The Bureau of Meteorology claims to have saved considerable sums on software licensing by embracing open source software during a server virtualisation drive.
When the Bureau of Meteorology shifted to using server virtualisation, one major benefit for scientists was the ability to deploy individual servers for specialised processing tasks.
To allow that to happen at minimal cost, the Bureau switched from a largely Windows server environment to one where Linux played a much greater role.
"A couple of years ago we virtualised our servers and so we had a transition where we had more servers doing very customised tasks," said Dr Paul Dyson, who manages BOM's Solar and Terrestrial Radiation Network, which captures solar radiation data from 10 sites spread across Australia and New Zealand.
Virtualisation triggered a move from a Windows-based main system to a mixture of Windows and Linux boxes, a shift partly driven by the ability to freely deploy new virtual servers on open source software platforms without needing to calculate software costs. Effectively managing costs is a perennial challenge for virtualised environments.
"If we'd stuck to Windows, we'd have had to worry about licensing for each of those custom tasks," Dyson said during a presentation at PyCon AU 2010, the first Australian conference dedicated to the Python programming language.
Much of the software used at BOM has been developed ad hoc, and the organisation saw similar benefits in flexibility and costing from the shift to the open source Python language as its main development platform after 2005.
"I work in a large bureaucracy and if I can avoid having to buy something, that's terrific," Dyson said.
Given the cost constraints, virtualisation isn't a priority for older server software written in C or C++, provided it still works efficiently.
"For the code that's not in Python, we haven't been able to do those tasks."
"From about 2005, we decided we'd use Python for anything that was new. And even with existing software, it was often easier just to rewrite in Python than try and nut out how [it] would actually work [in the virtual world]."
BOM maintains a mixture of Windows and Linux systems. Dyson said the volume of Windows used might easily have been even higher, although his "dream environment" would now be entirely open source.