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California urged to use open source, VoIP

Authors of a performance review tell the beleaguered state government it could save millions of dollars by adopting open-source software and Internet-based phone calling.

The Governator may terminate California's reliance on proprietary software and traditional telephone systems, if a recently published state report is heeded.

A body of independent auditors and experts recommended last week that the state consider open-source software and voice over Internet Protocol telephony as two measures to cut costs. The suggested measures are a small part of the voluminous California Performance Review, released Aug. 2.

"If all of these recommendations are implemented, they have the potential to save more than $32 billion over the next five years," the directors of the group of appointees told California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an letter introducing the report.

The savings from using the two technologies would make up a small fraction of that total. Moving to VoIP could reduce the state's phone bill by between $20 million and $75 million a year, the report said. While there were too many variables to estimate the savings from a switch to open-source software on California's systems, the report's authors did cite two state pilot projects that cut costs by $300,000 each by using the community-developed software.

The report said VoIP technology has competitive features that would benefit the state. Internet-based phone calling has built-in benefits such as integrated caller ID, flexibility and network management tools that provide real-time monitoring of bandwidth. Departments and agencies currently use a variety of digital and analog networks and technologies from different manufacturers.

Open-source software has benefits over its proprietary cousins as well, the report stated.

"Open source is not just about cost savings," the report stated. "Since the code is open, it offers the flexibility for organizations to modify the code as needed for specific uses...open source can (also) provide superior security than closed source."

Not everyone would agree with that assessment, however. A study conducted by market researcher IDC and funded by Microsoft found that the software giant's products were more cost-effective than open-source software in four out of five instances.

As part of the information technology recommendations, the panel of 275 auditors and experts that drafted the report also suggested that California create a centralized technology division to run the state's information network. The gathering of resources would help get rid of needless redundancies and save some $24 million, the report said.

The report can be found online.