Friday, May 30, 2014

32-bit Enterprise Linux Still Matters

I've been testing the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Release Candidate. One thing that stuck out right away was the lack of a 32-bit x86 build. In last week's DistroWatch Weekly Jesse Smith questioned the need for such a build, which is only useful on legacy hardware, in the enterprise. He wrote:
"Something which caught my attention while reading this question was the requirement for a 32-bit operating system with newer software than Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 offers. It seems unusual that someone would want new software versions, enterprise support and a 32-bit operating system. New software and legacy hardware (or new software and enterprise environments) rarely go together and it might be worth looking into whether these criteria are really necessary."
While I certainly understand Jesse's point about 32-bit being legacy hardware, there are still many use cases where 32-bit and current enterprise quality software and OS are necessary. Many current Linux apps are still very light and can run very well on rather old hardware, both in the server room and on the desktop.

I've done a lot of support of government servers and they run for about forever, as in until they serve no further use. Even retired, old servers are often repurposed and put back into service due to budget restrictions and/or long lead times to order new equipment under the required procedures for government procurement. In the United States this is especially true at the state level. When a server is repurposed it is usually reloaded with the current enterprise standard Linux distrubution release and applications, not legacy releases. That's one common use case.

Non-profits and small businesses often get by with older equipment as well, and in the case of non-profits it may even be donated second hand equipment that was no longer useful in it's former commercial enterprise home. Once again, a 32-bit OS and current software makes sense in cases like this.

My personal hope is that the free enterprise Linux clones will take Red Hat's 64-bit sources and create a 32-bit version. It isn't hard to do but it is time consuming. CentOS has already made clear they will release a 32-bit build(see comment by developer Johnny Hughes below), which leaves Scientific Linux and Springdale Linux.

[Note: This article was expanded from my comments on DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 560.]

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Lucrative Linux Job Offer I Turned Down

I haven't written about sexism in the Information Technology field in six and a half years. Any time I have ever written about gender issues, sexism or discrimination in IT, and particularly when I wrote for O'Reilly, there would be many comments by men who would get all defensive, tell me it's all in my pretty little head or if I would just get tougher and ignore it it would all go away. Others would fall back on sexist stereotypes, claiming women are just not interested in computing or are simply not as good at anything related to math, science and engineering than their male counterparts. Those who inevitably argue that the problem doesn't exist demonstrate just how pervasive the problem is with their comments. Never mind that IT is still dominated by young, white men plus a smattering of young Asian men. Other minorities and women are grossly underrepresented. Never mind that women have left IT in droves over the past 14 years and when interviewed they cite the hostile workplace that is the reality of many if not most IT shops. Nope, there's nothing wrong at all.

Last month I went through an interview process with a large company in a nearby state. I turned down what would have been the highest rate of my career as a Senior Linux Engineer. It paid about $10K more than I earned in a contract in Texas last year. Why did I walk away from an offer like that? I was told there are 400 people in IT, all male. I would have been woman #1 in 2014. When I asked about whether I might have problems in that environment the gentleman who would have been my boss said, "I'm the manager. I'm in a position to make sure you have no problems." That's when I knew that I had to walk away. If he had said, "I know my people. You won't have problems." I might still have taken the job. To think he can dictate attitudes and corporate culture told me that a lot more was wrong than even I saw in my interview process, and I had a bad feeling about this position pretty early on.

It's 2014, isn't it? I've been in IT since 1980. I have never seen an all male IT department before. Even worse: I worked for one of this company's direct competitors years ago and the ratio of men to women in my group was 60/40. Sexism in IT hasn't gotten better in recent years. It's gotten far, far worse. Still, I expect lots of comments from people, mostly men, in denial about this. After all, things are just fine for them.

I have pretty much decided to continue to build my consulting business even if it means less money in the short run than a corporate or government position. At least in my own business I have some control of the environment, even if I have to work a lot harder for every dollar.

