Cabinet Office Approves Bristol’s Open Source Plans

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The government’s cyber security arm has given Bristol council the go-ahead to use open source software

Bristol City Council has been given the green light to push ahead with its open source strategy following a meeting with CESG, the cyber security arm of the UK intelligence services.

The council first announced its intention to adopt open source alongside existing Microsoft software in September 2010. As part of an ongoing review of its desktop systems, the council was looking to replace its current email system with an open source alternative.

However, the plan hit the buffers when it was discovered that only three email systems are currently certified by CESG’s Code of Connection and security guidance documents. These systems are Lotus Notes, Novell Groupwise, and Microsoft Exchange.

In choosing an open source system that is not accredited by CESG, Bristol City Council was concerned that it would not be able to process data rated at Business Impact Level 3, such as sensitive personal data and restricted information from government.

The council was also reportedly advised by Microsoft reseller Computacenter that it could not use open source systems without falling foul of security rules.

‘No accreditation issues’

At a meeting held last week between members of the council and Cabinet Office executives, including director of ICT futures Liam Maxwell and director of ICT policy Bill McCluggage, the council was told there are no security or accreditation issues that prevent the evaluation and potential deployment of open source systems within the council’s enterprise boundary.

“We held a very productive meeting with the Cabinet Office yesterday, and they were able to reassure us that there are no security or accreditation issues that should hold us back from pushing ahead with our open source agenda,” said Bristol City Council leader Barbara Janke (pictured) in a statement.

“This is very good news and was warmly welcomed by the IT companies present. Our aim is to do all we can to see a higher proportion of money from our IT procurement ending up in the local economy and supporting the city’s innovative software companies,” she added.

The Cabinet Office said it will continue to work closely with the council over the next few months.

Mark Taylor, chief executive of open source supplier Sirius, who helped Bristol council formulate its IT policy last year, welcomed the news, describing it as a “great omen from the future”.

“I hope that this fantastic Open Source project, which has seen more than its fair share of challenges, will now take off in the way we all hope it will,” said Taylor. “I hope it goes on to become the beacon of Open Source, Open Standards and SME engagement that the UK Public Sector has been waiting for.”

Sirius was originally  recruited as an open source partner, but was reportedly kicked off the project by Computacenter, after refusing to sign an earlier report recommending an entirely proprietary infrastructure. The current open source partner is LinuxIT.

Meanwhile, councillor Mark Wright, who pushed Bristol’s pioneering open source IT strategy through the council chamber last September, was also voted out of his post as IT portfolio leader earlier this year.

Government open source commitment

The UK government has previously committed to using open source technology and encouraging small business innovation, in an attempt to reduce the country’s deficit. Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude admitted in March that  the government had wasted vast amounts of money on ineffective and duplicate IT systems, and promised to “end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT by breaking down contracts into smaller, more flexible projects”.

However, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the BBC last month revealed that most government departments still spend the lion’s share of their IT budgets on software from big-name vendors, such as Microsoft and Oracle, rather than seeking cheaper open source alternatives.

The Home Office, for example, currently spends around 80 percent of its software budget with US defence giant Raytheon Systems for “IT, Broadcasting and Telecoms software” – amounting to £21 million out of a total pot of £26 million over 18 months.

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