A lot of very interesting stuff was learned at this year’s Brainshare. Several things we learned will be immediately applied to what we’re doing, and some things are going to send us into the lab. I got asked to co-author a white paper about using Novell Linux Desktop in a thin-client environment, because I’ve built something like that before. We also got to talk to some vendors, and learn some new stuff that way.
Judging from the attendees, Novell CNEs are getting younger, as the crowd seemed a bit younger on average than last year. Wireless laptops are standard now. I only saw a few sad “have-nots” using the offered wired connections for their laptops, and they did so furtively, attempting to avoid notice by the rest of the technological “haves”. Likewise, it seems that disconnected handheld devices are extremely passe. I saw zero standalone Palms or Pocket PCs. There were a lot of cellular PalmOne Treos, and even more Blackberry devices, but no plain old Palms. I guess the handheld is finally dead, judging by that crowd.
James and I were extremely unimpressed by HP in the vendor pavillion. Of the dozen or so people they had there, very few could answer technical questions on our gear, and many of them showed contempt for our two-year-old servers. They answered our questions regarding problems with some of our servers with responses like “That’s not supported. You should get on a current platform!” That was regarding systems that were only three years old and just off warranty.
On the other hand, IBM was very impressive. James and I both got HP and IBM to give us full tours of their blade offerings and pizza-boxes. IBM’s stuff is twice the product of HPs, particularly in the blade area. IBM blades are fully self contained, have all internal wiring, power and cooling, including fibre and gigabit ethernet and redundant power supplies. HPs blade rack requires so much external equipment and has such a wiring hack required to interconnect the back side that they wouldn’t even let us see the back of their floor model. IBM also offers 3 year warranty across the whole line of stuff, including SATA drives. HP SATA drives are only warranted for a year, and we already had one fail in the first three months of owning our HP MSA20 SATA array.
The other big difference between HP and IBM at Brainshare was that HP had almost no Novell expertise at the show (at least among the people that I spoke to). It seems like their Linux support is an afterthought compared to Windows, and their NetWare support is an afterthought compared to Linux. IBM on the other hand, had people there who knew their capabilities inside and out with respect to both NetWare and Novell’s Linux offerings. I felt way more comfortable with IBM’s knowledge with respect to the platforms that we use than with HP’s.
I’m going to strongly recommend that we look into IBM for our future server purchases.
James had so much fun he kept this look on his face all week.
On a happy side-note, when James and I questioned IBM about their Thinkpads, and what the Lenovo deal means to the laptop line, we were very relieved to hear the response. The Laptop reps said that Lenovo has already been building the latptops for IBM for several years, and the ownership transfer is all about paper, but the people involved in the production of Thinkpads, from senior management down to the factory floor haven’t really changed. We’re true blue Thinkpad fans. Notice mine has a nice NLD logo on it in place of the usual “Made for XP” sticker.
This was a session in which one of the former Ximian engineers got to show off what’s coming up in the desktop. Of course, that’s the Linux desktop. The session included more in-depth demos of some of the stuff Nat demonstrated at Friday’s Keynote, plus a lot more in the desktop space. It’s pretty neat to see desktop productivity stuff in the Linux desktop space that’s ahead of what’s out there on the commercial desktops.
This presentation was about using ZLM to manage Linux workstations and servers running SLES, NLD or OES/Linux. They talked about how to do pattern deployment for various types of user groups, how to use Zenworks imaging to deploy Linux machines, how to do patching using Red Carpet and how to use AutoYast to setup boxes. Autoyast is a tool that lets you manually build a system the way you want it and then create a packaged deployment that duplicates that system using Yast with unattended installs. The “snapshot” tool is part of the Yast module for AutoYast.
One thing they emphasized is that to improve the chances of success for deploying a Linux destkop rollout, you should integrate desktop management into your solution from the very beginning.
