Old dog, new tricks

My latest bit of tinkering involved re-purposing an old 1G Atom based Compaq laptop that came with and continued to run XP. It had a good innings but I didn’t want to connect an XP machine to my network for the kids to use so I backed it up and burnt a 32 bit Ubuntu 14.04 DVD (I would have preferred Centos 7 but I don’t think the 32 bit it available yet). It all worked very smoothly and it even gave me the option of keeping XP, turning the venerable laptop into a multi-boot machine. Son now uses it for homework (and I’m getting more and more impressed with Libre Office). Everything works well but it is a bit slow. Useable but slow, but we are talking an Atom with 1G here.

Next job is to buy a PSU for another bit of scrap and see if it will run Windows 10…

UKOUG Solaris Sig September 2015

It’s been a while since I attended what used to be LOSUG (London Solaris User Group), a name which seems to have been last officially used in 2011. Nowadays it’s just the UKOUG Solaris Special Interest Group. The main thing is that the key people are the same although there were a lot fewer people there than I expected on my first visit to Bonhill House, Moorgate. That might have been due to the terrible wet weather.

The venue is great and we are back to having hot food (excellent food too) and beer after the talks, as we used to get in the Sun days (in the Oracle Office we were relegated to sandwiches and crisps). The only drawback seems to be a strict chucking out policy at 9pm.

Anyway, the talks…Phil Harman kicked off with “Integrating ZFS Performance Data Using DTrace & Zabbix” show and tell, followed by Tomasz Kloczko with “Zabbix & Solaris”.

Zabbix is not something I’d heard of before – no reason why I should have – but I am always keen to hear talks involving ZFS and Dtrace, both great technologies. The takeaway from Phil’s talk for me was the fact that “tying ZFS and Zabbix allows you to do forensics” plus the fact that sampled traffic from a live system could then be replayed as IO on a new system without the app. All interesting stuff to be filed away for future reference.

An added benefit was meeting some old colleagues and I will certainly make more of an effort to attend Bonhill House more frequently in the future.

UKOUG / LOSUG Jan 2015

Or, Down the Rabbit Hole.

I checked the archives and the last event I went to was in May 2012. Everything was exactly the same as it was then, although my extended absence just heightened to me how surreal the whole event is.

I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Quite the opposite. Peter Tribble gave an interesting talk entitled “Adventures with illumos”. Myself and the other middle aged geeks were treated with another journey down memory lane where I heard words long absent from my ears like “Sun”, “Solaris” and “CDE”.

The irony is, a lot of the technology is new, and as Peter ably demonstrated is actively being worked on. What made it surreal is how far divorced it all is from the “real” i.e. commercial world, especially if you have been exclusively in that environment for a few years, dealing with big vendors, clients and “The Cloud”.

There’s something very “British”, and heartening about how, hobbyists (can’t think of a better description) dedicate their time to preserve and develop something that is of value because they (we) love the technology: the effort and creativity that is embedded in it and the respect for the people who have worked on it before. People are not doing this to become the next dot com with A,B and C round funding. They’re doing it because they love it.

As time goes by and the rise of the machines continues, this community could form the core of a whole new field. In the compressed timescales of IT, the rate of change and the knowledge that could be lost is a real risk. Britain is very good at preserving heritage; in IT terms, Bletchley Park is the obvious example that springs to mind and you can find sites like http://www.ourcomputerheritage.org/. These however, are mainly concerned with hardware; hardware that can be identified with a specific country.

Code is different. It is global. It is like DNA, literally “code”. It contains lots of redundancy and continually evolves. How do we preserve it? Should we preserve it? Is anyone else writing this story down? Who is carrying on the work of Peter Salus and his history of Unix http://www.amazon.com/Quarter-Century-UNIX-Peter-Salus/dp/0201547775?

Great to have a dose of un-commerciality once in a while.

London Solaris SIG February 2013

Last Thursdays talk, SmartOS in the cloud was interesting, not least because it was the first meeting I’ve been to where the presenter was giving the talk via Webex. It worked well. Perhaps one day Ben Rockwood’s descendant will be able to give a talk via tele-holo-vision, as if he were in the room.

The interest for me also came from looking at cloud technologies at the far end of the spectrum from the major vendors offerings, which is where all the professional services work is. Joyent does have a share of this market but I’m not sure if it is more than a Rizla worth. Perhaps I am doing them a disservice.

We were reminded that Illumos is the Opensource continuation of the OpenSolaris kernel, upon which SmartOS, OmniOS, OpenIndiana and Tribblix distros are built. These all have different uses. SmartOS is purpose built for virtualisation and is certainly not a general purpose operating system. It is lightweight, stateless (think esxi), has zones and KVM and essence of Solaris”. This cool sounding OS runs in RAM and is best booted from PXE.

