2002 12 05

                    LINUX NEWS
          December 5, 2002 -- Issue #110


1) Sean’s Notes

2) Linux News

Group Urges Limits on Open Source
Linux Jobs *Are* Out There
Linux Networx Builds Kick Ass Clusters
Advanced Server Gets More Reliable

3) Linux Resources

How to Get Hired as an Open Source Developer
Linux Cluster Information
Just Look At The Numbers
IDE RAID Examined
SUN's Capacity On Demand

4) App o’ the Week

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1) Sean's Notes

Have 500 systems you need installed identically? Nor do I. But
the techniques you'd use to do this are helpful in other ways.
Say you had a lab box that you reinstall often, but always the
same way (or maybe a few ways). Or maybe you just want a way of
duplicating your current installation, such as when you're
moving out of test and into production on a new box. Through a
technique known as "Kickstart" (Red Hat specific, I know), you
can do this very easily.

Kickstarting hinges around one file, ks.cfg, which contains a
list of the answers to all the questions that get thrown at you
during the installation, everything from your firewall config
down to your package selection.

There are two ways to go about making ks.cfg.  The first is to
use "ksconfig", a GUI tool that lets you check off all the
options, and generate the output file. If you're looking to
clone an existing installation, later versions of Red Hat dump a
file called "anaconda-ks.cfg" in /root, which is, in a nutshell,
the Kickstart file containing all the options you selected in
the last installation. Subject to a couple of caveats, you can
pick up that file, and clone your system hundreds of times with
one floppy. Of course, any changes you made after the system
came up won't take effect unless you script them in yourself;
we'll see this later.

There is a third option for generating ks.cfg, namely starting
from scratch, but I highly recommend grabbing something that
works and editing from there. Kickstart is picky, and you'll
save yourself a lot of grief if you start off with something
that's at least close to working.

ks.cfg has three sections. First is the command section, where
you have to specify if you're doing an install or upgrade, if
the network, X, or other components are to be configured, and
other questions that pop up during the install. Next is the list
of packages you want installed. Finally, there is a section
containing scripts that get run before and after the install.
As usual, blank lines are ignored, and # means a comment. Here
is a very basic file: I'll point you toward the complete list
of commands at the end.

# install or upgrade?
# where is the install media?
# Languages being used?  For some reason, you need both lines.
lang en_US
langsupport --default en_US en_US
# keyboard type
keyboard us
# mouse?  microsoft is a popular one, and --device specifies the
# port, ignoring the leading /dev/
mouse microsoft --device ttyS0
# give a root password, I'm using "password"
rootpw password
# firewall settings, I'm disabling it for now
firewall --disabled
# basic shadowed passwords, MD5 hashes
authconfig --enableshadow --enablemd5
# timezone setting
timezone Canada/Central

Those basic options should be self-explanatory. The fun part is
the disk related stuff:

# where does the bootloader go, and which one to use?
# default is GRUB, unless you use --useLilo
bootloader --location=mbr
# VERY DANGEROUS!  This will clear your partition table!
# make sure you don't need the data on the drive!
clearpart --all
# build the partitions.  For ease of demonstration,
# I'm making a 128MB swap file, and making the rest the root
# by saying that the partition is 1MB, but can grow to fit the disk
part swap --size 128
part / --fstype ext3 --size=1 --grow

Make sense? The first command tells the install program where to
put the boot loader. After that, the partition table is wiped
clean, and the two partitions are created. After that, it's a
matter of telling Red Hat what packages you want. Note you can
select both package names, or package groups by prefixing the
name with @

  # Select the groups of packages
  @Network Support
  @Dialup Support
  @NFS File Server
  @Anonymous FTP Server
  @SQL Database Server
  @Web Server
  @Router / Firewall
  @DNS Name Server
  @Network Managed Workstation
  @Software Development
  @Kernel Development
  # individual packages

Finally, we can run a couple of commands after the install

echo "System installed on `date`" >> /etc/motd
echo "nameserver" > /etc/resolv.conf
echo "domain example.com" >> /etc/resolv.conf

Before you go thinking that I'm pulling all of these commands
out of thin air, browse on over to the official Red Hat
instructions for the complete list:


Now that we have our glorious ks.cfg, the easiest way to perform
a Kickstart is to copy the file onto a boot disk:

# dd if=/mnt/cdrom/images/bootnet.img of=/dev/fd0
# mcopy ks.cfg a:\ks.cfg

The first command uses the bootnet.img file from the first Red
Hat CD to create a boot floppy. Since the boot disk is actually
an MS-DOS filesystem, you can use the mcopy command to copy the
ks.cfg to the disk without needing to mount it.

