What has Ubuntu done right ?

Like many other sysadmins, I'd rather have Solaris or Redhat/Centos as my server OS of choice than Ubuntu. Debian is great too, but I'm used to the Redhat way of configuration.

I was once a big fan of Ubuntu. Then I discovered Gentoo, and ended up learning a bit about setting up a desktop environment from scratch.

Despite rumours of a fall in package quality and of a decline in testing, people continue to use Ubuntu. I thought of jotting down some points here on why I feel this may be so:

1. bash command not found handler
See:
http://www.workswithu.com/2009/08/17/enhanced-command-not-found-hook-in-ubuntu-910/

2. Good desktop integration
This is almost as good as what OSX or Windows 7 have today by way of MIME type handling, file associations, etc.

3. Good collection of updated packages
The wide variety of packages help users understand and have confidence that they can do a wide variety of things with Ubuntu.
Other distributions (Linux, BSD-style) too have a variety of packages, but the public perception is that the Ubuntu package repositories are very much up to date, and that they have a wide variety of packages.

There are some other points that set Ubuntu apart. See

http://www.workswithu.com/2009/04/23/four-simple-features-that-set-ubuntu-apart/

Some of these points can be fixed on Belenix and on other distros using technology, while others need a lot of perception management.

Update: Removed the Music label. The opensolaris planet was picking up the music label as the title of the post !

Belenix - the next steps

Given the uncertainity around the OpenSolaris 2010.03 release and the absence of any clear information from Oracle on the opensolaris code base, the OpenSolaris distro, and the opensolaris community, it is but natural to wonder as to what would happen next.

Moinak and I have been discussing these topics ourselves nearly everyday.

Our thoughts are as follows:
- Let the OGB meet together, and perhaps also meet a senior Oracle person such as Dan Roberts, and understand what Oracle's plans are as well as the reason for the silence.
The OGB represents the community, and is supposed to represent and oversee the Community Groups, so it's best the OGB take optimistic and friendly steps toward Oracle.

- It is not yet time to fork the code base. Let us learn conclusively that Oracle will not be contributing code, and then take a decision along with the opensolaris community.

Our plans at present are to get the Belenix 0.8 release out, and to then work with the community and the OGB to talk to Oracle and decide on further steps.

See you at the Sun Tech Days !

I'm looking forward to giving my talk at the Sun Tech Days the coming week.

Rolling Solaris into the organization has been an interesting adventure. Buying a Fishworks unit was not working out, though I tried to make that happen twice. So, onto Plan B.

Plan B:
- Set up a cheap storage box using Solaris 10.
- Export NFS mount points and backup build artifacts onto that.
- Export iSCSI LUNs and use for VMWare
- Coach fellow sysadmins every step of the way, and make them manage these boxes
- Show how fast setting up VM eco systems can be when you use ZFS snapshots and clones (e.g. six VM environments ready for configuration in < 5 mins).
- Move on to Zones :)

Confidence building was the biggest task. I was helped by a few disks failing, and my colleagues discovering how awesome ZFS repairs can be.

We also use Linux DM based mirroring (since LVM mirroring is not upto the mark). ZFS mirroring speeds are easy to convince anyone, when they see even creating an empty 1 TB ext3 DM mirror can take upto six hours.

A very important thing that I've learned is that evangelizing Solaris technologies to the average Indian sysadmin requires a lot of Indianization, where we speak of Indian realities (dealing with people, management, budgets).

I'm looking forward to my talk on all of this at the Sun Tech Days on Thursday.

This is the last Sun Tech Days in India. Later, perhaps, it'll be part of the Javaone in India, perhaps as part of the "Develop" event.

Belenix 0.8 Alpha - with KDE 4.2.4

Here's a snapshot of my desktop which I use at work
.

That's Belenix 0.8 Alpha running KDE 4.2.4 compiled with GCC 4.4. I backed up my data, installed OpenSolaris 2009.06, and then ran the install_belenix script after modifying it to point to my local Belenix mirror. Install took 20 minutes, and I now have OpenSolaris as well as Belenix 0.8 Alpha in my GRUB boot menu.

