How Linux is
Taking Over My Company
When I first started my current
job my server room consisted of mostly Windows NT. We had a single
solitary IBM AIX Unix box that ran our enterprise app. At the time I
started the company was in the middle of a conversion from that system to
an Oracle Applications based product(s). This IBM AIX Box also
additionally handled company email. DNS was offsited to our ISP. And our
file server was this aging Novell server, which crashed daily. And btw the
AIX UNIX box the enterprise app it was running liked to corrupt it's own
data files on a monthly basis requiring a very manual rebuild that often
took 8 hours or more.
In those early days I
was a very green network admin. Although I was confident and reliable in
my PC skills, pretty much everything else I hadn't a clue. I had wrote
some WebPages in my past life, a couple access databases. But nothing
truly prepared me for this job. And my very first task after upgrading all
the PC's in the company to nice new dells, as opposed to the hodgepodge of
dead and dropped PC companies my company used was to replace the aging
Novell Server.... which btw crashed twice a day. I really never did find
out why, but even at my last company they had the same problem just less
My boss (a programmer) at
the time had suggested I try out Linux, because he had heard it was a good
alternative to Unix, something he was a fan off. And something that
absolutely horrified me. I had known about Linux, but never really used
it. And the few times I did I was so utterly confused. I thought for sure
this was the kind of thing only real network admins could handle. But
since I was at least getting paid well for the job and had plenty of time
to do it, I began the process of upgrading our decrepit old file server to
run Linux. It was an AST Pentium 133 with 128 megs of RAM and a 5 drive
RAID box. A whopping 12 gigs of storage. This was now 5 years ago.
My first experience was to find one of our old PC's and install Linux on
that as "test" system before I tore into the real server.
It must also be understood I was expected to work with what I had there,
and not purchase any new equipment as the company was strapped for cash
that was being sucked out of it by oracle developers. So I actually used a
486/66mhz and using an add in board managed to stick a nice 20 gigger in
it to handle the files, and a whopping 64megs of RAM.
I chose redhat as my
first Linux OS. Mostly because I knew they had come along way in making
Linux easier to use and setup. Although I ended up reinstalling at least 8
times before I finally just went with it, it was really rather easy to
use. Since I didn't feel like taking a trip to the store to buy a copy, I
just downloaded it for free from they're slow as all hell ftp site...
Although it took 2 days, and now I think I should of just spent the time
and money, but whatever... After I had finished installing I quickly was
able to find the handy text based gui to access the admin functions. (linuxconf).
Using this tool alone I was able to configure this server to run as the
new DNS, mail, and file server. And it only took me roughly a week. By the
second week I had become emboldened to copy the entire file structure from
one server to the old 486 server. It's also worth mentioning at no time
have I ever bought a Linux book. Everything I ever learned about Linux was
based solely on man pages, HOWTO's, and the numerous amount of listservs,
forums, websites, and the like dedicated to helping people with a variety
of Linux based problems. Never did I use a pay for help service either.
Although the 486
struggled to handle the load, no one ever complained about it not giving
them they're files. And the server was reliable. Only problems I ever had
with it, were only related to me constantly tweaking the Samba config.
Certain options could corrupt files on the samba server. So also during
this period restoring from tape backup was also numerous at least until I
found the setup right for me. It was at this stage I freshly
formatted the AST server and began installing RedHat on that to be the
regular file, dns, wins, ftp, and mail server.
The install of RedHat
on the main server went surpringly easy. Since the server was old it's
hardware including the RAID were entirely supported by RedHat's stock
kernel. And the setup of all the various services I needed was also
relatively easy. During this whole process I had rarely used the command
line, not that I didn't want too though. Every chance I could I tried to
hand edit config files and the like. But in all honesty learning all the
different things I need to know to configure all these services by hand
was beyond my time. So I just stuck with the admin tools went on my way.
Over the next couple of years I spent a lot of time using that box. In that
time I had become fairly competent with the shell. And had replaced our
offsite web server with an in house slackware Linux box.
Slackware from the
time of my first web server build to now has become my Linux OS of choice.
At heart I could never live with relying on config tools alone. Although
the redhat server had served me very well I was always very uneasy about
it, because I knew at the first sign of real trouble I'd be helpless with
only my config tools to help. And in fact I had at least a couple of those
times, including a telnet compromise which forced me to have to deal with
the command line. I was only lucky to have spotted the errors caused and
to undo the damage done by the intrusion. But it was also my wakeup call.
So I spent quite a bit of time learning how to configure a slackware box.
I had chosen slackware for one primary reason. It was the void of config
tools and all the user-friendly things. It focused on ease of use at the
command line level and strict adherence to BSD setups. The only
config utils worth mention were for installing slackware packaged programs
(tarballs) configuring the network adapter, some other basic things. But
for the most part it was free of a lot of user-friendly crud that made my
redhat file structure just a jacked up mess of linked files. Slackware was
much different, all the files were in specific places, not hundreds of
links all across the structure. But simple and straightforward layout.
Slackware didn't focus on trying to give me an easy to install package for
every linux software known to man. Instead only gave me the most commonly
used tools. But even more importantly slackware gave me a very clean
system in which to attempt doing things like installing my own software
and compiling my own kernels.
I now have a few Linux servers I run now.
Web server, and a brand spanking new Dell Pentium
3 933mhz box with lots of space, plenty of RAM. And it now runs slackware Linux, and has replaced that aged AST server. I do all my administration
duties via command line and config file editing. I now edit and compile my
own send mail configs, I hand edit my own DNS files. I only rely on
slackware tarballed programs for stupid library additions that are really
just more pain than they're worth to install on my own. But for the most
part I'm now most comfortable with installing, and compiling my own
software. Even my kernels the first thing I do on every box is reconfigure
and compile my kernel. After of course getting the latest and greatest. I
have zero qualms about any troubles that occur with the box. I am confident
I can troubleshoot and solve any problem on the box now, even problems
with other peoples software. Because now I know how to go through some
program code figure out whats wrong and fix it myself. I don't do this all
the time, but sometimes simple stupid code mistakes I can easily fix until
the developer makes his own fix. On the windows side of the house this
thought never even enters me. I am stuck waiting for a patch. It is
because of Linux I learned about security and how to harden an OS. At
every fork in the road I try to install and use something Linux offers. My
next grand project will be to move our entire oracle system to Linux. I
can't sing enough praises for the ease of use a command line offers in
remote situations. I've used remote admin tools on the windows boxes and I
gotta say waiting for windows to refresh and the inherent oddities that
occur with remote admin tools really makes you appreciate how easy to use
the command line can be once you learn how to use it of course.
Overall Linux stands
to take over my company server room. After the oracle move is complete
only my Norton server, and my payroll server will be the only Windows
boxes. Cost has played a hand in this as well. As trying to get mgmt to
approve the some 20,000 dollars I need in Windows software has been turned
down several times due to costs. Yes I have even tried to revert back to a
windows only shop. Windows 2000 in fact, I was planning to run exchange,
active directory and the like. Just like the true Microsoft vision.. But
turned down due to excessive costs.... Oh well guess I'll just have to use
Linux. My dreams of having an exchange like mail system though aren't gone
though. As there are a few companies and individuals that are now making
exchange like systems. Communigate stalker pro in particular has caught my
eye. And it sure as hell is cheaper. And oh joy it was originally built to
run on *nix systems. Even as I look to the future of my company and it's
technologies its going to be Linux that it gets rolled out on. LDAP, xml,
database driven websites, even our MISSION CRITICAL apps all going to be Linux. And even more importantly, I'm not going to be up late wondering if
they have crashed.