Finally, boot your test computer with this boot floppy.
Remember, it's going to automatically clear your partition
table and install Linux, so make sure you don't need that disk!
(This is where VMWare is especially helpful). At the first
prompt, enter:

linux ks=floppy

To start a Kickstart from the floppy. Stand back, and watch it go!

There are many more options available. For example, I store the
Red Hat installation tree on my workstation and export it with
NFS or FTP. Rather than the "cdrom" directive, you can pass the
NFS or FTP information and install over the network.

If you play with this long enough, you're bound to run into some
bugs. Believe me, there are lots. If you miss a directive, the
install will stop and ask you for the missing information. If
you mess up a keyword, it will crash, giving you a cryptic error
message. I spent half an hour trying to figure what I had done
wrong, when it turns out I had forgotten the comment symbol in
front of what should have been a comment. Still, the ability to
bring up a test box to a known state with barely any
intervention is worth the time investment.

That's a quick look at Kickstart, folks. It's a powerful tool
for mass roll outs, or creating identical installations of lab
equipment. Anyone looking to sit the RHCE certification lab exam
will want to know this topic inside and out. Since it's fully
scriptable, you can have your final product as polished as you want.

Long live the Penguin,


2) Linux News

Group Urges Limits on Open Source

The "Initiative For Software Choice" suggests that a defence
contractor's report on the benefits of Open Source may be
incorrect. Not surprisingly, Microsoft and Intel are major
backers. Cisco is the one that surprises me, as they've been
written up as huge users of Free software. Et tu, CompTIA?


Linux Jobs *Are* Out There

The surveys are in, and the results show that Linux skills are
in demand... but what in particular? What combinations of
skills are being sought? Read on to find out.


Linux Networx Builds Kick Ass Clusters

"Aerodynamics engineers with Boeing's Expendable Launch Systems
division in Huntington Beach, CA used a 96-node cluster of PCs
with Advanced Micro Devices 850-MHz Athlon processors running
Red Hat Linux, rather than a $500,000 supercomputer, to keep
costs low in pursuit of its goal. Linux cluster-management
company Linux Networx helped to develop the environment."


Advanced Server Gets More Reliable

Red Hat is taking a cue from the OSDL Carrier Grade Linux
Working Group, who are looking to bring telco-standard
reliability to Linux. I'm looking forward to seeing the
enhancements coming from Red Hat, and the markets they'll try
to get into with their enterprise offerings.


3) Linux Resources

How to Get Hired as an Open Source Developer

Though the example here is for a company that uses a lot of Open
Source tools, the advice is good for anyone looking to get a job
in development. Blasting your resume out doesn't seem to be the
key; rather, a targeted approach is necessary.


Linux Cluster Information

Perdue's computing services group has taken hundreds of recycled
computers and turned them into massive Linux clusters for
research. I don't know what's more disappointing -- that their
"recycled" computers are better than my desktop, or that I don't
get to play on the cluster. Either way, some interesting
information on how a cluster is used in a real environment.


Just Look At The Numbers

"This paper provides quantitative data that, in many cases,
using open source software / free software is a reasonable or
even superior approach to using their proprietary competition
according to various measures. This paper examines market share,
reliability, performance, scalability, security, and total cost
of ownership." An excellent paper.


IDE RAID Examined

Though SCSI is still king of storage, many of the computers we
encounter will still have IDE. It's cheap, it works, and it,
too, can have the redundancy usually enjoyed in server systems
without having to resort to software RAID. This article looks at
the performance of various IDE-RAID cards, and talks a bit about
RAID itself.


SUN's Capacity On Demand

The utility model for computing has been seen in various forms
over the years. The concept is intriguing... these whitepapers
give a bit more information on how Sun plans to pull it off.


4) App o' the Week

I've often pointed out scripts that help in managing Red Hat
patches, but this is the first I've come across for other
distros (Debian users, apt-get upgrade doesn't count!). This
time, it's a script for SuSE.


(C) 2002 BrainBuzz.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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