Moving a City to Linux Needs Political Backing, Says Munich Project Leader

Munich city authority has migrated almost 15,000 PCs from Windows NT to its own Linux distribution

By Loek Essers
Fri, December 20, 2013

IDG News Service — This year saw the completion of the city of Munich's switch to Linux, a move that began about ten years ago. "One of the biggest lessons learned was that you can't do such a project without continued political backing," said Peter Hofmann, the leader of the LiMux project, summing up the experience.

The Munich city authority migrated around 14,800 of the 15,000 or so PCs on its network to LiMux, its own Linux distribution based on Ubuntu, exceeding its initial goal of migrating 12,000 desktops.

Munich decided to migrate its IT systems when Microsoft said it planned to discontinue support for the operating system the city then relied on, Windows NT 4.0. The city was forced to choose between moving to a newer version of Windows, or finding an alternative platform, as new software and new versions of existing software would not be available on Windows NT. The city council decided to go with Linux to become more independent from software vendors.

Continued political backing was key to the success of the migration, said Hofmann.

"We had it from the start and it never failed. We had to treat our politicians as stakeholders and keep them informed," he said.

By doing this, the politicians never lost interest and always knew what the people involved in the project were doing, he said. "I saw a lot of other open source projects going down the sink," because they didn't have that backing, or lost it, he said.

It took the city about 10 years from the first decision to switch through to completion of the LiMux project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2009. However, there were several delays along the way.

First, the migration started a year later than originally planned, said Hofmann. The second delay was caused in 2007 when the city council decided that Munich's IT department should also be responsible for the standardization of the infrastructure that is necessary for Linux clients, he said. Munich however didn't have the right processes nor the right organization for that kind of standardization, he said.

The project was delayed for a third time in 2010, when the city council decided to enlarge the project, said Hofmann. Goals were added to develop three additional processes within the project: risk management, test management and requirement engineering.

Despite the difficulties, Hofmann said he would do it again tomorrow.

The heterogenous infrastructure of Munich's IT organization was one of the projects biggest problems, Hofmann said. When the project started there were 22 organizations that each had their own individual configuration, software, hardware, processes and knowledge for their Windows clients and the accompanying infrastructure they were using, he said. "We wanted to have a standardized, centrally delivered and developed Linux client," he said.

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