Friday, May 24, 2013

It Seems I Won't Be Writing For Linux Advocates After All

Last week I had announced in the LXer forums that I would be a contributing author to Linux Advocates. That was followed by a post on the site announcing that I would be joining their team. I was honestly excited about this. I felt that writing for Linux Advocates would add credibility to my stories and bring me back some of the wider audience I had when I wrote for O'Reilly Media. The additional exposure would help me market my consulting business which brings Linux and FOSS solutions to businesses and organizations looking to reduce IT costs and enhance the reliability, stability and security of their IT infrastructure.

Today it became clear that I wouldn't be writing for Linux Advocates after all. I've learned a lot in the past week and I've come to the conclusion that this is for the best.

First, a number of prominent writers and developers in the Linux community tried to get me to reconsider. The big issue for them was what they saw as heavy handed moderation by Dietrich Schmitz, including banning a number of them from the site entirely. I've argued that website owners have the right to moderate and control the content on their sites. I've made clear that such editorial control is most definitely not censorship as some have claimed. The dispute between Mr. Schmitz and those who felt they were unfairly treated, including several former Linux Advocates writers, spilled over into five different threads in the LXer forums and several Google+ pages and included a great deal of rather heated language.

After reading all the comments back and forth I decided to go ahead as planned and I began an article on systemd to be published as my first post for Linux Advocates. Unfortunately little things like earning a living plus one day where I was a bit under the weather got in the way of my finishing the article until today. Following instructions sent to me by Mr. Schmitz I added myself as a contributor to the site. So far, so good.

Only then did I really read and digest everything else Mr. Schmitz wanted me to do, like setup an account in his personal domain so that I could have a Linux Advocates e-mail address. He also wanted me to install a Zemanta plugin for Chrome. I have deliberately chosen not to use Chrome (an article about that soon) and wasn't happy about that at all. I went to install the Zemanta plugin for Firefox instead and was presented with a Microsoft-style End User License Agreement (EULA). As many in the open source community would expect, that set off all sorts of red flags for me.

In the seven years since my identity was stolen and used for criminal purposes I've become increasingly paranoid about data security. I already feel I've left way too much information about myself out on the net. I'm very concerned about what companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft do when they collect data about me. I'm very concerned about who they might sell or give that data to. Suddenly, I found myself reading a license agreement for a proprietary piece of software that explicitly had terms relating to collecting and retaining data.

I felt deeply uncomfortable and didn't go through with the installation. It's one thing to be forced to use proprietary software to service a client or do work required by an employer. It's quite another for someone who is getting my labor at no cost and benefiting from it to demand I install something on my own system. I first asked if Zemanta was mandatory and then wrote a follow-up e-mail making clear that I wasn't about to install it.

Mr. Schmitz' response was direct and to the point. If I can't accommodate how he chooses to run his site then I should go elsewhere. Once again, he was getting writing from me on a voluntary basis on a website were he is currently begging for money to make ends meet. This is a Linux advocacy site. You'd think he'd be the one to accommodate an aversion to proprietary tools that aren't in any way necessary for him to publish my writing. I guess not.

So.. no, sorry, Mr. Schmitz, I won't be accommodating you. I'll find ways to bring traffic to my blog which don't require sacrificing my security, privacy or principles. I still have other outlets who would like me to write for them as well. I wish Dietrich Schmitz all the best with his website. I just won't be a part of it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Linux, Standards and the Enterprise: Why Red Hat Enterprise Linux Remains the Best Choice

Dietrich Schmitz, writing for the Linux Advocates website, posted an article yesterday about how Red Hat's adherence to the Linux Standards Base (LSB) guarantees stability and reduces costs in the enterprise. While I agree with Mr. Schmitz wholeheartedly, from my perspective the reasons by Red Hat Enterprise Linux remains both the leader and the best choice in business, government and non-profit spaces goes far beyond the LSB.

I've been a professional UNIX/Linux systems administrator for 18 years now. I've had to implement, maintain and support servers from all of the enterprise distributions and a few distributions not generally used in the enterprise as well for my employers and customers over the years. I'm a big advocate for Red Hat and the various free clones (CentOS, Scientific Linux and Springdale Linux) as the best solution for most organizations. First, it's exceptionally stable as Mr. Schmitz points out. Second, it offers the longest support period at 10 years. Third, they have excellent and professional support.* Fourth, they do the best job at insuring compatibility with both FOSS and commercial apps during the full 10 year release cycle.

