Sunday, January 22, 2006

Life As A Linux/Unix Admin In A Linux/Unix World


The catalyst for the writing of this post is the forum post -
Life as a Linux/Unix admin in a Windows world - and the fiery reply by the user 'broom'.

In the company I work for, Windows PCs would account for around 5% of the user desktops and the number of Windows Servers could be counted on one hand (with no thumb and two fingers missing). Solaris is heavyweight champion of our world, however, Linux is up on points in the early rounds for the battle of the desktop.

It has been my focus over the last 4 months to migrate our rock-solid Solaris 8 CDE user environment to an Ubuntu Breezy Badger GNOME user environment. Other desktops that were tried included Solaris 10 Java Desktop System 2 (GNOME), SUSE 9 and Fedora Core 3 & 4, with Ubuntu coming out the winner on functionality and stability. The desktop OSes also had to run SunRay Server Software (SRSS). Part of the success for the lack of Windows relies on the use of SunRay Thin-Clients.

Although the author of the article mentioned above paints the picture that he was/is in the warzone against Windows admins and how Linux was superior in a number of areas, working in the environment I work in isn't the Utopia that he seems to paint..


The argument of having support contracts when you already have experienced admins is baseless. Although the author of the article brags about how he doesn't need support contracts for his Linux servers and uses the support on Windows servers as a point to undermine the admins, I think the amount of time to have issues resolved is greatly increased.

Support contracts are there as a backup and do not make the admins look incompetent. We have Sun support contracts for all of our production servers and have had to put calls through on multiple occasions when errors appear in the messages file that look suspicious and a google search does not find the answer for. In contrast, when multiple bugs have occurred on the new Ubuntu desktops, the onus rests completely with me to log bug reports and work on the fixes.

The open source community is great for helping each other out, however, most are not paid to sit in front of the bug management systems 8-hours a day/5 days a week and as a result there can be long delays in getting issues fixed or not fixed at all. Although I will aim to start working on bugs more at work, I find myself logging all the bugs at home in my own time, because of the amount of time it consumes. Convincing my boss to purchase a support contract on the Ubuntu desktop through Canonical is also going to be tough as the driving reason behind the migration was that it was "free".

Windows v Everything Else

I would say that Linux as a business desktop, in principle, far outweighs the cost and the insecurities of an equally-locked down Windows desktop. Running Linux over a thin-client architecture and setting up Windows servers to serve applications via rdesktop or Sun's Secure Global Desktop can get around the compatibility arguments.

The current situation still needs greater improvements.. Evolution needs to be made more stable and needs to integrate better with major email servers, OpenOffice shouldn't blackout the corner of the desktop on large spreadsheets, etc, etc.. The principle of having a locked down GNOME 2.12 desktop looks great on paper, but I feel there are a few more versions to go before it is rock-solid. The rock-solid achievement will be hard to attain given that GNOME is constantly changing it's suite of apps in each version and it has a lack of super strict rules for letting new additions in.

I will continue to support that a Linux thin-client desktop is a better alternative to running Windows on PCs, however, I would really like to say that it is a rock-solid alternative to Windows.

'broom's Reply

The more I network and talk with Linux/Unix professionals, the more I find that there are a large-number of narcissistic 'bettermen' out there, out to prove the point that they work on bigger and better things and earn more cash than you do. I think it is OK to list your experiences and what you work on, but don't then use it to start off a penis-size competition.

Penis competition aside, I do whole-heartedly agree that mouthing off all the time about how wonderful Linux is will set the author up for a big fall. Just like riding a motorbike, almost every rider falls off once. Along with the aggressive boasting about Linux, going behind your bosses back to his superior is just plain unprofessional and, in my eyes, makes him look like another stupid tech-head with no business skills. Gone are the days when propellerheads could hack away on Linux/Unix boxes in a locked room, IT dudes must also be able to act as part of the business world as well, I learn this more each day.


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