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Unix system administration bulletin, 2006

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[Dec 15, 2006] Interview syslog-ng 2.0 developer Balázs Scheidler

Dec 13, 2006 |

syslog-ng is an alternative system logging tool, a replacement for the standard Unix syslogd system-event logging application. Featuring reliable logging to remote servers via the TCP network protocol, availability on many platforms and architectures, and high-level message filtering capabilities, syslog-ng is part of several Linux distributions. We discussed the highlights of last month's version 2.0 release with the developer, Balázs Scheidler.

NewsForge: How and why did you start the project?

Balázs Scheidler: Back in 1998 the main Hungarian telecommunication company was looking for someone on a local Linux mailing list to port nsyslog to Linux. nsyslog -- developed by Darren Reed -- was at that time incomplete, somewhat buggy, and available only for BSD. While at university, I had been working for an ISP and got often annoyed with syslogd: it creates too many files, it is difficult to find and move the important information, and so on. Developing a better syslog application was a fitting task for me.

NF: Why is it called syslog-ng?

BS: syslog-ng 1.0 was largely based on nsyslog, but nsyslog did not have a real license. I wanted to release the port under GPL, but Darren permitted this only if I renamed the application.

NF: What kind of support is available for the users?

BS: There is a community FAQ and an active mailing list. If you are stuck with the compiling or the configuration, the mailing list is the best place to find help. My company, BalaBit IT Security, offers commercial support for those who need quick support.

NF: Documentation?

BS: The reference guide is mostly up-to-date, but I hope to improve it someday. I am sure there are several howtos floating around on the Internet.

NF: Who uses syslog-ng?

BS: Everyone who takes logging a bit more seriously. I know about people who use it on single workstations, and about companies that manage the centralized logging of several thousand devices with syslog-ng. We have support contracts even with Fortune 500 companies.

NF: What's new in version 2.0?

BS: 1.6 did not have any big problems, only smaller nuances. 2.0 was rewritten from scratch to create a better base for future development and to address small issues. For example, the data structures were optimized, greatly reducing the CPU usage. I have received feedback from a large log center that the new version uses 50% less CPU under the same load.

Every log message may include a timezone. syslog-ng can convert between different timestamps if needed.

It can read and forward logfiles. If an application logs into a file, syslog-ng can read this file and transfer the messages to a remote logcenter.

2.0 supports the IPv6 network protocol, and can also send and receive messages to multicast IP addresses.

It is also possible to include hostnames in the logs without having to use a domain name server. Using a DNS would seriously limit the processing speed in high-traffic environments and requires a network connection. Now you can create a file similar to /etc/hosts that syslog-ng uses to resolve the frequently used IP addresses to hostnames. That makes the logs much easier to read.

syslog-ng 2.0 uses active flow control to prevent message losses. This means that if the output side of syslog-ng is accepting messages slowly, then syslog-ng will wait a bit more between reading messages from the input side. That way the receiver is not flooded with messages it could not process on time, and no messages are lost.

NF: Is syslog-ng available only for Linux, or are other platforms also supported?

BS: It can be compiled for any type of Unix -- it runs on BSD, Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, and probably some others as well. Most bigger Linux distributions have syslog-ng packages: Debian, SUSE, Gentoo.... I think Gentoo installs it by default, replacing syslogd entirely.

NF: What other projects do you work on?

BS: syslog-ng is a hobby for me; that is why it took almost five years to finish version 2.0. My main project is Zorp, an application-level proxy firewall developed by my company. Recently I have been working on an appliance that can transparently proxy and audit the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol.

During development I stumble into many bugs and difficulties, so I have submitted patches to many places, such as glib and the tproxy kernel module.

NF: Are these projects also open source?

BS: No, these are commercial products, but the Zorp firewall does have a GPL version.

NF: Any plans for future syslog-ng features?

BS: I plan to support the syslog protocol that is being developed by IETF.

I would like to add disk-based buffering, so you could configure syslog-ng to log into a file if the network connection goes down, and transmit the messages from the file when the network becomes available again.

It would be also good to transfer the messages securely via TLS, and to have application-layer acknowledgments on the protocol level.