I've taken Wine from Triskelios' builds since we need to patch GCC 4.4.1 in order to get it to compile Wine on Belenix. This is good enough to run Lotus Notes 7.0.1. I do face two errors at startup related to z:\, which I've not got around fo fixing yet.

Also, I've taken rdekstop from www.sunfreeware.com since I needed to get rdesktop running first and didn't have time to set up a GCC 4.4 based dev environment (which I now have).

Some bugs that I've noticed so far:
- The KDE Lock tool doesn't let me unlock ! This is a critical bug which need some investigation.
- The cursor in Konsole is offset by a fre characters from the point of actual character entry.
- KWin sometimes thinks that the Alt key is continuously pressed. I "solve" this by either restarting KDE (Control Alt Backspace), or I SSH into my box and kill the startkde4 process. I've had to do this four times during the past week.

We have core dumps for the above and are considering either investigating further, or simply moving to KDE 4.3

Other bugs that I've noticed include:
- Okular doesn't support PDFs due to some issues with how poppler has been built.
- On a colleague's laptop, the CPU fan started to run at full speed. This is the first time that I've notived this issue.

There may be other issues too, but I've not made time to test them yet.

We've ofcourse had a number of bugs with the install_belenix script, each of which has been fixed.

We welcome you to try out Belenix 0.8 Alpha and report issues. Even if you have OpenSolaris already installed, you can go ahead and install Belenix since it'll neither damage your existing data, nor format anything. The script will ask you for a user name, and will create a separate user account for you.

wget http://www.belenix.org/binfiles/install_belenix
chmod +x install_belenix
pfexec ./install_belenix

Non-IE browser support -> Important for non-IE users

As a sysadmin who doesn't use Windows at all, I have to RDP over to a Windows server, start IE on that computer, and administer switches from there.

There are also sites like www.cisco.com which are not Firefox friendly at all.

I recently wrote to the marketing team at Promise (the SATA Controller company), pointing out that their website is not usable by non-IE users. They wrote back stating that the website will be revamped soon.

At my company, the marketing team tests all functionality to ensure that mose browsers that we can think of work fine. This includes IE 6/7/8, Safari (OSX/Windows), Firefox (OSX/Windows/Belenix). We don't test with Konqueror or with Webkit yet, though I think those two should be included too.

As a developer, I know that web standards compliance requires a bit of diligence but that this can be achieved.

Quote -> "ZFS is the most amazing technology I've seen in recent times"

On Friday night at work, some of us were discussing our plans for the weekend. I mentioned that I'd visit I2IT - a college in Pune - and give a presentation on OpenSolaris and ZFS to the students. Ever on the watch for a chance to showcase ZFS, I gave my colleagues a quick demo on ZFS.

We had a look at creating a snapshot, deleting files, and then recovering files from the .zfs folder as well as by rolling back to the snapshot. I also cited some disk performance numbers (5 mins for a full SVN checkout of a particular project on my laptop, vs 30+ mins for others who use Windows on the same laptop model). I also mentioned the notion of pools, of how one can transparently add storage, etc.

I will be showcasing ZFS sometime this week to the entire office.

While we were leaving, my colleague remarked "ZFS is the most amazing technology I've seen in recent times".

Reflecting on it a bit, I couldn't agree more !

Some links on Cloud Computing

Here is a useful link that helps explain Cloud Computing : http://industry.bnet.com/technology/10001746/fog-is-lifting-on-cloud-computing/

The Open Cloud Consortium has as list of software related to Cloud Computing. There may be others too.

According to the statements on Sector listed at that page, Sector is supposed to be twice as fast as Hadoop .

Though I consider myself too old to understand the medium, I'm intrigued by the effort needed to keep Facebook running. Facebook's cloud computing related software, called Thrift , is available for download too.

Matt Asay asks Cloud computing: A natural conclusion of opensource ? . This is an informative read, because Matt provides perspectives on how users are no longer interested in the underlying technology, but in how they access that technology, and how inter-operable the data is.