My big issue with SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLES/SLED) is that they do push major version changes of the kernel, tool chain and apps in what they euphemistically call Service Packs. The Service Packs are actually major releases recently and have been known to cause major breakage and pain. My experience with their support organization here in the U.S. has been less than satisfactory, particularly the time needed to respond to and resolve issues.

Canonical (Ubuntu) has much shorter support periods than either Red Hat or SUSE. They also don't backport additional hardware support or patches into their kernel, forcing you to either do the SUSE style update gamble even more frequently than with SUSE or else to run without needed support and/or vulnerabilities.

The free clones of Red Hat Enterprise Linux I mentioned earlier are not permitted to name their source, referring merely to "the upstream provider," but pretty much everyone in the Linux community knows precisely what they mean. They represent a real advantage to Red Hat (the distribution if not the business) in that they allow businesses to try before they buy. They provide the opportunity to run a test bed or non-critical system at reduced cost. The clones also allow non-profits and cash strapped small businesses to forgo commercial support, at least for a time, and still use software that is entirely compatible with the leading enterprise Linux distribution. As organizations grow and their needs change converting a server or workstation running a clone to a genuine, supported Red Hat system is a simple process.

Finally, I'm sure fans of Debian and Slackware packaging will disagree with me, but keeping to standards, specifically the LSB, also goes a long way to insure application compatibility. I think it's vital that all enterprise distros follow standards.

*= Disclaimer: I was part of the support team for seven months as a consultant in 2005. I no longer am affiliated with Red Hat in any way, shape or form. [NOTE: This article originally appeared as a comment on in abbreviated form.]

Friday, September 7, 2012

Linux on the Desktop: New Opportunities

Lately we’ve been treated to (or bombarded by) a slew of articles and blog posts proclaiming the failure and/or the death of Linux on the desktop. I could describe what I really think of these articles but my language would be a bit more colorful than would be appropriate. Suffice it to say it’s all bunk as far as I am concerned.

I have written about why I believe Linux remains under 10% of the desktop market: the lack of preloaded systems available in stores and the slow uptake of Linux on the enterprise desktop. The enterprise desktop is critical if Linux is to make progress on the consumer desktop without a presence in big box stores. People use what they know and like. If they use and like Linux at work they may well want to use it at home as well.

During my recent travels I had the opportunity to talk to a manager in a cash strapped part of government. Linux has been making inroads there not only on servers but also as a thin client solution. One high point of the discussion was when he showed me a magazine article, one I had already read, about how unsuitable Linux is for the desktop. He had read several articles like that one and had bought the oft repeated conclusion that Windows is still the only option for doing real work. Once again, it’s all bunk.

I was able to seize upon the opportunity, talking about my experience with Windows to Linux migrations I had seen in companies I have worked with. I also could point to a few large corporations that had made the change and had saved millions of dollars in the process. There is a real possibility I may be able to do a demonstration project using openSUSE. If that is successful it could lead to a significantly large enterprise migration, one I would get to participate in. This particular piece of government already has largely replaced Microsoft Office with OpenOffice so that’s one piece of the migration which would be simple for them.

Of course, if this did go forward, which is by no means a certainty, it would not be unique or in any way ground breaking. I’ve dealt with any number of companies and organizations that have done it already. Linux enterprise desktop penetration is still small, but there are some very large deployments out there. I’ve seen a few that have been absolutely successful in terms of lowering costs and increasing stability and security.

As anyone who reads the news knows, the economy in the U.S. is recovering slowly and the economy in much of Europe is back in recession. As businesses, governments and organizations look at ways to survive and even thrive in what is still a difficult financial climate it is very likely that Open Source solutions will get another serious look. If adoption grows in any meaningful way, even in a relatively small way, yet more consumers will be aware that there is an alternative to Windows out there, one which may well be superior for their particular needs. Once they’ve used Linux at the office, and perhaps Android (which is just a Linux distribution after all) on their phone or tablet, the fear of trying a different OS than Windows may be gone. The explosion of tablets and smartphones that generally don’t run Windows coupled with some expansion in corporate adoption may give Linux one perhaps final opportunity to gain traction on the consumer desktop as well.