Archive for October, 2009

Slides Available From Our Managing FOSS Seminar

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

Last Thursday LinuxForce hosted a seminar on Managing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for Business Results. The Seminar home page now has links to the slides from the event. Specifically, there are four sets of slides available:

Please let us know if you have any questions about the content in the slides or from the seminar itself.

Contributing to FOSS: A Business Perspective

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

By Elizabeth Krumbach

Last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the Central Pennsylvania Open Source Conference on the topic of Contributing to FOSS (slides available here).

In the talk I explored the many ways individuals can get involved in FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), briefly covering everything from programming to artwork to documentation. As diverse as these contributions are, the common thread is close collaboration with the project itself. In particular, following the procedures in place for contributing to the project is essential. The talk also reviewed some of the benefits of contributing to FOSS, which include career advancement and the ability to expand your professional network.

Although my presentation focused on individual contributions, these lessons also apply to how businesses benefit by contributing to FOSS. When a business approaches a project they should attempt to build a symbiotic relationship with the community. Such a relationship involves following the established community procedures so that your contributions can be easily adopted by the project. Useful scripts and code developments made within the company that can be useful to the greater public should be contributed back and packaging of popular software within the company can be submitted for inclusion and use by the greater community. Testing and bug reporting based on experience using FOSS on their production (or development) systems can provide important information for FOSS developers about the health and status of their projects.

Benefits for businesses that we at LinuxForce have seen first hand are referrals for projects based on documentation work completed on popular community websites (such as and feedback on our approach leading to improved best practices and building a reputation as experts. By sharing code with projects, others can build upon it to produce more functionality than your team could muster on its own, creating better software for everyone. Additionally, our involvement has allowed us to foster development of Debian packages for software that is used by our clients by, for instance, improving automatic database configuration support and making sure up to date packages are included in releases.

In conclusion, when a business contributes to FOSS they can help drum up business by building a reputation and doing real work within the community, and they help their customers by being on the forefront of development direction and discussions for software that is vital for their own organizations. Contributing to FOSS is good for business, good for your customers, good for the community, and good for the FOSS ecosystem in general.

Customization, Upgradeability and Eternally Regenerative Software Administration

Friday, October 16th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

Mary Hayes Weier wrote an interesting article in this week’s edition of InformationWeek on "Alternative IT: CIOs are more receptive than ever to new software models". What is great about her article is how she captured the divergent views on IT models (such as SaaS, cloud computing, etc.) and gave nice vignettes of different organizations trying different parts of various models. I especially valued her use of cognitive dissonance to leave the reader thinking … better informed but without a firm conclusion.

There are so many parts of the article that I could blog about, but the one that touched the core of my thinking about “eternally regenerative software administration” was the quote by Bill Louv, CIO at GlaxoSmithKline, who said

"And here’s the rub: When you customize software, it’s difficult to implement future upgrades from the vendor"

Louv touched the very bane of eternally regenerative software administration! Software should accommodate both customization and upgradeability: these two elements of software administration are at the heart of my notion of eternally regenerative software administration: how to preserve customizations and provide smooth (near zero downtime with almost no glitches) upgrades through major release after major release. It is a big challenge, but in our experience the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) communities are at the leading edge in finding solutions to these conflicting objectives. Here are some of the innovative ideas from the FOSS world which should serve as models or design patterns for all software developers (if only these ideas would become commonplace!).

First, Debian (a FOSS operating system which is the root of Ubuntu, Knoppix, Xandros and many other Linux distributions) requires that their official packages, a collection of software prepared for easy administration, must adhere to a very mature policy. Debian’s policy is a marvel in the FOSS world and to a very large degree is responsible for its strong support for both customization and upgradeability. I think Debian’s reputation for stability and maintainability is almost certainly due to their decision to develop a consensus-driven policy that its software must implement.

For example, the Debian package maintainer, Luigi Gangitano, for Drupal, a FOSS content management platform, did a great job making the software both customizable and maintainable. The package supports configuration of multiple virtual hosts which can all be upgraded at once! And the Debian drupal6 package stores the look-n-feel in /etc/drupal/6/themes/ so that each site’s GUI can be customized without interfering with upgrades. If only all web applications were built to be as maintainable as Debian’s Drupal package!

Another example is the overlay support included in RT: Request Tracker, a FOSS ticket tracking system. This allows putting replacement subroutines in special files in /usr/local/share/ which overlay or substitute the upstream code. This approach is more likely to break on upgrades, but it supports minimal changes to the business logic with a decent chance that upgrades will be smooth.

There are countless more examples from the FOSS world of innovative solutions to inter-accommodate customization and upgrades in support of eternally regenerative software administration. What are some of your favorite examples?

Congratulations Elizabeth on your election to the Ubuntu Community Council

Monday, October 12th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

I was thrilled when I saw that Mark Shuttleworth announced the election of Elizabeth Krumbach to the Ubuntu Community Council. Here is my “open memo” of congratulations to Elizabeth:

Elizabeth, you earned this honor to serve through your competent and tireless efforts to positively contribute to FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) communities like Ubuntu and its upstream, Debian. Collectively, it is the work done in the FOSS communities that has built a “game changing” software infrastructure which already delivers business results to illions of organizations around the world … day in and day out. Thank you for all that you do by contributing to these vitally important communities!

