Category: Linux

So you have multiple RHEL4 machines in a secure DMZ location. You need to update these machines from RHEL 4.5 to RHEL 4.6. You need to do this without access to the infamous Redhat network, and without physical access to the servers. What are your options? The only supported method by Redhat is to physically upgrade the system with optical media.

How the hell is this enterprise? Both Redhat and Suse continue to amaze me with their inferiority to community Linux distributions. Their inferior support, and the ever increasing licensing costs. Don’t get me wrong, the Linux model is amazing for the quality of product, but the commercial distributors are not adding any value, certainly not enough to pay $1500/box/year.

So what did I do about my DMZ upgrade issue? I ended using Debian’s APT packaging tool to upgrade $1500/box/year Redhat systems. Its quite sad that a community distribution like Debian has better upgrade and packaging tools than the overpriced market leader in “enterprise” Linux.

Cloud Computing is the latest in a long history of overhyped computing technologies. I won’t try to define cloud computing, since wikipedia does a good job, but the most prominent example of cloud computing is Amazon’s EC2 Service.

Instead of finding space in a data center, and dealing with all the IT related headaches that come with servers, storage, networking, and hardware, business can simply purchase instances in the cloud. Instead of paying upfront for a ton hardware, companies only pay for what they use.

Its a great model, especially for software startups. Instead of spending a bunch of money upfront on IT infrastructure, startups can spend money on their core-competencies. Need regional servers? EC2 provides multiple datacenter locations around the world. No need to deal with networking, hosting providers, hardware, and all those other IT annoyances.

So whats the problem? Well first off, you are entirely dependent on Amazon for the availability of your IT infrastructure. Amazon had 6 hours of downtime the other day. Secondly, if you actually care about performance, cloud computing will never be the best option, since its really just a slick interface on top of virtualization.

Virtualization is another overhyped technology, that allows you to split up one piece of hardware in to multiple instances all running on the same machine. So what’s the problem? You’re adding additional layers on top of the hardware, so performance is a problem. Multi-core CPU’s certainly help, but the biggest virtualization bottleneck is storage.

So you have 5 VM’s running on one server using local disk storage? Every VM instance is utilizing the same storage controller. Local disk storage is huge no-no when it comes to virtualization. The way to get around the storage problem is to use SAN for storage, but a lot of organizations are SAN-allergic.

My biggest issue with cloud computing and virtualization is reliability. With cloud computing, a software bug is no longer isolated to a single server, it can literally bring your entire infrastructure down. A hardware failure on a VM server will bring down every guest. A failure of 1 box, is really like 10 boxes going down at the same time.

In the financial industry, current cloud computing offerings would never be used due to performance, security, and risk concerns. At financial firms, virtualization is limited to dev/test configurations since financial applications are extremely latency dependent. What works for a Web 2.0 startup, doesn’t necessarily translate to other industries.

Cloud computing is definitely a interesting technology, and virtualization is here to stay, but its not a magic bullet. There are huge downsides to these technologies.

The Novell “partnership” with Microsoft has been a hot topic in Linux circles since it was announced a few years ago. Recently, Novell and Microsoft introduced a joint-marketing site to promote their collaboration.

A few years ago, I had really high hope’s for Novell’s forays in to Linux. However; bad move after bad move has left me with no confidence in Novell or their Linux products. I can’t say I was shocked to find this work of misinformation touting the “benefits” of Novell over Redhat and “unpaid” Linux.

Novell has this lovely chart to highlight the benefits of SUSE over “unpaid” Linux. “Unpaid” is a complete spin word, sounding like something Karl Rove cooked up in a focus group.

Novell FUD Chart:

fud chart

With the exception of phone and on-Site support, community based Linux does everything listed in this table. As someone who was worked with Novell and Redhat in multiple enterprise environments, their phone support offerings are not very good. On-site support? For Linux? Why would anyone need a Novell presence on-site? Unless you’re doing a training or consulting engagement (ie not support,) their is no need for Novell to come on site.

Online support with community distributions such as Ubuntu and Debian is generally far superior to Novell’s online support. Novell’s Suse forums are a ghost town compared to the Ubuntu community.

Security and system updates via community Linux outclass Novell. Novell’s update system via yast is woefully inadequate. Debian and Ubuntu provide a much better mechanism for updates. Novell provides a crappy method for patching SLES systems, because they want their big customers to buy Zenworks to handle their Linux infrastructure.

In a nutshell, nearly every point in the Novell vs. “Unpaid” section is wrong with the exception of phone and on-site support. Having dealt with Novell and other commercial distributions in the past, phone support is completely overrated. Typically, community based distributions offer higher quality support for no cost.

So why buy Novell and Redhat? If you are using Linux as the platform for Oracle or some other proprietary product, typically commercial distros are the only route. Is there any other valid reason? Its certainly not for the quality of support.

I guess it boils down to the fact that most IT shops want someone to blame/call when something goes terribly wrong.

Ubuntu Hardy

I recently upgraded to latest Alpha release of Ubuntu called “Hardy Heron.” Hardy is due for official release in April.

I’m continually impressed with the progress made by Ubuntu. The distribution has come to the point where it can easily replace the typical windows desktop. There are also a ton of laptop improvements too.

A quick note to Multi-display users, the Compiz visual effects now work out of the box for all you multi-monitor people.

The last two weeks have brought two major software upgrades for my personal computing environment.

The Ubuntu team released the latest version codename “Gutsy Gibbon.” Ubuntu has come a long way, and continues to be the leader in desktop Linux. The Add/Remove programs and browser integration is second to none, even to OSX.
Ubuntu Gutsy Desktop

Speaing of OSX, I upgraded my Macbook to Leopard over the weekend. Leopard is definitely a worthy upgrade. My only complaint is I did a fresh install and I totally forgot that i-applications (i-photo, i-movie, etc) are not included with OSX. I’ve never under the rational for seperating iphoto and imovie from OSX. Its almost as dumb as “Quicktime PRO.”

OSX Leopard Desktop

Overall, I’m pleased with both upgrades.

Ubuntu in the NYT

The Next Leap for Linux

A really positive look at desktop Linux, covering vendors like Dell and HP providing preloaded Linux on desktop machines. The author mentions one point that I’ve been repeating for years.

Thanks to open source developers, there are thousands more free programs. An Add/Remove function actually makes finding programs easier with Linux than it is for Mac and Windows. Without having to go to Web sites, it lets you browse through categories of software. It took me only seconds to find several additional music players, a PDF reader and other programs.