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June 25, 2003

Our Linux Plan

One of the most exciting pieces of the server improvements plan I'm working up is the possibility of moving down the Linux path. A few of the developers have dreamed of this, and we've dropped hints about it from time to time. I guess with the good press Linux is getting (CIO's front page article caught a few eyes) and worries about Sun's future, the mention of using Linux no longer throws people into a state of hysteria. The project director is letting me drive this decision, with an open mind that Linux may be the better choice.

So what is necessary to prove the case for investing in Linux over Sun?

Concerns & Issues Which Have an Obvious Answer

The number of other high-profile companies who have switched carries a lot of weight. Google is the pillar example, the story of their conversion to Linux dispells a lot of doubt. I found this site full of information about dozens of companies who are using Linux. If Google, ETrade, Amazon, FedEx etc are doing it then we know the path is well worn.

Financially it's pretty straighforward . . . near impossible to find a high-end Linux box that costs more than a Sun. The highest levels of hardware and software support from vendors like Dell, IBM ring up considerably cheaper.

Support concerns typically arise during Linux conversations. Even though the service level for Linux can be made to match what we have form Sun there are concerns about how good that support is (we've had good luck with Sun).

So we have to throw away our expensive Sun boxes? No, we continue to host our MySQL database on our SunFire 280R and use our E250 as both a slave backup to the database and a machine to do indexing etc. Having the critical data on these Sun-supported machines eases the pressure from ensuring that our Linux boxes are supported and as robust as the Sun boxes. Using Sun boxes for highly-available data is not a new idea

Concerns & Issues Without an Obvious Answer

How sure are we about Sun's future? We have a lot of expertise on Sun and are quite comfortable doing administration of the machines. Does it make sense to switch and add another set of variables to our environment?

We subscribe to University Systems Group services at Tufts. They build our machines with Jumpstart, back them up, provide monitoring services and in general are a wealth of knowledge when dealing with sysadmin. Can those services be utilized on the Linux boxes? How much work is it to provide the services for ourselves (if USG doesn't support them)? How much do we alienate ourselves by embracing technology that isn't "standard" within the organization?

Building the machines (carryover from USG question). Since we won't have someone else building our machines what methods do we put in place to build these boxes. Do we do some sort of ghosting, or use a base install from a CD and have a set or RPMs to dump onto the machine, etc?

We have a console server which connects to serial ports on our Sun boxes. The console server docs claim it can be used with Linux machines as well, what kind of specs are needed on the machine to allow this? Or do Intel boxes typically come with a serial port which by default can be attached to a console server?

As we plan to add load balancing across these machines is there anything about the load balance process that is OS specific (checking availability, CPU load)? Most likely a silly question.

The data center uses Legato for backup, which is available for Linux. Will there be any issues backing up Linux boxes?

Is there any reason to doubt Intel/Linux will be a good long-term solution? Is AMD a better choice that Intel for Linux?

Can we believe that if the Linux movement took a drastic turn and went bad that investing in it is still a good idea? The mentality with Sun hardware is that when you buy a box it's going to have to last 10 years to get your money's worth. Not easy to shift to a mentality that buying servers is a shorter-term commitment. If we invest in four or six Linux boxes and Linux went sour tomorrow we'd still be able to let the boxes live out their lifetime. Probably a better choice than buying Sun boxes and finding out tomorrow that Sun's gone under and we've got 10 years until we have "used up" the hardware.

Will CPU, I/O, memory on Linux boxes perform as well (or better) as Sun? Another silly question?

That's all for now . . . but more to come shortly.

Posted by mike at June 25, 2003 4:16 PM