A departement moving to Linux...

Michael Torrie torriem at chem.byu.edu
Sat Feb 18 00:10:37 MST 2006

On Fri, 2006-02-17 at 23:02 -0700, Merrill Oveson wrote:
> The LDS Church!
> I told Eric Deena in 2002 that the church should install Linux for all
> its units (wards and branches).
> I told him it could save billions in software costs, he said "Well billions,
> probably not, but millions, ok."

I beg to differ with that sentiment.  In 2002, and even at this very
moment I think that switching all the units to linux might save money up
front, but cost more in the long run.  Maybe I can organize a few
coherent thoughts below.

> (All the clerks need is openOffice, the rest is custom programmed from the
> church MIS/FIS.)
> At which point, I stared at him blankly, as if to say, "Ok, then let's save
> millions."
> Maybe that day is soon at hand.

I can think of several advantages that Linux would have for the church
in this situation:
 - Lower up-front-cost
 - Ability to easily remote-administer.  One admin could potentially
administer 1000 linux boxes easily.
 - Less worry about viruses and worms

I can also think of several disadvantages:
 - Not every unit is networked. Many are dial-up. This pretty much
eliminates any chance of remote administration
 - They'd need to hire quite a few linux admins.
 - Because of the fact that units aren't always on-line, the church
would need to really have local linux experts on tap.  While I'm sure
there are many here in Provo, it gets a little more sparse the farther
out you get.  Whereas pretty much every ward clerk's son can probably
re-install or fix windows (I use the term "fix" extremely loosely).  So
while windows know-how is arguably lower-quality, it is available in
much higher quantities.  Since this is the church we're talking about,
labor is essentially free out in the units.

> On another note....
> Some time back when I was the financial clerk and the new FIS software was
> about to be released....
> I sent in an email requesting that the new software be based around an
> RDBMS, i.e. mysql or postgres and that default port be changed.
> Then those who understood sql could get a prompt on the new port and query
> the database themselves without having to rely on the front-end reports.

I think the data is considered a little too sensitive (confidential) to
give you this kind of thing.

> Those who didn't understand the port or sql wouldn't have a clue as to what
> this meant so they couldn't go in anyway.
> Lastly, the database user would only be given read privs.
> With the old system too many times I had to count by hand in order to give
> the bishop the information he wanted.

Wasn't the old MIS and FIS systems actually based on a relational
database engine?  I can't remember the name of the engine but it was
very popular at the time.  And people did write programs that could
access the database directly.  I remember seeing programs that could
quickly print ward lists and things.

> Alas, I was released before I ever got to see the new system.  As I
> understand it, it is not based on an RDBMS.  correct?

I'm sure there's a relational database engine under the hood.

The whole system is written in Java.  The user interface is, well,
interesting.  Certainly different.  It grows on you I suppose.  They
made some very interesting UI decisions and use a tabbed-display.

> One vision of mine is that the unit systems would be one that functioned
> like an information appliance based on linux.  The church would set up the
> entire computer then ship it to the units, at this point the unit would
> merely need to plug it in.

This is a good idea, except that you'll run into problems trying to ship
these things around the globe.  It's hard enough to get a simple letter
through the post intact to some countries where branches exist.  A
computer would be difficult.  I guess fedex does go everywhere these
days, if the movies are to be trusted.  But I'm sure in some countries
even Fedex would have problems keeping a computer from getting stolen.  

The customs problems remain.  Even carrying a computer to these far-
flung units would be difficult.  Some countries charge 100% duty on
things like computers and they don't do it according to the price you
claim you paid for it; they make up a number based on what they think it
might be worth in their country, or on how much money they think they
can take from you.

Because of the potential problems with regards to customs and tax
regimes, monies collected as offerings or tithes typically stay in the
country they were collected (except for the US of course).  For example,
all Canadian tithes and offerings go to what the government considers a
Canadian church.

> Another vision, is one where the computers don't store any information on
> the unit computer but instead rely on the church's central computers and
> communicate via a super secure internet connection.  Possible?

Sure it is possible.  In the developing world?  Probably even there.
But it will be a very slow and gradual thing for the church.

> (So many times, I had to mail letters all across the globe to people who had
> changed wards, which letters contained all monetary contributions made by
> that individual while in our ward.  As if I wasn't busy enough!  When I was
> released I had forgotten what it was like to attend sunday school and
> priesthood.  And it was nice to be able to go home after church and enjoy
> the holidays.  The clerks now say things are much much better!)
> thoughts??


> On 2/17/06, Bryan Sant <bryan.sant at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > On 2/17/06, Doran L. Barton <fozz at iodynamics.com> wrote:
> > > All in all, this is a major landmark accomplishment and I applaud the
> > > company. Who is the company?
> >
> > The LDS Church -> FCH Division -> Engineering Department.  About 110
> > engineers.
> >
> > > I'm curious why the company chose SUSE over other distributions. How
> > much
> > > control will the IT team have over what is installed on these systems
> > and
> > > whether or not software updates are applied?
> >
> > The Church has always been friendly to Novell and IBM.  IBM and Novell
> > have a psudo partnership with Linux.  Choosing SLES was the natural
> > choice (this was done before I even worked here).  Since we're using
> > SLES, we might as well use SUSE right?  And the rest is history.
> > Aside from that though, SUSE/SLES has serious local corporate support
> > -- and big organizations (the LDS Church is the largest employer in
> > Utah) like that.
> >
> > Like many here, I cut my teeth on Redhat.  So it's hard for me to see
> > SLES as anything other than Redhat done wrong.  Seriously though, I
> > have major complaints with SLES out of the box (I'll save that for
> > another post).
> >
> > > I'm sure the decision to do it this way is rooted in IT management -
> > people
> > > who don't want to deal with managing a diversified heterogeneous
> > network. In
> > > the past, whenever I've wanted to run Linux on my desktop at a company,
> > the
> > > IT people have always been quick to say, "Do what you want... but don't
> > > expect any support from us!"
> >
> > Typically IT management comes to me when they have problems with
> > Linux, so I'm not worried about them saying, "We won't support your
> > setup".  OK.  If they *did*, that would be infinite recursion...  We'd
> > run out of stack space and the universe would segfault :-).
> >
> > > Again, I think it all comes back to resource management. The IT
> > department
> > > probably does not want the responsibility of maintaining lots of
> > different
> > > machines running different operating systems.
> >
> > This is true, but they've been supporting Windows thus far anyway.
> > You are right toughy -- It will reduce complexity (and thus cost) to
> > focus on Linux only.
> >
> > > This is precisely why most Linux vendors are excited about the corporate
> > > desktop. For what _most_ people do, Linux works well and it's definitely
> > > easier to manage from an IT perspective.
> >
> > Right.  Just for the curious, the major components in our world are:
> > GroupWise, IntelliJ, CVS, and OOo.  Because these things work equally
> > well on Windows and Linux, the transition was super easy.  I pitty
> > those who are moving away from more entrenched environments.
> >
> > -Bryan
> >
> > /*
> > PLUG: http://plug.org, #utah on irc.freenode.net
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> > Don't fear the penguin.
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> >
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