Al Ghurair Group steps up open source acitivities

Encouraged by the success, improved reliability and cost savings delivered by migrating its Oracle ERP suite to Linux, Al Ghurair Group of Companies has continued to experiment and port other platforms to the open source environment.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  September 29, 2003

Opening up|~||~||~|Encouraged by the success, improved reliability and cost savings delivered by migrating its Oracle ERP suite to Linux, Al Ghurair Group of Companies has continued to experiment and port other platforms to the open source environment.

Recent weeks have seen the group install general public license (GPL) solutions to provide file/print servers, e-mail content filtering, caching and time serving.
Al Ghurair Group is using Samba for its file/print serving and, according to the group’s IT manager, Hatem Al Sibai, the open source offering is a strong alternative to Windows NT or 2000 servers.

“We realised that Linux can act as the primary file/print server in a Windows client environment by installing Samba,” he says. “We started a test phase for the Samba environment and this provided the results that we expected. So now our main file server in this site has been switched over to Linux with Samba,” Al Sibai adds.

The group has also deployed the GPL content filtering solution, Spam Assassin, to reduce the time and money that is spent dealing with unnecessary and unwanted e-mails. The rules-based platform, which can work with applications such as Outlook, scans both the header and content of messages to detect signs of spam, as well as checking against a blacklist of known junk mailers.

“Spam Assassin will assign messages a probability score — with 5 and above very likely to be spam — and then we can tag the message as possible spam and forward it to the user. They can then write a rule in their client to alter the lead or isolate these messages automatically,” explains Al Sibai.

While Al Ghurair Group is currently letting users dictate their own rules and delete their own messages, Al Sibai says that as anti-spam solutions improve, centralised management will become easier to implement and guarantees of 100% spam free mail more attainable.

“There are companies already offering commercial services with 100% guarantees [of spam free e-mails], but for people that want to implement their own solutions, Spam Assassin is a good product and runs on Linux,” he continues.

The group has also migrated to an open source caching proxy known as Squid. Furthermore, Al Ghurair has integrated the proxy with a firewall from Red Hat to improve both security and internet performance levels.

||**||Further progress|~||~||~|Taking its testing with Linux further still, the group recently migrated its time server to a Red Hat version to improve reliability and synchronicity between its multiple servers. While Al Ghurair Group has yet to rollout it out on all of its clients, testing has proved successful with Al Sibai explaining that time serving is particularly important for a number of tasks it carries out, including backup and storage processes.

“Our implementation of the time server on Linux is one month old, so for the time being we are just synchronising the data centre servers and some Windows clients, but we recognise the need for it because we have had problems before where the time between two machines has been out of sync and this leads to problems and inconsistencies,” Al Sibai explains.

More interestingly, Al Ghurair is also looking for ways to use an open source router, which would be run over a PC. While Al Sibai reports that distributions such as Freesco (Free Cisco) are good options, he says that there are still some reliability concerns that need to be addressed before the group will migrate its routing to an open source environment.

“In its current design there are two major problems with the PC. It has mechanical devices such as a hard disk, which are subject to failure at anytime, and it has CPU fans, which if the bearings run out mean the system will go down right away,” says Al Sibai.

“We have managed to eliminate the hard disk by booting from a flash memory. We put the image of the kernel and the router on a flash memory card. But we are currently looking for a CPU that doesn’t require a cooling fan,” he continues.

Al Ghurair Group’s experiments with Linux are set to continue and Al Sibai says that while its clients will remain with Windows, he and his team hope to have achieved platform consolidation to Linux by the end of this year.

“Moving to Linux is a maturing process that a business has to go through and it is a long transformation process. There is no shortcut to enjoying the benefits of GPL and the open source community… But in the end it is definitely worth it,” comments Al Sibai.||**||

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