Ten years ago today we deployed our first Linux server, Ubuntu 8.04 LTS. We could never have thought how important Open Source software would be to us, nor how easy it would be to adopt. We discovered, created, and grew faster than any of us could imagine, and it was all due to Open Source software.
August 21, 2008: We deploy our first Linux server
The biggest hurdle wasn’t figuring out how to install and setup Linux, that seemed easy enough, even though I had no clue what I was getting into. It was convincing our owner, Alex, that it wasn’t the worst idea in the history of our business.
I was working against heavy odds. Back then Linux was the black sheep of the business world. Business owners only wanted to use proprietary software, like Windows, because that’s just what you did and it just “works”. There was also this perceived notion that you needed to be a world class elite hacker to install and setup Linux, and for some reason, everyone just “knew” that.
Luckily, Windows gave me an opportunity that I wouldn’t realize the significance of until years later. At the time, we were using a Windows XP Pro to share files with the entire office. Little did we know we were only allowed to have 10 people connect to the server at one time. One day with little warning, people were randomly not able to connect. Turns out we had exceeded the max connections. The funny thing was, we only had 7 people in our office and Windows apparently counted the same computer multiple times. So I immediately set out to fix the issue.
I came up with two options - Ubuntu with Samba for free and Windows Server 2008 with 7 user licenses along with support for nearly $1,000.00. Not really having a clue how long it would take, I lied through my teeth. I was just so interested to try it I decided I would stay as late as I needed to in order to make my phony timeline work. Even still it was a difficult sell, but I knew it was the right choice. Windows would only get more expensive with time and cause more problems. Alex reluctantly capitulated and off we went.
Easier done than said...?
Now that I had the green light, I had to figure out what on earth I got myself into. Admittedly, I was excited, but also slightly nervous. Since I sold this idea like a champ, I knew I would look like a fool if I failed. But after a month or two of reading articles about Ubuntu it was obvious that it shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out.
However, I was still totally unprepared for just how smooth everything really was. The sheer volume of guides, help posts, and forums made it so easy I managed to get a basic server set up in a single day. I was awestruck that I, a complete novice, could get that done so quickly. I spent another day working out the kinks and that was that, we had our first server.
From that point forward, we never thought twice about using Open Source to solve our problems. I also never had to ask for permission again, I just installed, configured, and deployed.
Open Source served as a tool for repairing many of our problems, so much so that we didn't even realize how much of an impact it was really making. We had been replacing things so fast that nearly every week something was different. Phone systems, employee time tracking, email, web servers. We even went searching for previously unknown problems to fix just to make things run smoother.
What we didn’t realize at the time was what all the access we were given was doing to the way we thought about technology. Open Source technology inherently is open for you to configure and change. Meaning this capability gives you access to program the software to do precisely what you want and interact with things it was never designed to interact with. Most importantly it allows you to be creative and were we ever created.
Before we knew it, we were actually linking systems together that we previously thought could never be linked. We were also able to send instant messages to sales agents when a new quote request came in, alert people when they were behind on tasks, and even going as far as using an Open Source voice analysis library to determine if certain milestones in sales calls were met. These are only some of the things we feel comfortable exposing to the public and our competitors.
We were really running wild with Open Source, and without it, the difficulty of doing these things would have been financially crippling and would have taken years to deploy. However, rather than cripple us, it fueled our creativity and allowed us to do things even massive companies were struggling to do.
The last stand
Despite all the success we were having with open source software, it was all happening on our server side. While all our user workstations were still running Windows, we were still apprehensive about making the switch. We didn't really know how our users were going to react. In all honesty, why bother changing what was working on the user side?
Well, you're forced to make a change when your entire Windows network gets infected with a virus that is transferred on flash drives. Of course, as a flash drive company, we just so happen to have a few flash drives laying around. So rather than battling the bug, we decided to take the plunge and deploy Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to all our users not using pro tools (Adobe, 3dsmax, etc).
Two of us descended on the office network like a plague of locust, but instead of plant shredding teeth, we had boot disks. At first, we were expecting some hiccups with drivers, but to my surprise again things went pretty smooth. In just one evening, we used Ubuntu to fix minor issues on 20 workstations. The real test would begin the following morning.
The next day came, and without fail we had a ton of complaints at the beginning of the day. By the end of the day, everyone in the office adjusted to the new change. Within a week, our staff took to it like a fish to water and Windows was gone for good.
As we look back on our journey, it is difficult for us to point to something more important to our company than Open Source. We continue to use Open Source today and truly wouldn't be where or who we are without it.
Now when we discuss technology solutions, we no longer ask if something is possible. Instead, we simply ask how long it will take? Open Source has given our office the ability to take our creative dreams and make them a reality. We continue to share as much information and help other businesses like our younger selves realize the power, cost savings, and opportunities that Open Source can bring to them. We are also officially going to begin contributing code to the public at large. You can follow along with on our Open Source Site.
While the idea of using Open Source as a key asset for our company would have made me laugh 10 years ago, the real joke is on me for listening to all the misconceptions surrounding this software back then. If there is one thing I can leave you with, especially if you are a small or new business, it is this: do not discount Open Source because you think it’s too difficult, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m certainly glad we lucked into it.
A Special Thanks to the amazing community that helped me and to the individuals that were so patient and willing to help when I knew nothing. Without you, the community, Open Source would be a shadow of itself. I hope we never change and I’m proud to count myself among your ranks.