Three Technologies We Wish Were in Linux (and More!)

Recently, an AIX administrator named Jon Buys talked about three tools he wishes that were available in Linux. Mainly, these technologies (not tools) are actually part of enterprise class UNIX environments in almost every case.

One was a tool to create a bootable system recovery disk. AIX calls the tool to do this makesysb; in my world – HP-UX – this is called make_tape_recovery. In HP-UX, this utility allows you to specify what part of the root volume (vg00) to save and other volumes. Booting the tape created from the make_tape_recovery utility will allow you to recreate the system – whether as part of a cloning process or part of a system recovery.

Another technology missing from Linux is the ability to rescan the system buses for new hardware. In Jon’s article, he describes the AIX utility cfgmgr. HP-UX utilizes the tool ioscan to scan for new I/O devices. Jon mentions LVM (which has its roots in HP-UX) but this does not preclude scanning for new devices (as any HP-UX administrator can attest).

Jon then discusses Spotlight (from MacOS X) and laments that it is missing from Linux. Linux has Beagle and Tracker, and all are quite annoying and provide nothing that locate does not – and on top of this, locate is present on AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, and others. I for one would like to completely disable and remove Spotlight from my MacOS X systems – Quicksilver and Launchbar are both better than Spotlight. In any case, all of these tools don’t really belong on an enterprise-class UNIX system anyway.

As for me, there are some more technologies that are still missing from Linux. One is LVM snapshots: while they exist in Linux, they are more cumbersome. In HP-UX (the model for Linux LVM) a snapshot is created from an empty logical volume at mount time, and the snapshot disappears during a dismount. In Linux, the snapshot created during logical volume create time (whatever for??) and then is destroyed by a logical volume delete. The snapshot operation should mirror that of HP-UX, which is much simpler.

Another thing missing from Linux which is present in every HP-UX (enterprise) system is a tool like GlancePlus: a monitoring tool with graphs and alarms (and the alarms include time-related alarms).

Consider an alarm to send an email when all disks in the system average over 75% busy for 5 minutes running. This can be done in HP-UX; not so in a standard Linux install. There are many others as well.

Personally, I think that Performance Co-Pilot could fill this need; however, I’m not aware of any enterprise class Linux that includes PCP as part of its standard supported installation. PCP has its roots in IRIX from SGI – enterprise UNIX – and puts GlancePlus to shame.

Perhaps one of the biggest things missing from Linux – though not specifically related to Linux – is enterprise-class hardware: the standard “PC” platform is not suitable for a corporate data center.

While the hardware will certainly work, it remains unsuitable for serious deployments. Enterprise servers – of all kinds – offer a variety of enhanced abilities that are not present in a PC system. Consider:

  • Hot-swappable hard drives – i.e., hard drives that can be removed and replaced during system operation without affecting the system adversely.
  • Hot-swappable I/O cards during system operation.
  • Cell-based operations – or hardware-based partitioning.

For Linux deployment, the best idea may be to go with virtualized Linux servers on enterprise-class UNIX, or with Linux on Power from IBM – I don’t know of any other enterprise-class Linux platform (not on Itanium and not on Sparc) – and Linux on Power may not support much of the enterprise needs listed earlier either.

What are your thoughts?

Alpha Emulators

Emulators are an excellent way to replace aging hardware, saving electricity, rack space, and support costs. (Don’t think you’ll save on administration costs though: the operating system still requires support….)

However, finding emulators for architectures other than the i386 and its ilk can be difficult, particularly for recent orphans. The really old processors are emulated more often (such as the PDP series and others emulated by the SIMH emulator, or the System/370 and its ilk emulated by the Hercules emulator).

Emulators for the DEC Alpha are out there, but are not that easy to find. Stromasys has several, including the PersonalAlpha that can be used for personal use and the Charon-AXP which is a commercial product. For Charon-AXP, they now offer the Charon-AXP NCE (Non-Commercial Edition) which runs on Linux. Charon-AXP has for a long time been the best-known Alpha emulator out there, and there is a lot of recommendations for this product from those in the know.

There is also the open source project ES40, which aims to create an open source ES40 emulator. ES40 has a presence on Ohloh and on Sourceforge. There doesn’t seem to have been any activity on the project over the last year, which is unfortunate.

There is another emulator, FreeAXP, now entering beta status. FreeAXP emulates an AlphaServer 400 and is a prelude to a commercial Alpha emulator product from Migration Specialties, and FreeAXP will be available for commercial and non-commercial use. The current FreeAXP beta appears to be for 64-bit Windows only; the 32-bit Windows version was to come later.

Both FreeAXP and PersonalAlpha appear to be for Windows XP or Windows 7 only; neither list Windows 2000 as an option, and neither run on Linux or Unix. There is a Charon-AXP for OpenVMS, however.

News about Alpha emulators can often be had over at the OpenVMS Hobbyist Portal. After all, what better to run on an Alpha than OpenVMS?

Running Linux/UNIX under VMware Server 1.0

I have the distinct pleasure of having tried a number of systems under VMware Server, including OpenSUSE 10.3, Kubuntu 7.10, OpenBSD, and Solaris Express Developer Edition.  All work quite nicely.

There is one caveat – this environment uses a dual-monitor setup for Windows, and if the emulator autodetects the desktop size it expands to something approximating the two monitors put together.  The emulated environment works just fine (usually) with this screen, but it can’t be used in full-screen mode (since that goes to one screen only).

In that line of video mishaps, Solaris detected the video but only wants to allow 1024×768 (I’ve 1280×1024 here).  Whatever.

I also did not try OpenBSD as a desktop environment – I’ve actually yet to really put it through its paces that way (although I did set up OpenBSD 3.0/Mac68k with WindowMaker a while back….).

Which one do I like the most?  Currently I find myself looking toward OpenSUSE 10.3 more and more – and loving to use it.  The new KDE menu is a pleasure to use, and I love the immense selection of RPMs (and I do like RPM as it is).

The fact that they split up the KDE RPMs seems ghastly to me – too many things to choose.  For example, KDE Office is available in all its little bits – as is KDE Toys, KDE Games, and whatever else.  Nicer just to choose to install KDE Toys or not… I’m not sure whether I like having KDE 3 as a base with all of the KDE 4 applications available – but it seems to work alright.

I’d like to install BeleniX next, but they’ve not updated their system yet – the last hard disk install was buggy. I’m waiting eagerly….

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