Linux goes to war for NZ army

In the war between Microsoft and open source, where better to illustrate the conflict than on the battlefield - if only a simulated one?

In the war between Microsoft and open source, where better to illustrate the conflict than on the battlefield — if only a simulated one?

The New Zealand Army Simulation Centre near Palmerston North, which reproduces battle and other military scenarios, inherited many legacy systems from other army divisions, but ported many to Linux for its ease of use.

The centre was only launched this year. It operates regional centres at Waiouru and Burnham in Christchurch. “We influence all areas of training in the army,” says NZASC director Major Pete Hanrahan.

The NZASC has three servers, two Linux-based and one running Windows NT on a Dell box. The simulators use Red Hat Linux 7.1 but are dual-booted to use both Red Hat and Windows 98. The corporate PCs and laptops — 32 desktop Dells, Compaq Armada laptops and older hardware like Pentium 2s used for low-graphic applications — run on either Windows NT or 98.

“We set up a network like a big war game and they [the computers] are the interface,” says Hanrahan. The laptops also link into the Microsoft-based Defence Information Exchange system, which handles email and office information.

NZASC hardware supplied from other divisions previously operated in Unix but was ported to Linux for ease of use. However, Linux, is not used much for army corporate applications bar the Atlas personnel administration system, he says.

“We run commercial off-the-shelf stuff and specifically military available software not available to civilians.”

NZASC gets it through military sales, through the ABCA army-to-army sales agreement, involving America, Britain, Canada and Australia, Hanrahan says.

“The Linux servers that are operating here are a lot more stable than if we had to run, say, a Microsoft NT server. They can be reconfigured on the fly. They are less susceptible to failure or knockdown. If we have got the two Linux servers running, even if you have the power out on one, it will reconfigure itself to let the other server run. But with an NT server, you cannot. The NT server would have to be locked down and the backup server would have to be reconfigured before you could launch a program,” he says.

Government agreements mean there is a swing towards Microsoft in the defence establishment, Hanrahan says. “Microsoft is definitely the way the army seems to be heading. But there are still niche areas like outselves.”

The overarching New Zealand Defence Force, which operates under a Microsoft corporate licence, is still weighing up its future strategy. It is “experimenting or using Linux in a couple of areas but nothing mission-critical or significant”, says Defence Force CIO Ron Hooton. “We are interested in Linux as a lower-cost alternative to other operating systems, as a means of addressing the ever-increasing cost of licensing,” he says.

Consequently, the NZDF will “watch the debate on Linux, develop our understanding and move if and when appropriate”, Hooton says.

Five of the seven staff at the NZASC, which aims to recruit up to 32, were recently trained in Red Hat Linux by Auldhouse.

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