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August 4, 1999
RealComputing Radio Interview

John C. Dvorak, RealComputing
Robert Shingledecker, City of Garden Grove, CA

DVORAK: We have in the studio, Robert Shingledecker, the IS Manager of the City of Garden Grove. Robert, welcome to Real Computing.


DVORAK: You know, your name sounds like something that was obviously given someone who did shingle decking in Germany, or something.

SHINGLEDECKER: That's exactly right.

DVORAK: Most of the names, Shoemaker, and all those kinds of names. I haven't seen the Shingledecker name, but it's a pretty good one. Now, you're notorious for having implemented in the City of Garden Grove, a very advanced IS system based on, of all things, Linux.

SHINGLEDECKER: That's correct.

DVORAK: Tell us a little bit about how that began to happen and how this ever came about, because it seems to me that, although I don't see anything wrong with doing a Linux city system... Apparently, you've done the whole system. We're talking about traffic signals, police dispatch systems, the whole thing.

SHINGLEDECKER: You're talking about everything, all aspects of local government. And the way it started was actually in 1994, the City wanted to bring in PC networking. And at that time, typical city governments, what they did is they hired a consultant, and he came back with a recommendation of Banyon Vines. And when that went to central management, they said, ‘No, that's too expensive, we can't do it.' Plus, there was a money crunch going on in Orange County at that time.

DVORAK: That was during the time when Orange County went broke, right?

SHINGLEDECKER: That's right.

DVORAK: Because of bad investments.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, the City of Garden Grove was not involved in the bad investments. That's the good news. But the bad news is we still didn't have very much money. So what we had to do is... we still wanted to bring in PC networking, and so my management told me, ‘Okay, let's look and see what you can do. Try a five-year plan and bring it in slowly, and see what you can do.' So they said, ‘Okay, you can set up a lab and start testing some networking products.' So the first thing we did is we evaluated Novell, we evaluated NT. And what we found with both of those is they didn't scale up enough, they seemed to be departmental, they didn't integrated with our existing UNIX system.

DVORAK: Oh, you started with a UNIX system, then. But it was probably small.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, no, actually, we were running on a large Data General Quad Processor Mini Computer, that was a $400,000 computer. But we had just dumb terminals everywhere and we wanted PC networking.

DVORAK: Oh, okay.

SHINGLEDECKER: So what would happen was is that when we found out Novell didn't integrate well with UNIX, and NT at the time was NT 3.1, and that didn't have, you know, routable protocol, etc. So there were problems with both of those. So what I did is get on the Internet and start doing some research. And the first thing I found was something called Samba. And Samba, what that does, is gives you PC networking running on a UNIX environment. So that was the first free software I found. And at that time it wasn't even called open source, it was just free, it was available from an Australia site. So what I did is I downloaded that, put it on our Data General UNIX, and I was able to run a small PC network. So we thought, ‘Okay...'

DVORAK: And what year was that?

SHINGLEDECKER: That was in 1994.

DVORAK: Okay, so this is all in ‘94 so far.

SHINGLEDECKER: Yeah, 1994 was kind of the research in finding the products that we were going to use. Initially, it was going to be a five-year plan, and then all of a sudden the City said, ‘Guess what? We're going to move. So we're going to leave this old building that we're in and go into a new building. So now your five-year plan, you got to do it in one year.'

DVORAK: That must have been sweet.

SHINGLEDECKER: Yeah. So, anyway, the good luck, the first thing I found...

DVORAK: Did you mention to them that there's still only 24 hours in day?

SHINGLEDECKER: Right. And I have a staff of four people. So, anyway, the good luck was finding Samba. And what Samba did is it gave us the networking. So we thought, ‘Okay, if we're going to move, the first thing we need to do is take all these campus buildings and make sure that they can run stand-alone while City Hall moves, so that the police department is not down.' See, the police department is in a separate building, or Housing, or Public Works. So we decided, ‘Okay, since we found Samba, it runs on UNIX, let's try Stogie next.' Because that was one of the popular, you know, microcomputer UNIX.


