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Unioncamere Emilia-Romagna: an Italian Public Administration Using Linux

By Giampaolo Montaletti

Two year ago the Internet was exploding in Italy. A lot of newspaper reported wishfull informations about it:

the Net is over 40 million of people looking for your information;

the Net is cheap and fast

the Net is growing so fast that you can't keep up.

Unioncamere is the regional association of Chamber of Commerce of The italian region Emilia-Romagna (Bologna is the capital, but Rimini is the well-world-wide-know city). Chambers of Commerce in Italy are public bodies, and all the firm must be associated to the Chamber of Commerce and have to pay an annual tax.

As you can easily understand firms are not so happy to pay tax, so we are always under a big pressure from them. They want to have a lot of data about economy, markets and financial tools in a fast and viable way and without a lot of cost of maintenance.

Internet was the choiche and Linux was the system of choiche! At the beginning of september 1995 we was starting the project of establishing a server , at the end of october we was on line with the www server.

To give a fast stratup has been very important the contribution of Massimo Poli, and indipendent consultant running a lot of sites and using Linux only; you che reach him at www.sextant.it, the little firm he is managing.

When you pay a consultant using Linux you are sure to pay his work only, and not a bogus "assistance service" or "online help". This is very important in establishing a good and clear contract.

When we started whith the site we was using a coax-ethernet based LAN with 30 users about. The 2 internal servers was (and they are working too) Novell 3.12 based. Novell is IMHO a good NOS for two tasks: printing and sharing disks. Novell tecnology is quite stable: our server BOSS is up and running without shutdown from 6 of january 1997. But we was needing a good e-mail server and a workgroup solution.

We decided to move to Linux for internal E-mail as for Internet E-mail. In this way you have an affordable solution with low costs and no standard problems.

The site is growing fast. Using Apache solution and virtual server capacibility we are hosting two Chamber of Commerce and we are going to host the other 7 in the region in the next future. Mailing lists, restricted users areas, on-line database with www interfaces and other usefull instruments are all in use in our server box. Security was another big problem, but not so big using Linux firewalls. In 1996 we have installed a second server cruncing the Lan in two segments.

Whit Linux we have solved a lot of problem at low cost, but Linux is excellent in networking and network management. Now I'm administrating the full network (SMB servers included) with my Linux box. I'm now mounting volumes from Novell and fron NT 4 workstations, I'm already printing from Novell printer server. Because I'm not a full time administrator (I'm really working here as Chief of the Research and develpment office, and I'm not an hacker, but a Senior Economist) I use Linux for Office work too. Applixware is the solution I prefer, the only 200 $ I've spent for software whith Linux. The solution provided by Applixware is good because I share my work with Microsoft maniac in my office, and I need the filters for Word and Excel that Applixware is providing with version 4.3.

Workgroup solutions are now provided by a linux box with BSCW software, a not well know piece of software in the linux world, but a vary usefull one if you plan to establish an intranet whit workgroup solutions.

For all the 4 linux boxex running in our network we use standard pc's. 2 of the four machines running are old Pentium 90 and 133 Mhz that people with Win95 wants no more, because those are "weak machines".

As you have already understood reading this article, we are not linux-religious or linux-maniac or linux-fanatic. In our offices we run Novell and Os/2 and Win* machines as well. But we use linux because for some tasks is the best solution, only the best solution. Is stable, well supported and documented. If you want to run a new project where the Internet or the Intranet is involved and your boss is not able to understand or you have no more money, go to the room were the old-and-disrupted-pc's are and set-up a linux box.

Giampaolo.Montaletti@rer.camcom.it AKA Monty

Copyright © 1997, Giampaolo Montaletti
Published in Issue 23 of the Linux Gazette, December 1997