.1, 95, NT and OS/2 users to gain access to their files, applications, drivers and utilities. Of course, anonymous FTP was still set up, just in case I wasn't the only one of my kind in this company.

My most potent Linux machine is now being used to churn out images and animations using POV-Ray 3.0 which have markedly improved the appearance of the Intranet pages. I am currently working on a small (15-second) animation to be used as an “introduction” to Stocks & Stocks. To date, these are the Linux installation statistics for the company:

  • Seven machines doing hotel remote access support/availability response

  • Two for web application and graphic development

  • Three servers

While a total of twelve machines may not seem like many for a company the size of Stocks, one must consider that there are only five NT boxes and one AS/400. (Okay, one AS/400 is often enough.)

The failure rate of the Linux systems has effectively been 0%. To date there has been only one failure, caused only by a power supply getting friendly with a bolt of lightning. Once I've installed a Linux machine, providing the user (me) doesn't do anything malicious (such as remove agetty or getty--another story), there's little cause to worry.

Some may feel Linux (and any UNIX system for that matter) has a somewhat less “user-friendly” interface when compared to Windows. However, Linux was chosen by Stocks & Stocks because it offers one thing that Windows does not—dependability. For me, Linux is “admin-friendly”.

Paul Daniels is an Australian who now resides in South Africa and works as a System Administrator for the company Stocks & Stocks. He can be reached via e-mail at jdaniels@stocks.co.za.

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