SHINGLEDECKER: Right. And so we found is that it was kind of expensive, it didn't have the compiler, it didn't have a lot of... you know, TCP/IP, it didn't have the networking. So, again, doing some research on the Internet, I found that Samba was developed on Linux, and Linux was a full implementation of UNIX.

DVORAK: Right, running on the X86 machines.

SHINGLEDECKER: Right, exactly. Exactly. So the first version of Linux I actually downloaded off the Internet was like 0.99. And so we tried that and it worked. And it was really amazing because it was so simple to load, and, you know, it had all the features of TCP/IP networking, it ran Samba, so it gave us our PC network. So what we decided to do was that, ‘Well, let's put this in just the smallest campus building to see if it would really function, if there would be problems with it.

DVORAK: Right, it was an unknown entity at the time.

SHINGLEDECKER: Right. So this was still kind of, you know, ‘We're just testing the water.'

DVORAK: Did anybody think you were nuts for even trying this?

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, we didn't have any money and we didn't have a solution.

DVORAK: So you couldn't afford consultants to come in and tell you that you were wrong.

SHINGLEDECKER: That's right. Plus, we told them, ‘Hey, if this doesn't work, this is just on an X86, we can just make it somebody's PC. So we're not out any money. But if it does work, this is going to be great.' So what we did is we set up a 24-user system in our Public Works Department, and that was with Linux and with Samba. And putting in, you know, the hubs, and, you know, TCP/IP network. And we had Windows 3.1.1 clients. And so they didn't run pier to pier, they were all talking to the Linux server. And it was outstanding, the thing ran beautifully, flawlessly. So then we decided, ‘Okay, the next thing we're going to do is our Housing.' We did 48 users in Housing. Then we decided, ‘Okay, the Police Department.' A hundred users, 24-hour operation, critical. And I remember telling the City Manager, ‘Okay, we're going to put Linux over there, and we're going to put Samba.' And, see, at that time, they were still tele-netting back to our Data General Computer for the business applications. We were just getting PC networking. But at first they thought, ‘Wow, you know, if this works in the Police Department, it will work anywhere.' So we did, we put Linux, a Linux server with Samba in the Police Department. And it was serving 100 PC's over there, doing all the, you know, printer sharing, disk sharing, etc.

So then, what happened then is that we were, you know, getting ready for the big move, and, again, a lucky thing happened for me. And that was our data base. See, our data base always ran on the big Data General Computer. And our data base company, which is Pick Systems in Irvine, they announced D3 for Linux. And I thought, ‘Wow! Now, we have the data base. So we'll have all the pieces...'

DVORAK: I thought that the Pick data base only ran on the Pick operating system.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, a long time ago, that was true. And, as a matter of fact, the City... see, that was one of the complicating factors I've always had, is the City was running the Pick operating system. But, luckily, in 1991, Pick moved it into the UNIX environment. So we were already running, you know, Pick in UNIX. So now, we were going to be able to run Pick on Linux. And that meant that when we went to move--this is in November of 1995--when we were able to move into the new City Hall, it could be totally, 100% Linux. And that means that we would no longer be paying $70,000 for the lease payment on the mini computer. That means we don't have to pay $2,000 a month in maintenance. So that means saving $94,000 a year by going to an all Linux-based system.

DVORAK: And was it better?

SHINGLEDECKER: Absolutely. But let me tell you, I was very nervous. Because when we were moving into the new City Hall, we had 150 PC's initially in that City Hall, and I was giving up this great big mini computer, $400,000 computer, quad processor, and I had two little Pentium 100's, each with 128 megabytes of memory. And that was going to run everything--one was going to run the data base, and the other one was going to run all the PC networking. And to tell you the truth, I was a little bit nervous. And we went in there the first day, people called and said, ‘The program's not working, soemthing's wrong.' And I go, ‘What? What happened?' He said, ‘Well, it just blinked, it was so fast.' And it really did work, it was just so much faster, magnitudes faster, because we were all running over a network with Linux servers.