[Sep 5, 2006] LISA '06 Technical Sessions

Is Entropy Winning? Drowning in the Data Tsunami
Lee Damon, Sr. Computing Specialist, University of Washington; Evan Marcus, CTO and Founder, Aardvark Technologies, Ltd

We're drowning under a wave of data and are oblivious to it. As data space expands we will start losing track of-and thus losing-our data. Archival backups add complexity to this already confusing situation. Then we toss in security and availability issues for some spice. Where is this going, and how can we handle it in the face of millions of gigabytes of "old cruft"?

Lee Damon has been a UNIX system administrator since 1985 and has been active in SAGE since its inception. He assisted in developing a mixed AIX/SunOS environment at IBM Watson Research and has developed mixed environments for Gulfstream Aerospace and QUALCOMM. He is currently leading the development effort for the Nikola project at the University of Washington. He is past chair of the SAGE Ethics and Policies working groups and he chaired LISA '04.

Improv for Sysadmins
Bob Apthorpe, St. Edward's University; Dan Klein, Consultant

Have you ever seen "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and marveled at the actors? Although it may not be obvious, improvisors and sysadmins have a lot in common! We both have to think on our feet, often "winging it," and both groups actively practice ad hoc problem-solving. Management calls it "thinking outside of the box," and we say "welcome to our world."

From the outside, good improv looks like a lot of fun (it is!), and good system administration looks easy and fun (why else do we have toys in our cubes?). Both groups have fun because they both create environments to bring people together and make good things happen. At its core, improvisation is not about being funny so much as it is about carefully listening, clearly expressing oneself, and confidently making decisions and taking action. So is system administration. Our goal is to get paid to play.

This session will relate improvisational acting concepts to system administration. Improv can show us how our responses to others can be misinterpreted and, more important, how to change that by producing a constructive dialogue. Understanding your audience and their context can make everything move much more smoothly! Other topics will include the role body language plays in communication, especially in the communication of status, and the importance of observation and attention to detail, with an emphasis on "active listening," saying "yes, and . . . ," and other observation/communication techniques.

The session concludes with a question-and-answer period and additional improv demonstrations as time permits. We won't try to be funny, but we know that you'll enjoy learning some incredibly valuable improvisational techniques.

Bob Apthorpe is a system administrator at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. He first attended LISA in 1998 and transferred from Web development to international operations at shortly thereafter. His current interests include risk assessment, operations-friendly software development, and improvisational theatre. Bob is a proud member of the troupe "Improv for Evil" but his wife loves him anyway.

Dan Klein began his life of crime in 2nd grade, when he was caught with a pack of firecrackers. Since then his brushes with authority have been sporadic but relentless, but have not managed to deny him a security clearance, a job, or his well deserved reputation as an off-the-wall maverick. His computer experience has included simulation and process control, the internals of almost every UNIX kernel released in the past 28 years, and graphical user interface management systems

The Future of System Administration: How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Self-Managing Systems
Alva L. Couch, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Tufts University

The profession of system administration is currently threatened by many forces, including self-managing products that seem to obsolete the system administrator, a lack of upward mobility paths for professional system administrators, and a growing trend toward outsourcing system administration and related tasks. In this talk, I explore how ongoing changes in the systems we manage can drive positive changes in the profession. The bad news is that the way we prepare system administrators today is woefully inadequate for managing the systems of the future, and we must also rise to the challenge by learning to interact with the systems we manage at a very different level than we are currently trained to do.

System Administration: Drowning in Management Complexity
Chad Verbowski, Software Architect, Microsoft Research

Systems management is challenging because it requires administrators to understand and specify the desired state of each system based on their knowledge of the network, hardware, security, distributed applications, and workloads in their environment. Yearly increases in the variation, complexity, and volume of systems management tasks are outpacing our ability to hire qualified administrators to maintain our IT environments.

This talk presents a new black-box approach for reducing the complexity of systems and security management faced by administrators. The goal is to show this as a scalable alternative compared with current signature and declarative management approaches. Real world data, examples, and solutions are used to illustrate the scope and impact of troubleshooting, malware detection, and change management problems, as faced by today's systems administrators.

Chad's research on network management led to a job offer from MFS Datanet (eventually swallowed by Worldcom) in Silicon Valley. After that, a stint at Cisco Systems followed and then he took a leap (of faith) to a network management start-up-->. He eventually arrived at Microsoft in 1998.

