Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Stefana Muller

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Ian Murdock: From Debian to clustering

Will Linux NOW ease network administration headaches?

The ian in Debian Linux stands for Ian Murdock, a former research staff member at the University of Arizona and coauthor of the Swarm storage system. He's now president and CEO of Progeny Linux Systems, headquartered in Indianapolis. Progeny is commercializing Progeny Debian and the Linux NOW clustering system, which emphasizes manageability at least as much as performance, the traditional selling feature of Linux clusters.

Last month we held an online discussion with Murdock in ITworld.com's Interviews forum. This is a partial transcript of that interview. To read the full interview, including comments from LinuxWorld.com readers, follow the link in the Resources section below.

Progeny's purpose

LinuxWorld.com: Ian, what are you after? There are a lot of companies selling clustering hardware and software; several of them had a presence at February's LinuxWorld Expo. I understand you regard NOW as distinct from any of the rest. What message do you want to get across about NOW, and how will you know when the IT world at large "gets it"?

Ian Murdock: Linux NOW as a technology is very similar to clustering in many ways, but very different in others. It is similar in how it operates: as in clustering systems, NOW takes a network of computers and builds a larger abstraction above it. The difference comes about in what that network of computers is designed to do. Clusters are normally very specialized things that sit in a machine room and do nothing but perform some very specialized task. For example, a Beowulf cluster is all about number crunching and computationally intensive things.

Linux NOW is all about the user workstations. Its primary goals are to make administration of the network easier, to make it easier for users of the network to share resources, to build a consistent environment for users that allows them to work more productively. Of course, system administration and management, shared storage, and so on are all very important components of a cluster, so there's certainly room for NOW in the clustering arena too.

As for when the IT world at large will get it, I think they already get it, they just don't know what to do about it. Network management has been a disaster for 15 years. The classic approach to network management has been to throw manpower at the problem, lots of it, and lots of Perl scripts to glue the mishmash together. Every site I've ever seen has come up with its own solutions. Clearly, these sorts of solutions are suboptimal and certainly don't scale. There are tools now that make the problem a little more approachable, but these new tools don't address the root of the problem -- that each computer on the network has its own identity, its own configuration, its own resources. They mask the problem, try to make it less noticeable. We believe the right approach is to address the problem at a fundamental level, in the OS, to make the network look like one logical system. And that's the approach we're taking in Linux NOW.

LinuxWorld.com: Could you explain more of NOW as a technology. When someone says, "at a fundamental level in the OS," I usually think, "Uh-oh -- we're talking about unmaintainable, proprietary kernel patches, just the kind of thing to make the cure worse than the disease." On the other hand, I've also heard you speak eloquently about how NOW respects existing investments -- it works with what's already in place. How do you pull all this off?

Ian Murdock: Linux NOW makes a network of Linux workstations look and operate like a single system. The network looks like one big timesharing system rather than the collection of little timesharing systems that it actually is. There is a single filesystem shared by all workstations, down to /, /etc, and /tmp. Thus, from an administrator's point of view, there is just one system to manage rather than an entire network. And it is irrelevant to the user which computer on the network he or she is logged in to because the user's environment is the same regardless of location, again because of the shared filesystem.

In other words, Linux NOW provides what could be called a single system image (SSI), though we're mostly interested in SSI with respect to the filesystem. We're dealing with Unix, and the filesystem is the central abstraction in Unix. So, if you get the filesystem right, most other features fall into place nicely.

The other piece of SSI that NOW provides is process migration, which allows processes to move around the network to take advantage of idle resources. So, NOW is a filesystem, a process migration facility, and a set of changes to a Linux distribution to make the SSI work. It's a layer above Linux. When I say that NOW respects existing investments, I mean that we have designed the system from the beginning to integrate multiple hardware platforms together into the SSI, though we're certainly not there yet. Application compatibility is also a big concern, but that's a concern shared by all Linux vendors. Compatibility with existing infrastructure is extremely important because no matter how great of a system NOW turns out to be, no one is going to use it if they have to throw everything out the window to do so.

The primary benefit of NOW is its shared filesystem. For administrators, it reduces the problem of managing a large network of many machines to a much more approachable problem, that of managing a single system. For end users, whether the workload is comprised of office productivity applications or engineering tools, it allows resources to be easily shared, and it builds a consistent environment. It's a system that's fundamentally designed to be general purpose, useful in everything from a large office LAN to a home network of a few machines.

In a traditional network of Unix workstations, the boundaries between workstations are still visible. You have many systems. Each system has its own disk, its own administrative files, its own set of local resources. Over the years, many tools have been written to help stitch the network together. NFS and NIS are good examples of such tools. And, sure, you can stitch together the network reasonably well with tools like that. Take NFS and create file shares. Take NIS and get single sign-on. Take rdist and push all the administrative files to all the workstations every night at 2 a.m. And on and on. Yeah, it works, but it's horribly complicated, prone to error, and doesn't scale. And what happens when the guy who set it up leaves for greener pastures? Can the next person figure out how it all works? So, the primary benefit of SSI is simplicity. The single system abstraction is one that everyone understands. How do you manage a single system? How do you manage a network of 200 systems? The former is a lot easier question to answer, and that's what motivates us.

More Stories By Cameron Laird

Cameron Laird is the vice president of Phaseit and has been a contributor to Linux.SYS-CON.com since its launch in 1998.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settl...
@CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX, two of the most influential technology events in the world, have hosted hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors since our launch 10 years ago. @CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX New York and Silicon Valley provide a full year of face-to-face marketing opportunities for your company. Each sponsorship and exhibit package comes with pre and post-show marketing programs. By sponsoring and exhibiting in New York and Silicon Valley, you reach a full complement of decision makers and buyers in ...
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessio...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound e...
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, compared the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, examin...
Rodrigo Coutinho is part of OutSystems' founders' team and currently the Head of Product Design. He provides a cross-functional role where he supports Product Management in defining the positioning and direction of the Agile Platform, while at the same time promoting model-based development and new techniques to deliver applications in the cloud.
There are many examples of disruption in consumer space – Uber disrupting the cab industry, Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry and so on; but have you wondered who is disrupting support and operations? AISERA helps make businesses and customers successful by offering consumer-like user experience for support and operations. We have built the world’s first AI-driven IT / HR / Cloud / Customer Support and Operations solution.
LogRocket helps product teams develop better experiences for users by recording videos of user sessions with logs and network data. It identifies UX problems and reveals the root cause of every bug. LogRocket presents impactful errors on a website, and how to reproduce it. With LogRocket, users can replay problems.
Data Theorem is a leading provider of modern application security. Its core mission is to analyze and secure any modern application anytime, anywhere. The Data Theorem Analyzer Engine continuously scans APIs and mobile applications in search of security flaws and data privacy gaps. Data Theorem products help organizations build safer applications that maximize data security and brand protection. The company has detected more than 300 million application eavesdropping incidents and currently secu...