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LinuxWorld UK Impresses With Depth - page 2

Overall Impressions

  • October 10, 2005
  • By Martin C. Brown

There were over 60 stands at the show covering a large range of technologies, hardware companies showing off their kit, service companies drumming up business, and software companies and Linux distributions showing off their products and services. For the hardware companies it was an opportunity to show off their Linux-supporting hardware, for software companies it was more a demonstration of what we can now do with Linux at a business level. Many had working demonstrations; this was not a "this is what we hope to achieve in the future" show, these were real products available for deployment.

Hewlett Packard

Hewlett Packard didn't have their own stand, but they did have an 'HP Partner Pavilion' which was an opportunity for the companies that partner with HP to provide products and services. Among the companies on the stand were MySQL, where I spent some time with the guys discussing some of the new features of MySQL 5 some issues I'd been having with replication between a 5.0-based slave and 4.x-based master. Surprisingly, there was nothing on display at the MySQL stand. No hardware and no sample applications. I had at least expected a computer available to demonstrate the MySQL 5.0 database and someone on hand to show the power of stored procedures or triggers.

Also on the stand were Arkeia who provide a network backup solution that is supported not only on Linux but also other Unix variants, Mac OS X, and Windows. A stand I frequently couldn't get near provided information on running a personal exchange using Asterisk. In the end I gave up, but it was interesting to see a product often seen as niche (at least while the VoIP space continues to grow) making it to such a big platform.

IBM

IBM, like HP, didn't have a dedicated stand, but they did sponsor the show and have some of their hardware (mostly the rack mount kit) available for viewing within a special seating area. IBM did have a partner stand with different companies showing off their wares as part of a collaboration with Red Hat. With the recent additions to the Power5 line-up I was hoping to see something of the new hardware, but really didn't see anything as most of the hardware was hidden away. I did however get to play with a unit running some virtualization software and showing some impressive use of the CPU prioritization between the different partitions.

Sun

Sun were demonstrating two suites of products--their Linux supporting hardware and the StarOffice 8 software. For the latter they had a version of StarOffice running on Windows and were giving away CDs with the trial software. For the hardware, they had the new Ultra 20 workstation on display (see Figure 2) and the Java workstations (W1100z, W2100z) on show, including one running Unreal connected to a large LCD panel so everybody could see how terrible you were.

The most popular piece of kit on show though were the new Galaxy servers, and they had both a X2100 and X4200 on display (see Figure 3). Seeing them in the flesh you can see the major re-design of the internals from the v40z server they are ultimately designed to replace. Inside, the layout is specially organized so that the hard drives that would normally block airflow are removed from the front to back channel with the motherboard. Instead, the hard drivers are placed in line on one side of the case, creating a single column of airflow from the front (the drives) to the rear (the PSU).

On the other side of the case, in a channel physically separated from the drive/PSU channel, is a bank of cooling fans (at the front), with the motherboard (with two CPUs, including dual-core models) and the PCI slots at the rear. By having two channels for air flow the machine should keep relatively cool, without the hard drives contributing to the ambient temperature around the motherboard. I'm looking forward to being able to monitor this in practice--the units on the stand were not actually plugged in.

Although the machines are designed with Solaris 10 in mind they are also fully supported under a variety of Linux distributions. I must say that the workstations - both the Ultra 20 and W1100z/W2100z--make very attractive workstations for any OS, Windows included.

Rackable Systems

Rackable Systems were also demonstrating their hardware. The Rackable systems include a range of 1U, 2U, 3U, and 4U units and there is now a UK based sales operation. There were some nice units here, including their standard 1U unit and the 2U C2000 and C2004 units. These latter servers are short, but full width, which means that you can install them front to back in a standard rack and get still get 44 of the 2U units into a full-size rack.

As part of the hardware on demonstration they had a unit on test showing the current draw at under 150W for a dual-CPU system. They also had a half-width unit (part of their Scale Out series) which only takes a single CPU, but because it is half width and half depth you can fit 88 of the 2U high units into a full size rack. Using dual-core CPUs that makes a 176 CPUs in a single rack. Each unit will take two 3.5-in drives and has a single PCI-X/PCIe slot. These tiny units are supposedly capable of running with just 95W of power.

