CERN announces move away from Microsoft

June 13, 2019 | 11:19

Tags: #commercial-software #emmanuel-ormancey #licence #licensing #limux #malt #munich #open-source #proprietary-software

Companies: #cern #microsoft

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) has announced an ongoing project to shift away from Microsoft products, in the face of ever-growing licensing costs and Microsoft's refusal to recognise the organisation as academic in nature.

Best known to computer users as the birthplace of the World Wide Web, CERN was founded in 1954 as the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire. While the organisation has focused primarily on particle physics, its contributions to computer science should not be underestimated - and it's here that it has run into something of an issue: The ever-growing cost of licensing commercial software, in particular Microsoft products.

'CERN has enjoyed special conditions for the use of Microsoft products for the last 20 years, by virtue of its status as an "academic institution,"' explains CERN systems analyst Emmanuel Ormancey in an official blog post. 'However, recently, the company has decided to revoke CERN's academic status, a measure that took effect at the end of the previous contract in March 2019, replaced by a new contract based on user numbers, increasing the license costs by more than a factor of ten. Although CERN has negotiated a ramp-up profile over ten years to give the necessary time to adapt, such costs are not sustainable.'

The result: The formation, around a year ago, of the Microsoft Alternatives (MAlt) project. The project's four key aims: To deliver the same service to all CERN personnel in all categories, from scientists to administrative staff; to avoid vendor lock-in; to retain control over data; and to address all common use-cases.

The project is already showing progress: An internal mail service is to launch, initially for the IT department and volunteers but then to roll out CERN-wide, along with a move away from Microsoft's Skype for Business to an open-source software telephony platform. 'Many other products and services are being worked on,' Ormancey adds. 'Evaluations of alternative solutions for various software packages used for IT core services, prototypes, and pilots will emerge along the course of the next few years.'

MAlt isn't the first time a major organisation has looked to switch away from proprietary Microsoft software: The government of Munich announced that it would move to the Linux-based LiMux operating system and an open-source productivity suite back in 2004, but in 2014 confirmed that it was moving back to Microsoft - aided, it would appear, by a deal which saw Microsoft move its German headquarters to the Bavarian city, bringing considerable investment and job opportunities.

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