Posted by: acoss | February 27, 2010

Interview with Steven Zinck – Nova Scotia Senior Unix Architect

Nova Scotia Flag

Steven Zinck is the Senior Unix Architect with the Nova Scotia Provincial Government

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Zinck, Senior Unix Architect with the Nova Scotia Provincial Government. Responding by email, Mr. Zinck highlighted some of the free and open source software in use by the Chief Information Office that provide data services to the provincial civil service.

One product in use of note is Reductive Labs' Puppet, an open source data center automation system. Puppet is a cross platform system, so a sys admin can create an automation task(i.e. bulk user creation or system modifications) and Puppet can perform that task regardless of the server operating system, be it Linux, Solaris or AIX. The cross platform flexibility that Puppet provides is a major asset when a sys admin manages very large, heterogeneous data centers.

Read the intervew with Mr. Zinck below. Hyper links in the interview have been added by ACOSS.

Please describe your role in the NS provincial government.

I’m the senior unix architect with the Chief Information Office, which basically means I’m responsible for the design, implementation and administration of IT services deployed on Unix platforms. We support a mixed environment of Solaris, AIX and Linux, and deploy on Power, SPARC, Intel and VMware.

What free and open source software (FOSS) do you use in your position?

We use all the big names like Linux, ApachePHP, Tomcat, MySQL, and the list goes on and on. I’ve also come to rely on some lesser-known tools, like‘s puppet for automation and configuration management.  All in all, I would say we use dozens of open source packages on a daily basis.

What operational problems do the FOSS solutions you use solve?

Puppet, in particular, has really helped streamline server deployments. I can deploy a base OS image, and then have puppet take over and deploy all the custom configurations the server needs.  puppet doesn’t care if the OS is Solaris, AIX, or a variety of Linux distributions.

As far as I know, there is no commercial equivalent that has the same ease of use, flexibility and user community. We also have the option of purchasing support from reductive labs if we need it.

How long have you been using FOSS in your position?

I’ve been with government for 7 years and have been implementing FOSS for that entire time.

Are you aware of any future FOSS that will or may be implemented in your office in the future?

We’ll keep implementing open source when and where it makes sense.

Has there ever been a situation where you had a FOSS solution in place and had to replace it with a proprietary product, and if so why?

I can only think of one situation where this has happened. We replaced Nagios with a monitoring product called up.time.  Much of the technology that up.time is built on is actually open source, but the product itself is not.  For our purposes, uptime is simply a better product.

Are you aware of any other FOSS in use in other government agencies that you can comment on?

Many web sites are built using PHP with a MySQL backend.  I’m seeing more and more interest in the open source web frameworks like Drupal.

ACOSS thanks Mr. Zinck for giving us a peek at FOSS use in the Nova Scotia Provincial Government. You can follow Steven Zinck on Twitter at



  1. I’ve used cfengine extensively in the past, but have been rather annoyed lately at its insistence on putting everything in /var.

  2. A commercial product would be Cfengine Nova, which is based on the also excellent Cfengine Open Source. Nova Nova Scotia? Seems like a perfect match 😉

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