Durham County Council is using a remote device management tool to migrate 5,000 desktops, laptops and servers from NT4 to Windows XP, giving it more flexibility to switch to Linux in the future.
The council previously used Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) tool to distribute software. But it has struck a £250,000 deal with ON Technology - acquired by Symantec last week - to use its ON iCommand tool after deciding it should keep its operating system options open.
The council upgraded to XP because it has a large number of corporate products and applications embedded in Windows.
But Keith Hollins, support manager for Durham County Council, said: "The way Linux is motoring, we didn't want to hit a Microsoft wall."
The council's contract with Microsoft ends next year, and it is working on some Linux projects, such as building virtual classrooms and using it on servers. "We won't go Linux overnight, but we would consider it for the desktop and we want the freedom to be able to do that," said Hollins.
"SMS couldn't do everything that we wanted. Our network has changed on a rapid basis as we got through two network vendors, and SMS took an awful lot of configuration so became less usable."
Hollins believed the council could either spend a lot of money on SMS or consider other options. As it is developing a wireless broadband network between councils in the north east and moving away from BT, it wanted "an agile product" that could work over Wi-Fi.
Other benefits of ON iCommand include the swift combat of viruses. During the recent Blaster worm outbreak, IT staff remotely patched 5,000 devices in two and a half days, whereas a previous virus outbreak took a team of six people seven weeks to patch all devices.
There is also less pressure on IT support, as the software can remotely build a machine in an hour rather than three days.
Steve Barrie, head of systems and service management practice at Bloor Research, said: "ON Technology has worked to move away from the Microsoft base by offering support for other operating systems such as Linux.
"It is ahead of the field in this, so Durham's decision seems a good one."
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