For all CTOs and IT managers, bringing costs down and deploying easy-to-use technology is the biggest challenge. Shaadi.com has addressed this issue by relying on the open source model. Over a year, more than 50 per cent of the users in the company have migrated to Ubuntu from proprietary software.
Joel Divekar, GM, Information Systems, People Interactive (I) Pvt Ltd, is responsible for managing IT infrastructure at over 50 offices across India. He has to ensure that capex and opex are kept at favourable levels, and his experiments with open source (to enable this) have been successful. The shift was primarily driven by Joel’s love for open source technology. He said, “Basically I come from an open source background. I have been using Linux for almost 20 years. My organisation did not have any monetary constraints, so there was no financial need to bring in Ubuntu. The key factors driving this decision were more related to user-management and infrastructure management. We have remote offices across India in places like Kochi, Bhubaneshwar, Guwahati, etc. They were all using proprietary software. User management was a difficult task–it involved ensuring anti-virus software was in place and patches were upgraded, and figuring out why systems were running slow. I felt that Ubuntu and Linux could give me better control over the systems; also, open source software can run smoothly on older devices as well. It enables good memory and application management. And it is also secure. So, this motivated me to use Ubuntu. I started off with a small team.”
Yet another reason that prompted Joel to choose Ubuntu was that he had the responsibility of preparing the Annual Operation Plan (AOP) or Budget for each financial year. Joel explains, “To reduce TOC and to improvise ROI, last year, in the month of November, I initiated a project to migrate Windows XP users to Ubuntu. Till date, we have successfully migrated over 65 per cent of the users (around 800) to Ubuntu, and work is going on to migrate the rest”
… And the migration began
Joel started ‘Operation Open Source’ in November last year. He recalls, “Around October-November last year, I got to know that the company was planning to set up a new office in Thane. It was to be a 75-seater. And there were plans to subsequently set up more such offices. I saw that as an opportunity. I was getting a fresh set of machines and fresh users so I could go ahead and implement my plans. This was going to a back office, or a CRM team. The team members had to use the Web browser as their interface. I saw an opportunity there. I trained my guys for the installation. I took two machines and worked on those machines for almost three days.”
He evaluated multiple Linux distributions and Ubuntu topped his list for its ease of use and extensive online documentation. He said, “The good part is that you get hundreds of Ubuntu installation guides, but I needed something that could match my requirements. So installing the required applications, fonts and tools needed by the workforce, finding alternate options and alternative software for the existing tools needed a lot of work.”
The next step was to list down open source alternative software for all applications and tools used by the back-office team. Joel started with Ubuntu 10.04 and did a lot of ground work before he went on to the migration. He installed various applications, including Libre Office, VLC, the Flash plug-in, Java JRE, the PDF reader, 7Zip, the GIMP, Microsoft compatible fonts, hplip printer drivers, etc. After installing the applications, he prepared the installation guide and sent it to one of his staff members. He said, “I asked him to go through it, format the machine and start installing. They started installing but a major issue that came up was that a few things that were obvious to me were not as obvious to them. In the beginning, I may have taken a few things for granted, but when the team actually started installing, I found gaps in my documentation. I improved on it and only when my documentation was thorough, I started distributing it across my team. I asked team members to install Ubuntu on at least three-four machines and report their experiences to me on a regular basis. After that, we encouraged a small team that operates from our Tardeo office in Mumbai. I told them that I would give them different software and ensured support to them in case they faced any issues. Initially I gave them their existing machines as well but asked them to refrain from touching them.” Joel used the findings of this sample set-up to improvise on his documentation for setting up further models.
The activity of setting up the new office began in January. Since all the 75 desktops Joel had to set up required a similar configuration, he got one system ready and then used Clonezilla to clone this system onto the remaining 74 systems.
Joel replicated the same system in other units of his company and continues to do so even today. He said, “I did not have to put in much effort to convince the management because of the value that open source offers. Not only did it ensure cost benefits, but also technology benefits.”