We went into quite a lot of technical stuff, and Ben could have carried on for hours (another time). What struck me was the amount of open source software in the stack. Some of them I remember are Zabbix, chef, jabber, pingdom, openldap, bart. Of course, if you are a FTSE100 company you like to buy your software from other big companies. Personally I like open source software.

One question which I didn’t get the opportunity to ask was regarding the commercials. If you are selling a cloud service (which Joyent are), on the back of all this free software, are there any legal or licensing issues? Do you have to give you users loads of license files to tick? At one point, some open source software disallowed it’s use for commercial purposes. Perhaps I am out of date, or more likely Joyent themselves pay for it in some way.

Anyway, it looks good and definitely worth bearing in mind, and even labbing if time were no barrier.


Solaris for the cloud

I received the usual invite to the Solaris SIG, an event which I attended regularly but have missed for several months. This talk looks particularly interesting being titled “SmartOS: Solaris re-envisioned for the Cloud” to be given by Ben Rockwood.

Given Solaris’ standing in the server operating system league tables, which has been declining for years, thanks to Linux, this talk will be more for academic interest than any practical application. A niche product on a niche product, sad to say. My own experiences over the past five years have not brought me into contact with Solaris at any clients. The great technology it contains will continue to ensure it does not disappear completely and if it can keep bringing new ideas to the party, so much the better for IT in general.

Ubuntu 12.04 – thumbs down

After getting back from a business trip, I decided on a whim to upgrade my main Ubuntu machine. Big mistake. I was running Lucid Lynx and I decided to try Precise Pangolin. Yes, I know the risks, don’t fix what isn’t broken etc. but even allowing for that, it’s still not good. I did the upgrade from within 10.04, and yes, it did work and boot afterwords but that’s where any success ended.

First of all, I lost the ability to log in as my original user, or as root from the new greeter screen. The workaround seems to be to add a manual login option to the lightdm config file. After that, vmware workstation no longer worked (not supported on 12.04) but I managed to fix that by upgrading the kernel to 3.4 and applying a patch.

I had the computer set up while I was away so that when my children turned it on, it would automatically log in as root, run vmware workstation and start a VM that they could use. This no longer appears possible, even after solving the vmware workstation problem.

The lightdm config seems to be subservient to the accountsservice package, so changing it’s options has no effect. The accountsservice cannot be removed, it appears core to Ubuntu.

The final straw is that I couldn’t find any documentation on the accountsservice on the Ubuntu website. Other problems I can forgive, but not that.

Overall, I think Ubuntu has evolved to a level where it is just trying to be too “smart”. I can understand making decisions on behalf of users to cater for a wider audience but it has forgotten it’s roots and blocked off customisation options. From this initial (and brief!) experience it no longer seems to meet my needs so it is time to look for a new default distro.


UKOUG / LOSUG May 2012

Late, but as promised, a quick blog on Dr. Clive King’s presentation to the OpenSolaris User Group in September.

Another great talk which will particularly stick in my mind for the anecdote about the customer who bought larger and larger systems to solve performance problems and ultimately found out that RAM was being artificially limited by a system setting. Ouch. That came from Clive’s tip #1: don’t copy /etc/system settings!

I noted down 10 tips in total and got links to other good blogs like Gerry Haskin’s blog.

By the time the room got hot and stuffy, we were into the realms of chip performance, large pages and MMU traps so we had covered a large spectrum.

If I do any Solaris performance tuning in the future, this talk will certainly be my starting point.

Rescue Me

Thanks to the Ubuntu boot recovery program I was able to get back my bootable Ubuntu fairly easily. Although I had to cut a CD to do it as my original USB Ubuntu was 32 bit and my installed system 64 bit. The recovery tool would not repair a 64 bit system when running from 32. Booting the recovery CD normally did not work either, but safe mode did.

At least as an added bonus it detected and added a menu item for OpenIndiana although it detected it as Xen.

OpenIndiana is the Default

Well, that was easy. My server now boots into OpenIndiana by default. The look and layout is very similar to Ubuntu. One slight gripe is that the OpenIndiana installer has clobbered the original grub, which gave me the choice of booting Ubuntu from another partition. Now I will have to go and reconfigure it to give me dual boot back.

I half expected that to happen since it is typical behaviour of any O/S installed to put it’s own boot loader down. It would be nice however if the installer warned it was going to to this.

It’s nice to be able to have a platform to play with ZFS etc. especially since I haven’t used Solaris (or even Unix) much recently. I have been very happily implementing private clouds, proofing AD RMS, streaming Windows applications with Numecent Jukebox and designing VDI solutions. First things first though…Grub documentation.

OpenIndiana Again

Having a relatively free evening, I am installing OpenIndiana on a partition of my lab Shuttle. The browser I am using to type this in is running from the install DVD. So far it has been a piece of cake and I have just noticed it has finished and is asking for a reboot. Back soon…