DVORAK: It was just, generally, it was just a much more efficient system, and so people were liked freaked by it.

SHINGLEDECKER: Yeah, they were. They actually noticed it was so much faster than what we had. And yet there was no cost to it. And what we've done now is that... That was in November of 1995, we were running on Linux. And that version of Linux was Red Hat. When our data base company said, ‘Okay, you can run our data base on Linux.' They actually bundled it with Red Hat Linux. And so that's how, actually, I got into Red Hat Linux. But initially, it was, you know, the Samba giving me the PC network. So now I had a PC network, I had data base, I had everything totally integrated into a Linux operating system, where you'd have just a single log-on to the network, and you'd have all of your functions.

DVORAK: So it sounds to me as though this would be a practical thing for a lot of little municipalities to do.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, actually, it's good for larger size. I mean, the City of Garden Grove is not really that small. We have a population of 153,000, so we're not that small of a city.

DVORAK: The big fear... I talk to a lot of people about this, and they always come back... although, I can get both sides of the argument, you know, the open source thing is better because, you know, you can get things fixed real fast because there are so many people that are really, you know, available 24 hours a day, just all over the world. And the other people say, ‘Well, I want a big company behind it. And what happens if, you know, what happens if Shingledecker quits, what are we going to do?'

SHINGLEDECKER: That's good, that's a very good question. Because my feeling was I had a great big company behind me, I had Data General. And yet, when I had a problem with UNIX, boy, it wasn't solved very quickly. And then when we tried SCO UNIX, the support was even worse, and we got support over the Internet. So then we got used to having to go over the Internet for support, when we got Linux, everything was there, everything worked, it was so reliable, we rarely ever had to ask any questions. And the other thing I'm always asked is, ‘Well, do you really want that source code? Are you really changing? Are you a hacker?' We're not hackers. We were looking for a solution. We were looking for something that works, something that was reliable. And then what we found when we got Red Hat, we found something that was easy. And so now it was no longer something that only Shingledecker could do, or something that only he could download and set up, now we were getting on a CD with our data base, Red Hat Linux, that not only that I could set up, but even my computer technicians. They can set up the Linux server quicker than they could set up the NT server.

DVORAK: Have you noticed that if you look... have you kept the same personnel, have you tried to get some new Linux guys in there? Is it hard? Is it easy? Because it seems to me that there's probably a good... I mean, if I was thinking right now of getting into doing network support, I would be very serious about looking at doing Linux kind of stuff. Is it hard to get people, do you know?

SHINGLEDECKER: You know, actually, well, I started initially with a staff of four. I now have a staff of eight because we keep growing and the demands for our services keep growing. But actually, the staff of four that I had was the initial staff that I had, that only knew the Pick operating system. So we didn't go in there as being, you know, Linux gurus or UNIX hacks, or anything like that. It was something that we just kind of migrated along. And, again, primarily we're just users of that system. And the system is stable, reliable, and it's very, very quick, very easy now to set up.

DVORAK: Are the PC's running like a Windows client, or anything, on top of it?


DVORAK: So you're running a combination... so you're running like... what is it, Windows 98, or Windows 95, or Windows 3.1, or...?

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, initially, you know, in 1994, in 1995, we were Windows 3.1.1, and then we migrated those to Windows 95, and we have a few Windows 98. Those are the clients.

DVORAK: And it's not a problem to run a mixed bunch of systems, like 95, 98? You probably must have a 3.1.1 system still out there working.

SHINGLEDECKER: No, actually, we did get rid of the 3.1.1's, you know, the Y2K kind of got rid of those for us. But the 95 and 98, no problem. And they all talk seamlessly to all of our Linux servers. And the Linux servers, now part of the distribution is Samba. So, again, you know, initially, it was something that Shingledecker could do, he could assemble all these parts. But then as Linux has grown and you get the distributions like Red Hat, they put all those things together in one distribution, into one easy-to-install package, so like I was saying, even our computer technician now, he could set up a Linux server in 15 minutes, and it includes the Samba PC networking. And that's so seamlessly integrated, that our users, they don't know that they're not talking to NT, they don't know any difference. The same commands and same mouse clicks that you've used to map a drive, the same log-on scripts that you have for Windows NT runs in Linux with Samba, seamlessly.