Originally hired to work on the notorious Java VM, he worked on the headless support in Windows 2000, then ran the development team for the first release of Microsoft Operations Manager before finding his niche at Microsoft Research. At MSR Chad cofounded the Cybersecurity and Systems Management research group, where he focuses on his area of interest: reducing complexity in software.

IBM Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators Overview


IBM Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators (ATMA) is a spreadsheet-based scripting environment for quickly composing and automating system management tasks. With this environment, administrators can execute management commands and combine these commands to create ad hoc scripts and visualizations of system management information. The basic building blocks for these tasks are spreadsheet templates that are customized with a simple drag-and-drop interface. Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators enables the insertion of GUI, visualization, or system management components into cells of a spreadsheet and customization of the cells in order to insert control logic for a system management solution. Just as in spreadsheets, data in the cells are automatically processed and updated; this feature allows real-time system data feeds.

Currently, Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators supports a variety of system management plug-ins, including Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), Secure Shell (SSH), and Java™ Management Extension (JMX). Using ATMA's component plug-in API, developers can build custom components that can be used to develop tools using different management APIs; one such API interfaces to IBM Autonomic Integrated Runtime Environment, which allows communication with resources based on Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM). ATMA can also interact with any Java object.

Autonomic Task Manager for Administrators significantly reduces script creation time with its familiar spreadsheet interface and building blocks made from templates. The package includes the executable, relevant plug-ins, installation instructions, and user documentation.

How does it work?

System administrators or value-added re-sellers (VARs) can use the spreadsheet-based scripting environment to build scripts incrementally, potentially starting from templates and using standard components. After a script is developed, it can immediately become available for use or further customization.

Depending on the specific administrative function being addressed, this technology helps to tie together the various underlying components. The cells may contain numbers and text, as in most spreadsheets, as well as GUI objects such as buttons and checkboxes, visualization objects such as plots and pie charts, programming objects such as collections and timers, and system objects such as JMX, SNMP, etc. These objects can be either created by the user or assigned to cells as a result of evaluating expressions that define the functional relationship between objects in various cells.

Examples are included in the documentation provided with this package.

Remote System Management Tool Overview


Remote Server Management Tool is an Eclipse plug-in that provides an integrated graphical user interface (GUI) environment and enables testers to manage multiple remote servers simultaneously. The tool is designed as a management tool for those who would otherwise telnet to more than one server to manage the servers and who must look at different docs and man pages to find commands for different platforms in order to create or manage users and groups and to initiate and monitor processes. This tool handles these operations on remote servers by using a user-friendly GUI; in addition, it displays configuration of the test server (number of processors, RAM, etc.). The activities that can be managed by this tool on the remote and local server are divided as follows:

How does it work?

This Eclipse plug-in was written with the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT). The tool has a perspective named Remote System Management; the perspective consists of test servers and a console view. The remote test servers are mounted in the Test Servers view for management of their resources (process, file system, and users or groups).

At the back end, this Eclipse plug-in uses the Software Test Automation Framework (STAF). STAF is an open-source framework that masks the operating system-specific details and provides common services and APIs in order to manage system resources. The APIs are provided for a majority of the languages. Along with the built-in services, STAF also supports external services. The Remote Server Management Tool comes with two STAF external services: one for user management and another for proving system details.

[Mar 20, 2006] Dell, Novell to Manage Red Hat, SUSE by Jacqueline Emigh

Linux Today

At Novell BrainShare today, Novell and Dell joined hands in launching a software product for remote management of servers running either Novell's own SUSE Linux or a competing Linux distribution put out by Red Hat, Novell's long-time archrival.

Pegged for availability on April 19, the jointly developed software for Dell PowerEdge servers will be dubbed Novell Zenworks 7 Linux Management - Dell Edition, said Jason Werner, a Novell product marketing manager, during a pre-briefing with Linux Today.

The upcoming software package "takes our Zenworks Linux management product and adds a layer of Dell-specific management," according to Werner.

The new Dell Edition of Zenworks will be geared mainly to organizations with multiple remote PowerEdge servers, "where you wouldn't necessarily have Linux expertise (on site) at all locations," Werner said.