Thursday night was “Meet the Experts” night at Brainshare, as it was last year. James and I cruised the floor, talking with Novell engineers about the various products we use, and drinking weak Utah draft beer. I talked a little bit of GroupWise with some of the GroupWise product engineers, talked storage with the NSS people, clustering people, searching people and NetStorage people.
I submitted my pet feature request to the NCP on Linux engineers. When they implemented NCP on Linux, when they are using posix (not-NetWare) filesystems for NCP, they built it so that all files would have user permissions set to rwx. I asked for them not to make all the files have u+x. That’s really annoying, and is the way ncpfs works now. They might add that in for me. We’ll see.
We also hung around the mono/ex-Ximian types for a while and I got to shake hands with Miguel de Icaza, which was cool.
All in all, a good evening.
I went to two other Linux-oriented sessions this afternoon: “The Novell Client for Linux”, and “NCP on Linux: How it Works”.
The first one was interesting in that last year, Novell had no plans to produce a Novell Client for Linux, and due to overwhelming customer objections to that policy at Brainshare 2004, they now have one almost done. The client is basically similar in functionality to the win32 client for Novel.
It supports multiple tree authentication, iPrint, NCP, eDirectory, NMAS, RSA, CIFS, NFS, LDAP and other authentication schemes. It works on NLD and SUSE Linux Pro in both KDE and Gnome. It has file manager integration to allow access to NCP properties in the filesystem on the server, like the properties dialogs in Windows. It does background reconnect and has cluster auto-failover support, and >4GB file size support. There are a bunch of commandline utilities similar to nlilst, purge, salvage, ncopy, flag and rights.
The printing support is provided via iPrint. There is no NDPS support. The client is multiple-concurrent-user safe, so if it is used on a system supporting thin-clients, for example, it works properly with user rights separation as expected.
It has login script support in that it parses the login script, executing the logic and commands found within. It supports conditional login script statements and it uses map statements to provide softlinks in the users’ home directories on Linux that point to “drive mappings” on the server, the way the win32 client provides drive letters. I asked during the presentation to have the client be able to let you map the softlinks in a configurable location rather than right in the root of the user’s home directory. They said that they would add that. I’m going to get my own pet feature in the client!
The client can be installed with Yast, RCD and Rug, and via Zenworks Linux Management 7 via both pull and push. With ZLM the client also supports automatic local user provisioning on the Linux client machine. The open beta will be in June.
The NCP on Linux session was interesting in that it basically demonstrated NetWare functionality with respect to shared storage running on Linux. The interesting thing was that the NCP server on Linux provides NetWare-style rights management to NCP-shared storage on Linux OES, even when the underlying filesystem is NOT NSS or Traditional NetWare volumes. The NetWare-style trustee rights work with any Posix-compliant filesystem that the server can host.
Using it is pretty simple. There is a utility on the server side that lets you setup new share points. Once that’s done you use the client as admin, or use iManager or ConsoleOne to configure trustees just like any other NetWare volume.
I had signed up to go to a Brainshare session called “Design, Deploy, and Document Identity Manager solutions with the new Designer for Nsure Identity Manager” but I didn’t go. Instead, I cornered one of the Nsure Identity Manager engineers in the Novell Solutions Lab and got him to show it to me first-hand.
The tool is a pure-java plugin to Eclipse, and I saw it demonstrated on Novell Linux Desktop. It graphically presents your dataflow from Nsure Identity Manager, with a little flow chart that shows a widget for each stage in the process of communications on the publisher and subscriber channels. You can click on any of the widget to get a configuration winodow that lets you set up a rule for that stage. You can then use the built-in simulator to simulate DirXML events and make the tool process the event document through your rule set to see whate happens. It is essentially an offline testing suite in addition to a programming tool.
The tool can also produce detailed documentation in PDF for your project. In all, a very cool toolset that will allow me to decommission my DirXML transform-testing makefiles the next time i have to configure rules in Nsure Identity Manager.