DVORAK: Have you run into any guys who do NT networking and have been debating this to you...? Because right now, you know, NT is the buzz... or, actually, Linux is kind of a buzz too. But, you know, NT is the one that all the big boys keep talking about. They've been talking about it since it was first announced, before it was even shipping. And it becomes a point of debate, it seems to me, with people who set up a complex NT system. And I run into this on websites, you find people that have had NT systems, and they're like moving to Linux because NT just doesn't serve enough pages. But that's a different kind of environment.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, yeah, that's true. I'm also a member of the California Data Base Management Association, and that's one of the topics that occasionally we have, are these great debates about, you know, NT versus UNIX and/or Linux. And what we found out is that most of these other shops that are running NT, they have to run a single application on NT. If we try to run more than one application, that's when they have problems. And, see, with Linux, we can run all kinds of applications on one Linux server, and way less hardware, way less memory, and it out-performs NT. I had one NT server, and it was trying to run two applications, and it crashed every week. We took them off and just put one application on it, and it runs. I can't afford to have that many NT servers for every application the City has.

DVORAK: So you must be a Linux fanatic now.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, you know, I could say, initially, it was something that we were just looking for something that works. But now, yes, I'm sold on Linux, and there's no reason to leave it, this is fantastic. I think it's wonderful what the Internet has done in bringing everybody together, and the open source movement, getting quality software. And the other thing that keeps coming up is they say, ‘Well, this is just anti-Microsoft, you just don't like Microsoft.' But that wasn't the case. When we were first evaluating everything, we had an open mind for Novell or NT, etc. But we needed something that would integrate with our UNIX system, and that was Linux. Now, today, if you ask me, it's kind of a little bit different story. Because everything I see now with Microsoft is that they try to lock you into their system, and they try to make the protocols their own. And now, you know, having the taste of the Internet, having my City network based on the Internet model, using Linux to support all of that, you know, I'm a great proponent for open standards.

DVORAK: Now, you've become anti-Microsoft in an odd way.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, it's interesting, the other day, I got a telephone call from Microsoft saying, ‘Why haven't you taken a look at Office 2000?' And I told them, ‘Well, because if I do, then you're going to require me to have Internet Explorer 5. And then you're going to require me to have Exchange. Then you're going to require me to have NT server. And then you're going to require me... So everything that I have, my entire infrastructure, can go after, and get, you know, all of these systems, it's all Microsoft. And I don't have the money to do that and I don't have a need to do that.'

DVORAK: Do they do that? I mean, just so you can run... I mean, why can't you just get a few copies of Office 2000 for people who need Office 2000?

SHINGLEDECKER: Because if you really want to use the advanced features, they're going to lock you into all those other pieces of the puzzle. And when I told that to that individual, he laughed and he said, ‘You know what? You're right, that's true.'

DVORAK: That's what they like to do, but, you know, I call it marketing.

SHINGLEDECKER: Well, and that's the other thing, you know, it's that, that constant upgrade. You know, it's constantly, every time, 95, 98, keep spending more money.

DVORAK: Right, Linux is like free upgrade when you do it...

SHINGLEDECKER: It's a free upgrade, and you don't need to upgrade, unless you really want to, unless you want to take advantages of new features. But the one good thing, though, is we keep seeing new improvements in Linux, especially in the distributions. They're easier to install, and they include more packages, more functionality.

DVORAK: Interesting situation in Garden Grove. We're talking to Robert Shingledecker, the IS Manager of the City of Garden Grove about the fact that this little community, or actually a fairly good-sized community, has gone to a complete Linux solution for all their computing needs, or at least for the server needs, which is probably the most important part of a big system like that. Something for people to think about. Robert, thanks for being with us today.


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