I was a competitive swimmer for many years, including my varsity years at U of A and McGill. I’ve lost touch with a lot of the people I swam with, so when an opportunity comes to reconnect, I try to jump at it. This past weekend, Canadian Intercollegiate Sports Swimming Championships were hosted in Edmonton, and my friend of many years, Reagan Williams, took the opportunity with the help of some other U of A Swimming Alumni to host a mixer during the swim meet.
Several dozen ex-swimmers showed up, and some of the current U of A team came as well. It was good to get an update from Reagan, Colleen, Chris, Jason, Tim and Tim, Deano, Linda, Lee Ann, Rob, Jupiter ;-) and others I’m sure I’m forgetting. It’s nice to see so many people I grew up with living interesting and successful lives.
I also got a chance to say a quick hello to my McGill Swimming coach Frank Laurin, and to an old national team compatriot, Vlastimil Cerny, who coaches for Manitoba University. Unfortunately due to the hectic schedule of the coaches, I didn’t get a chance to really catch up, but it was good to see them nonetheless.
We are getting more interest in using Linux desktops in our organization, at least from some of us in the technology services department. As I blogged about before, my boss has decided he’d better learn about Linux. We are getting more Linux servers into production, and that means our technology services staff is in need of more Linux knowledge. Hence the opportunity to put Linux on a few desktops, as a technology learning environment.
Installing Linux on your carefully installed, patched, configured, patched, tweaked, and patched Windows box can be quite disruptive. After spending umpteen hours to get a Windows machine working properly, and then painstakingly keeping it up to date, nobody wants to turf all that work right away and switch to something else. In order to prevent that necessity, I’ve been looking at minimal-impact ways of getting Linux out there and available for users on the desktop. One great way, that I’ve used at home in the past is to configure a Linux desktop system as an X Terminal server and use thin clients to connect to it. That lets you boot a system from the network into Linux, and leave the local disk untouched, so that you just have to reboot to get back into Windows.
I set up an HP Proliant ML370 in Novell Linux Desktop in Engineering. Then I downloaded an RPM from the Linux Terminal Server Project that helped me set up the NLD server as an X Terminal Server. I used ltspadmin to configure nfs, tftp and dhcp on the NLD box, so that I could boot machines over the network into X Windows, and login to desktop sessions on the NLD box. Then I got a couple of boxes that support PXE boot on the network cards, plugged them into my test network, and booted them up. It takes about 15-20 seconds to boot a PPro 200 into X, and then I can login and work as if I was right on the NLD box.
As a proof of concept it’s pretty impressive. I think we could convert whole departments of general knowledge workers like our accounting staff to this mode of computing with little trouble. They run spreadsheets, web browsers, email, documents and telnet sessions to our financial management package, all tasks which are trivial to do in Linux, and lightweight enough to perform well on a multi-user X Terminal server.
While I was hacking on this, James has been setting up desktops for our accounting department in XP. He has 7 new boxes to roll out, and they are the first XP boxes for the accounting staff, who up until now have been using NT4. In the time it took him to install all the security patches for XP, I had built the X Terminal server from scratch, and gotten several thin clients working. He still has to install MS Office, GroupWise, Corel Office, Reflection Telnet, and the NetWare client, and then image the prototype machine and duplicate the images to all the other boxes. I think he was thinking “Why are we doing this rollout when we could be doing that?”
If we moved to X Terminals the users would never need hardware upgrades on the desktop again, until their machines died.
I was concerned that some of the sessions I wanted to register for at Brainshare this year would be full quickly, and today the session registration system opened. I woke up early and started trying to get into the registration computer. I finally gave up at home, and left for work at about 07:30, and when I got here I had an email from the sytem saying it was open, that was delivered at 07:50 or so.
I quickly logged on and got all my sessions registered. The auto-scheduler and conflict resolver Novell made for registrations worked great. I’m pretty excited about going to Brainshare again this year, and I’m planning on attending lots of interesting sessions about GroupWise, NSure Identity Manager, eDirectory, Open Enterprise Server, Novell Linux Management and Mono Development for GroupWise. The only session I couldn’t get into because it was full was one about the future of Linux on the Desktop, which is Monday night. I’m on the waiting list, so hopefully I’ll still get in.
It was a long weekend here in the real land of the free (Alberta) and we took the opportunity to do two days at Rabbit Hill. We went with the kids, and everyone had a great time, but at the end of the second day my legs were getting pretty tired. I don’t have the energy or quick recovery of Mack or Emily, that’s for sure. I fell a couple of times after saying to Jennifer “I’m getting tired,” and I should have known to quit one run earlier. I fell hard and rang my bell, so to speak. I also got enough bruises that when I go to my doctor’s appointment Wednesday, my doctor will think I’m a battered husband.
My boss installed Novell Linux Desktop on his laptop today. He’s the manager of our company’s corporate technology services group. I’m officially not the only Linux desktop user in the company anymore. Wow.
My sister had her baby yesterday evening! Welcome Morgan to the family! She was born at 7:30 MST yesterday and weighed a little over 7 lbs. Joe sent us a couple of pictures, and I sat here going “awwww”.