Raritan

I was given a very thorough demonstration of the Raritan KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) over IP solutions. These support either full KVM over an IP connection (including dial-up) or emulate a serial terminal which is then also accessible over IP. A further extension enables you to control the power of individual machines too. The devices are highly configurable and very secure--not only do you need to log in to gain access, administrators can control the level of access (blocked, video only, and full control) on a device by device basis.

Obviously not a Linux specific product, but the demonstration showed the units working fine with Fedora running KDE from a Windows laptop.

Oracle

I tried a number of times to get onto the Oracle stand, but it was very busy. Now that Oracle supports Linux many people were keen to see the database running and find out the necessary hardware requirements.

Centrify Corporation

One of the more intriguing pieces of software at the show was from Centrify. They provide extensions to the pluggable authentication modules (PAM) that enable you to login directly to an Active Directory server. I had a long conversation with the main technical liaison about the need for this kind of unified login (the system is supported on Linux, Unix, and Mac OS X). As much as we'd like Linux to be ubiquitous, Linux is often used as a platform within an existing Windows network and authentication can be a problem.

Unlike other solutions, such as Microsoft's own Services for Unix (SFU), the Centrify system doesn't provide a proxy to Active Directory (AD), it provides direct access to the AD repository. SFU for example provides an NIS service through which you can authenticate to the AD system, but the Linux/Unix machines are only using the NIS databases, not directly into AD. Furthermore, unlike some solutions, Centrify doesn't require changes to the AD schema--a move often rejected by AD database managers--and this further simplifies the implementation. Best of all, because the integration is at such a core level, Kerberos keys are exchanged and supported through secondary services. Login to your AD with your assigned security information on a Linux host and you can log straight in to other servers over SSH without requiring additional passwords.

As someone who regularly uses Linux or Unix machines within a Windows environment I was impressed by the quality and integration offered by the Centrify solution and it is certainly an application that deserves further attention.

Dell

Dell had a large stand including a half-size rack demonstrating their 1U, 2U, RAID, and blade-based hardware. I did ask about their approach to Linux, to which I got 'We love it!' But they went on to confirm that they only meant on the server side. Some interesting statistics came out of the discussion--approximately 20% of their server shipments are Linux, rather than Windows based. I was surprised at such a high number, although I'd like to get more detail on the exact break down and how many Dell users have now migrated to Linux, after buying blank or Windows-based boxes. Still, 20% is a major proportion for Linux-installed servers.

More interesting was that 10% of their server shipments are blade based. Considering the recent demise of RLX Technologies, pioneers in the field, and the increased use of very high-density 1U and 2U servers (some of which beat blades for density) this number seemed quite high.

I wasn't able to get more detail about when Dell might move to providing Linux on the desktop, but the guy seemed convinced that it would come at some point, although he wouldn't be pushed on when. I suspect part of the problem is the quality of support for laptops and notebooks, now outstripping desktop units in terms of sales, and an area where Dell obviously don't want users to have a bad experience.

Novell/SUSE

The Novell stand was a showcase for the new version of SUSE Linux and Linux-based technologies in different markets, including retail, accounting, and databases. I worked in the retail business at a time when the HP MPE operating system on the HP 3000 servers was the popular platform. With MPE declining (as it is end-of-lifed), the story here was that Linux could fit into the same space and take over from MPE on the server end, while providing a solution through embedded Linux platforms for use within the tills.

The Novell stand also included a presentation area which provided a range of talks and demonstrations (see Figure 4). Some of these were squarely aimed at the 'What does Linux do?' market, while others were in-depth on some specific markets. The stand was also the venue for a presentation by Gunnar Menzel, Senior Architect at Capgemini on the "Case for Linux." This provided a good guide for business and technical users as to why to use Linux and where Linux could be used within your organization.

For all the content at the stand, the Novell stand was really the most popular because they were giving away small Tux penguin soft toys and slightly larger soft toys of the SUSE Lizard. The attraction of the freebies given away at shows never changes.

Squiz.net

I always find shows a great way to discover new products I hadn't come across before. The Centrify product was one, and Squiz.net was another. Squiz.net support the MySource Matrix Content Management System (CMS) and they had a number of experts demonstrating the flexibility of the product. They also covered an interesting case study on how Future Publishing, which produce a large number of magazines here in the UK on technology and lifestyle topics, use Squiz.net technology. Of all the CMS solutions I was aware of, this was a new one on my and having seen the demonstration, it's definitely a product I will be looking to evaluate in more detail.


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