The Ubuntu Community Council plays an important role in the management and development of the communities which not only build the Ubuntu operating system but also contribute to the FOSS communities that intersect with Ubuntu in so many ways. Your good judgement and broad experience on the workings (both socially and technically) of FOSS communities will help Ubuntu continue producing software to meet the needs of more and more individuals and organizations and thereby grow the whole FOSS ecosystem.

From working with you the past few years, I know you are ready to lead Ubuntu in support of reaching toward the lofty ideal of eternally regenerative software (ERS). ERS is an emergent property of the Debian GNU/Linux operating system (which Ubuntu has inherited) wherein all the component software is integrated to facilitate easy upgrades (re-generation) through each and every (eternally) major new release of the operating system. I eagerly look forward to seeing how your contributions to the Council will foster efforts to improve the integration and eternal regenerativity of free and open source software in support of providing business results to all the organizations that have so wisely chosen to use FOSS.

Xen Virtualization: Migrating 32-bit domUs to 64-bit dom0s

Friday, October 9th, 2009

By Elizabeth Krumbach

Virtualization provides the facility to run multiple isolated computer operating systems on one piece of computing hardware. There has been a huge increase of interest in virtualization technology because recent advances in multi-core technology provide significantly more computing power in each machine with ever decreasing costs. Virtualization is one of the best ways to take advantage of these big changes in hardware.

Currently, Xen is the most mature FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) virtualization technology. Although we love the idea of KVM, since it requires a special processor extension on X86 systems, it cannot work on older hardware. So for at least another few years, we think Xen is the more flexible choice for FOSS virtualization projects.

The Xen infrastructure consists of the Xen hypervisor which “runs the show”, a domain 0 (dom0) which runs a special, privileged version of the operating system (typically Linux, but NetBSD and Solaris are also supported), and one or more domain U (domU) “guest” (or “User”) operating systems. We have found that Xen is easy to configure in many situations, but we encountered some complications in running a domU on a dom0 with a different architecture.

We recently migrated some 32-bit domUs running Debian Etch (4.0) from a 32-bit dom0 to a newer 64-bit dom0 running Debian Lenny (5.0). We did a direct move (using rsync) of the Logical Volume Manager (LVM) slices from the 32-bit dom0 to the 64-bit dom0. This means we’d now be running our 32-bit Etch domUs on a 64-bit Lenny dom0.

The first question was whether this would be possible. Absolutely! 32-bit domUs have no trouble running on 64-bit dom0s, we could even use the 64-bit Xen kernel in these 32-bit systems to avoid additional kernel installations we’d need to maintain on the dom0. The second question was whether we could properly load the 64-bit kernel modules inside our domU. Again, yes! But with a caveat: the domUs were 32-bit Etch, so the 64-bit Lenny kernel modules were not simply installable via apt. We realized that copying over the .deb package for the kernel modules and running dpkg -i --force-architecture linux-modules-2.6.26...deb would not be a maintainable way to handle the kernel module updates moving forward. So we weighed our options:

1. Serve these modules via a network file system (such as NFS) to each domU on bootup.

2. Deploy a script that would notify the domU and copy the new kernel modules .deb to it for installation. We could then install the new module package at our discretion.

We decided that the first option violated our strict security policy which calls for running as few services on the dom0 as possible. Since the second solution is scriptable and therefore automatable, it fit our vision of having easily maintainable systems regardless of the underlying complexity. So we installed the 64-bit modules prior to migration so that all the proper modules would be loaded as soon as we brought up the domU on the new Dom0. The result was a flawless migration of our 32-bit domUs to the new 64-bit dom0.

Introducing RemoteResponder.Net

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

If you know the history of LinuxForce, you know that we’ve been doing remote systems administration using FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) since our founding in 1995. And we’ve called our remote systems administration service Remote Responder for a long time too. But the website RemoteResponder.Net is new.

The new site is part of our educational initiative to explain the issues involved in administering FOSS-based IT infrastructures to achieve the promise of greater reliability and ever-improving functionality while keeping costs low and meeting an organizations’ ever-evolving business needs. Check out our new website RemoteResponder.Net and let us know what you think.

Welcome to The Managing FOSS for Business Results Blog

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

By CJ Fearnley

Welcome to our new blog.

This blog is part of a new educational initiative to foster a deeper understanding of the capabilities and issues involved with administering FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) to deliver concrete business benefits. Although our subject will sometimes become technical, we will strive to address the business benefits at the beginning of each and every post. Therefore, we are confident that this blog will prove interesting and understandable to a broad variety of leaders, managers, and technicians.

We look forward to an engaging discussion in this blog as we explore the new possibilities available to organizations to manage their IT (Information Technology) architecture with FOSS! We hope you check in regularly or subscribe to our RSS feeds.