Brazilian Ministry of Education Embraces Open Source in a Big Way

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 03, 2009

It's no secret at this point a few of us at OStatic are passionate about the use and adoption of open source software in educational environments. Education is an area where the use of open source software feels so natural, but hardware lifecycles, the timing of support and license expirations, and budget crunches slow down the adoption process for many educational institutions.

The Brazilian government officially embraced open source software in its schools, announcing it had selected Userful,Positivo, and ThinNetworks to supply 324,000 virtualized desktops in each of the country's municipalities. This is not only the largest deployment of virtualized desktops in the world -- it's also the largest single deployment of Linux desktops.

I've talked a bit about Userful previously. The Userful Multiplier software takes a single workstation and turns into a multi-head machine. There are some specific hardware requirements, of course (the number of "heads" the machine can support depends on video cards, available peripheral ports, and processing power), but a relatively modest desktop can support between two and ten seats.

Looking at some of the figures in the press announcement, a few things become clear. It's estimated that Brazil is saving roughly $47 million in up-front costs with this switch, and thanks to the 1 to 10 model, about $9 million in energy costs annually. Userful says the cost of the deployment works out to a little less than $50 per seat. Those are significant savings with a relatively little amount of money invested in the product itself. One argument against using open source software in education is the rather vague combination of "it costs more than it would seem" and "it costs more over time and any savings don't offset this."

Here, finally, is a large scale, real-world case study. It's not that there aren't costs involved, and without a doubt the size of Brazil's deployment lowered the deployment costs and increased the savings -- but this is a case that can be studied, scaled, and observed as time passes. Brazil's Ministry of Education is taking a chance -- I think it's one that will give them an amazing return on investment -- but it has invested what's still an impressive amount of money in something that's not been done on that scale. I believe it will be deemed a success in the short term when costs and savings are tabulated. The real payoff might not be seen until these children graduate, however.

This isn't just a gain for schools in Brazil. The Ministry of Education has effectively given educators everywhere with an interest in open source a working case study -- a real, honest to goodness leg to stand on when presenting open source alternatives to administrators and faculty.