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Danish government agency opts for open source

The country's Ministry of Finance chooses JBoss on Linux over Microsoft's BizTalk to run a key system.

The Ministry of Finance in Denmark has implemented an open-source project to simplify data exchange between systems.

The data exchange system uses open-source application server JBoss running on Red Hat Linux. It transmits 1.5 megabits of data per second between about 400 public institutions and the ministry, according to a report on open source from Computer Sciences Corp.

Peter Henningsen, the data exchange project manager at the Ministry of Finance, said the open-source combination was chosen over BizTalk Server, Microsoft's systems integration application.

The main reason for the choice was cost; the project budget was only about $330,000 (2 million Danish kroner). Henningsen pointed out that JBoss is a stable platform, which is essential for the mission-critical data exchange system.

Prior to the project, a range of technologies were used for data exchange: CD-ROMs, FTP to a mainframe computer and replication between Microsoft SQL Server databases. The purpose of the project was to unify the data exchange systems and enable the exchange of XML-formatted data.

Henningsen said there were various problems with the previous setup, including issues with SQL Server replication.

"The SQL Server 7.0 setup was hard to operate and was sensitive to different service packs," he said.

The project took two years to implement and went live in August. It takes XML data from internal and external enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as Oracle Financials and Microsoft Navision, as well as software from SAP, and validates the XML data using the open-source Apache Xerces tool. The JBoss server, running on Red Hat Linux, takes care of the transactional exchange of data.

Reliable and transactional data exchange is essential, as the system is used by many Danish government ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, to send financial data to the Ministry of Finance. The system is also used within the Ministry of Finance for payroll, budgeting and financial management.

Henningsen said he has had no problems with the open-source solution so far. The main challenge has been satisfying the needs of customers from different ministries.

Future plans for the exchange system include moving more data streams to the new platform, implementing more adaptors for the data streams and adding administration functions to the application.

The exchange of data in XML format aligns with a Danish government initiative to use open standards. On its Web site describing this initiative, the government provides a document about open standards in three formats: Adobe Systems' Portable Document Format, Microsoft Word and the open-source OpenOffice Writer.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.