Target customers include organizations engaged in server consolidation as well as those that are migrating servers from Microsoft Windows to either SUSE or Red Hat.

The Dell Edition will be the first iteration of Zenworks tailored to managing both of these two major distributions of Linux. Novell did not work directly with Red Hat in creating the product, he said.

But together with Dell, a long-time Red Hat ally, Novell has been tweaking Zenworks to support Red Hat environments.

Already tested by Novell on both SUSE and Red Hat Linux, the product will bring together Zenworks features such as remote provisioning and inventory management with capabilities specific to Dell's PowerEdge platform. The Dell-specific tools will deal with areas ranging from bios administration to remote access management.

Novell Zenworks 7, Linux Management - Dell Edition will not replace the Dell OpenManage software that has shipped for some time with PowerEdge servers, Werner said.

"But [the Zenworks] software will cover the entire [server] lifecycle, including pre-OS and RAID," he told Linux Today.

Through the new Dell edition, administrators in remote locations will have access to detailed bios and firmware information. "You'll be able to run queries to find out what has been deployed on a server," he added.

Administrators will also be able to make configuration changes remotely, repurposing a system "simply by changing it from a Web server to a storage server, for example," according to the Novell executive.

Configuration changes made on one server can be quickly promulgated among other servers that perform the same roles, reside in the same geographies, or have the same models and makes.

"You can even adjust the utility partition on the hard drive when no OS is present," Werner said. Consequently, he suggested, organizations can be more certain that configuration settings will remain consistent among a group of servers.

On the other hand, the product will also support capabilities built into Zenworks for assigning administrative rights only to authorized individuals, Werner said.

The Dell edition of Zenworks will be sold separately from PowerEdge servers. The product will not be available through Novell or its resellers.

Instead, sales will be performed exclusively through Dell, according to Werner.

As some analysts see it, today's announcement by Novell and Dell reflects an increasingly visible industry-wide trend toward better Linux management tools.

"It's really obvious that [Linux management] tools are getting broader, more sophisticated, and better able to integrate with outside systems," said Andy Mann, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), during another interview.

But although Hewlett-Packard and IBM Tivoli have accomplished some penetration of the Linux management market, much of the innovation so far has come from smaller vendors such as Levanta, Velocity Software, and Opsware, according to Mann.

But many Linux administrators have relied mainly on tools from Novell and Red Hat. "So it's good to see a company such as Novell getting behind some new management software," added the analyst, who is also the author of a recently released report from EMA called "Get the Truth on Linux Management."

Co-sponsored by Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and Levanta, one of the OSDL's members, the study of over 200 Linux companies dismisses earlier claims that Linux has a higher Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as "no longer true."

Mann also told Linux Today that support for other Linux distributions could prove useful to Novell. "Zen is [basically] open source software, [but] with some proprietary components. It should be in Novell's best interests to support as many other distributions of Linux as it can, to further the growth of Linux," he said.

"Support for other distros could only help Novell. It certainly couldn't hurt," concurred David Dennis, Levanta's director of marketing.

Dennis noted that many Linux customers are now seeking multi-distro support as a way of avoiding "vendor lock-in."

Levanta's management tools support both SUSE and Red Hat Linux, along with a "second tier" of distros such as CentOS and Asianux, according to the marketing director.

But Dennis also maintained that Linux management tools vary along a number of other lines, based on the administrative capabilities needed in particular types of deployments.

Novell has already been providing hefty Linux management support through its multiplatform Zenworks lineup, observed Fred Broussard, an IDC analyst, in another interview with Linux Today.

Broussard also pointed out that it isn't at all unusual for competitors in the computer industry to cooperate on some levels.

"We've heard a lot over the years about Novell and Red Hat having an adversarial relationship," according to the IDC analyst.

"But at the end of the day, Novell is going to do what its customers want. Novell is a very customer-centric company," Broussard told Linux Today.

Novell's Werner declined to comment one way or the other on whether other products supporting multiple Linux distributions are also in the works at Novell. "Not that we've made public comments on," Werner told Linux Today.

The upcoming Novell Zenworks 7 Linux Management - Dell Edition will be priced at $69 per license.



Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


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Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

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