Share This:

Quite literally a stack. Of identical computer systems. Weekend hardware retirements net four of a kind systems for new testing of Enterprise Linux Desktop


There are some advantages to being in my job. Not only do I get to see all the cool new hardware, "play" with the systems of my youth (VAX 7000 anyone?), and see the same diversity of software as hardware, but I get to sort through the hardware discard pile. The discard pile has been pretty tall lately too, what with all the machines we are able to retire because of new technology like X86 virtualization. Sometimes a computer gem or two appears in that pile that gets hauled back to my office and then late one night after everyone has gone home, gets Linux installed on it.


He Started It!!


I moderately recently wrote a post about the possibility of using Mepis as an Enterprise Linux Desktop in an MS Windows infrastructure based shop. I thought I was being fairly clear about the ground rules of that particular evaluation, especially the "Needs to work with MS Exchange to work here" part. I said nothing about its suitability in places where one is lucky enough to *not* have to deal with undocumented and arcane MS Windows protocols. My thesis is that until Web 2.0 is able to abstract the end user away from the MS-created protocols or the special way MS creates non-standard versions of standards like Kerberos or WebDAV, a successful Enterprise Linux desktop will have to be able to deal with them directly.



"Off Label Mepis" was not universally popular with the Mepians of the world, especially over at MepisLovers. In the discussion of my post at MepisLovers one of the factors called into question about my testing method was that I had done it in a virtual machine. Every time I read a comment like that it is like going back thirty years to the early days of VM on the mainframe and frequently having OS/VS2, DOS/VSE, or MVS people tell me that VM was not a good place to test things. What is old is new again. Still, it is within the realm of the possible that things like timing issues of a VM [I.E. the way a virtual machine does not really know what is happening in real time, since all it sees are the times it is being dispatched] can affect a test. I have never had that happen on a test of Evolution against MS Exchange from a VM before, but anything is possible.



I repeated the test on real hardware, and my results did not vary on the key point that Evolution did not work against our MS Exchange server. That pretty much was what I expected, but it didn't take me that long to set it up to verify it so it was worth doing. I try not to ever dismiss a criticism if it might have any validity.



Ever since that comment I have been thinking it would be nice to have some standard hardware to be able to compare one version of Linux to another *at the same time*. Serial OS loads for a comparison are a pain in the stern. What if I want to go back and check a different thing or forgot to test something? Easy on a VM. A pain to reload and repatch on real hardware, even as fast as stuff like Ubuntu or Mint load these days.



I do have a small collection of old laptops: Compaq M300's. These are interesting to test with, especially for Linux on a laptop type things. But they are slow and have different amounts of memory. I talked about these units a while back, when I was first comparing Kubuntu and Ubuntu.


What came into my possession was four identical Dell GX260's. They had all sorts of advantages over the M300s:


  • Small Desktop form factor. The GX series came in three case sizes. These were the smallest. These computers are old enough there is no picture on the Dell website though.
  • Stackable: Little feet line up with dents in the case of the other unit. Four tall, it is almost a prefect cube shape.
  • Moderately fast for my normal level of test gear: 2 Ghz Pentium 4, 512 MB RAM, 20 GB hard drives.



Also very nice was that my old production desktop system was a substantially similar DX340, so things I do with the 260's are mostly comparable with what I do on the 340 [same 2.0 Ghz Pentium 4 CPU], other than that the 340 has 1.2 GB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive.


Virtualization Strikes Again



It is worth noting that the four DX260's came into my Linux-loving arms *because* of the success in our R&D labs of virtualization. I talked about this a bit in "Virtually Greener". The particular lab these came out of has gone from just over 250 computers pre-virtualization to todays 120 computers: more than a 50% reduction in the lab. These four plus a couple of others are the only ones that were re-deployed in other missions. The rest have been sent to the great computer recycler in the sky. Or maybe New Jersey. Someplace.



These four desktop systems had been sitting side by side on a shelve in a 19" rack, their small form factor actually working pretty well in that regard. They had been running various levels of MS Windows Server for testing things. Now they are going to show up over at Linux Counter.


The Six



Add in my current production desktop, a Dell 745, and I have six different systems to run six different versions of Linux *at the same time*. The 745 is currently running Mint 4.0, and will go either to Mint 5.0 or Ubuntu 8.04 in the near future. I have been testing 8.04 on a my personal laptops (IBM X30, Acer 5610) for a while now, and it is very impressive.


  • The 340 has been running PCLinuxOS 2007 since I last posted about it here. I donated money to that project to get access to the faster servers and more recent / additional packages and updates, so it is fully set up and tweaked out the way I like it.
  • 260 number one: Ubuntu 8.04 beta (LiveCD)
  • 260 two: Fedora 9 Alpha (LiveCD)
  • 260 three: OpenSUSE 11.0 Alpha (LiveCD)
  • 260 four: Mandriva 2008.1



The 260's and 340 are hooked to an Avocent switch, a Dell 1280x1024 17 inch LCD panel (172FP), a Sun USB keyboard, and a Dell USB mouse. I was able to get all but one of them running correctly at 1280x1024, but Mandriva and OpenSUSE has to be told to use that resolution, preferring 1024x768.



All were installed on the entire hard drive. All use GRUB. Poor LILO. Seems its fortunes have passed.



The one 'running correctly' hold out is Fedora. It works fine off the LiveCD, but gave several problems on the install. One of which is that there can be no swap space defined while installing it. It is a documented problem that Fedora knows about so I assume the next release of two will fix it. The other is that once installed it will not boot at all. Just won't. When I want to look at Fedora 9, I just run it on the LiveCD for now.



Only Mandriva is an official release, so I will not make any judgments here about the relative anything about these OS's, other than to say Ubuntu as a Beta is farther down the road to GA readiness, and was dead easy to install, but the updates are still coming fast and furious in 'Update Manager', so it clearly is not done quite yet. It is less than a week away from GA as I write this in mid-April. Fedora 9 is set for Mid-May, and OpenSUSE 11 mid June.


I wanted to get this config and what I am planning on doing with them set up here in this post, so that I can refer to this test set up as these releases come to GA'ness over the next few months, and I can look at them on a more level playing field. As always, I will be trying to figure out the big question: Which of these desktops work as Linux Enterprise desktop OS's (whether they were designed to or not).



Finally, you might have noticed Mepis is not among the test stuff. If I had one more 260 computer, it might have been. But probably not. Mepis, according to the folks in the MepisLovers forum, is waiting for KDE 4 to add all the bits and pieces required to support MS Exchange, eschewing Gnomes stuff that is already there. I do not know if that is accurate or just the opinion of the poster, but until I see a hint someplace that Mepis or KDE 4 has made some moves such that they interact better with the MS Infrastructure I have to deal with here at the office, I will probably not spend any more time on it.


And now for something completely different..



i just wanted to insert a quick note here, in case anyone was wonder what has happened to the rate I have been posting recently. The answer is:


  1. Bladelogic
  2. End of quarter, end of fiscal year
  3. Reviews



I have been involved in the activities around bring BMC's latest member of our family into the fold. The BladeLogic acquisition has been hugely exciting, but it has kept me pretty busy.



Then, we not only closed a quarter but closed a fiscal year, and at time like that I take off my R&D Support hat, put on my Production IT hat, and help where I can.



Finally, this is review time for my team, and writing reviews take me a great deal of time and effort...writing time that I don't spend writing here.


That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.