Congratulations Paige and Joe.
Yesterday I started building a replica of our Trim records management servers in VMWare GSX Server in Engineering. The build was done on an old server that I have in my lab, with only 768 MB of RAM, and dual 550 MHZ Xeon processors, so the hardware is quite underpowered compared to what I would put in production. The test migration from the real system images to virtual machines worked fine, with some driver tweaking, and the records management services all ran properly. Even terminal sessions to the newly built virtual terminal server worked as expected, so we’ve decided to go ahead and virtualize the systems.
I’ll be ordering another copy of GSX server ASAP for this application, and some more RAM for one of the exising production servers. VMWare is amazing.
We run TRIM for records management. I don’t like working on TRIM. I have to support it and it is annoying. As a caveat, it does records management very well, but my dislike of it is not due to it’s functionality, it is due to it’s architecture and the difficulty I have in managing it. It is a fat-client, NETBIOS networking-centric three tier application that uses DCOM for inter-process communications, and it’s has the most nonintuitive configuration of any software I’ve ever set up. Once it’s running it is quite stable, but while working on it it is easy to break the DCOM configuration, necessitating re-configuring all the security settings of the components. Various components of it that run as windows services seem to stop at random intervals. Finally, if you want to run the TRIM client, you need Windows servers with a single domain across your WAN, and you have to allow Windows networking protocols across your WAN connections between clients and servers. We don’t allow Windows networking protocols across our WAN because it puts your entire network at risk for a widespread virus infection.
Anyways, my personal dislike of Trim aside, it does what our auditors says we need to do, so our management decided to go ahead with it. We implemented it as two Windows servers and a database server. The first of the two windows servers runs all the TRIM services, and communicates with the database server. The second windows server runs the client, and serves it out to the users via Terminal Services. The database server runs the database for this and other corporate applications.
Our users connect via the RDP protocol over our WAN connections, and don’t need to have the TRIM client locally installed. We print back over the wire to the users’ offices when necessary. This allows us to avoid passing any windows networking protocols other than RDP over our wan connections, limiting our risk of a massive virus outbreak by allowing us to keep our interoffice firewalls tight. It also allows us to only have to worry about a single installation of the client.
The problem with this whole thing is that it’s a lightweight application in terms of server requirements. We’re not using TRIM for it’s document management features, which require a lot more resources, but only for it’s records management features. That means the bandwidth requirements are light, the server services are light, and the client doesn’t have to handle any large data. Running that little on two big servers is just overkill.
Enter VMWare GSX server. I have been experimenting with GSX server in Engineering and have come to appreciate it’s usefulness. During the evaluation period, I managed to build a few virtual NetWare servers and use them to develop changes to our DirXML driver configurations. At the end of the evaluation period, We ordered a copy of GSX server to use in production. I had intended to run it on a pizza box at our co-location site to host several separate windows VMs to run license management services for our CAD software, but it looks like the first GSX server will end up being used to consolidate our two records management servers down to one and I’ll have to buy another copy for the colocation site.
Today I’ve been installing images of our two records management windows servers into GSX server to validate their performance and functionality.
I hung around for a while on #hula on Freenode tonight to listen to the chatter on the Hula Project and maybe even clear up a few misconceptions. The channel was full of interest and curiosity, and rampant misperceptions about what Hula is and what NetMail was. I tried to clear up a few misperceptions.
Hula is a collaboration suite for email and calendaring, implemented using open standards. It is a brand new open source project but it is not vapour-ware or pre-pre-pre-beta code. It is based on Novell NetMail 3.5.2, a mature standards-compliant mail and calendar solution that has been available for several years. Hula inherits the Linux version of NetMail’s code, in its entirety, and is therefore a working system right now, on day 1 of the new open source project.
Hula consists of many modules that implement the following functionality: IMAP, SMTP, POP, webmail interface, web based administration tool, directory integration, collaborative calendars, integrated virus and spam control, server-side mail rule execution, and shared folders. I’m sure I’ve probably forgotten more features too, but if you want a good idea of what it can do there is an extensive administration manual on the Hula Project wiki and you could also peruse the NetMail documentation on Novell’s NetMail Cool Solutions website. Install it, contribute, and have fun. I think my old cranky.ca webmail system based on postfix and SqWebMail has it’s days numbered.
I did my first install of Novell Open Enterprise Server today in Engineering. It went fairly smoothly, except that I was not able to get NetStorage working properly. That’s a minor setback, considering (a) its beta code, and (b) I read absolutely no documentation. I did get nss working, and created some nss volumes, and I also got some ncp clients in Windows connected up. It wasn’t that hard.
It installs a bunch of Novell services components by default including iPrint, NetStorage, iManager, iMonitor, Novell eDirectory and an ldap-integrated samba tied to eDirectory. Its pretty cool, and I’m sure we’ll be working with it a lot in the near future.
That was the first of many installs to come. I’ll be setting up some OES servers in VMWare GSX server later this week and testing out Novell cluster services on Linux.