Archive for Ubuntu

Linux Comes Through Once Again

From a hobby to a computer geek favorite to a major operating system, the trajectory of Linux has been nothing short of amazing. Major companies, especially Red Hat, Canonical, and SUSE, exist because of Linux. The ecosystem that grew up around Linux eclipses all other software.

There are a number of reasons why Linux has become such a force in IT but the one that really stands out for me today is it’s building block design that creates incredible flexibility. There is a Linux for every purpose, every taste, and all types of hardware. One of the best things about Linux flexibility is that it allows us DIY types the ability to repurpose old, perhaps ancient, hardware. Here’s an example.

I have a 14 year old PC that has, for years, been attached to my stereo so that I play digital music from a real amp. My relative new desktop PC has decent sound, owing to a good pair of speakers plus a sub-woofer. Even so, compared to the sound of my 25+ year old stereo system, it sounds terrible. Nothing beats a real amplifier with speakers that have their own woofer and tweeter combos for sound. Even when the source of that sound is a 14 year old sound chip in a laptop, the sound is so much better. In addition, my desktop computer sits in my office, not my living room where I have (or had, pre-pandemic) parties and like to hang out.

The weak link has not been the stereo, it’s been the PC. It ran Windows Vista, which hasn’t had a release since 2008 and went end of life in 2012. Even worse, modern software including the Spotify application and Firefox browser, no longer could be updated on it and ran poorly. In a nutshell, the PC OS was pulling down the whole system.

I could have substituted another PC that I don’t really use any more, one somewhat newer, but I had a feeling that this old workhorse still had some usefulness. So, I decode to update the operating system. I thought that finding a recent 32-bit OS was going to be a chore but not at all because – Linux!

I settled on Lubuntu 18.04 LTS, a Ubuntu distribution for low resource PCs. I knew that the Spotify Snap App for Ubuntu wouldn’t run on it (there was no 32-bit version) but Firefox ran like a dream. I was able to use the Spotify Web Player in Full Screen mode, presenting the appearance of a Spotify kiosk. The sound is great, and network connective works like a charm, so no drop outs. The system run perfectly. I could have run Plex as well, if I wanted a more thorough digital media experience.

Any other OS would have no option for a modern experience with such old hardware. Instead of heading to a landfill, this old PC has new life and can continue until hardware failure over takes it. I’m betting it can last until the 20 year mark. All thanks to Linux. Linux to the rescue of my sound system and the environment.

Canonical Takes a Third Path to New Platforms

This was originally published on the Amalgam Insights website.

We are in the midst of another change up in the IT world. Every 15 to 20 years there is a radical rethink of the platforms that applications are built upon. During the course of the history of IT we have moved from batch-oriented, pipelined systems (predominantly written in COBOL) to client-server and n-Tier systems that are the standards of today. These platforms were developed in the last century and designed for last century applications. After years of putting shims into systems to accommodate the scale and diversity of modern applications, IT has just begun to deploy new platforms based on containers and Kubernetes. These new platforms promise greater resiliency and scalability, as well as greater responsiveness to the business.

As is often the case with new technology, Kubernetes and container platforms began as a decidedly DIY affair. Over time, however, software vendors have begun to craft curated platform experiences for sale. The DIY platform is a customized experience but difficult and expensive to engineer; the vendor curated platform is much easier but has more constraints. These are typical tradeoffs seen in any emerging platform environment. Curation reduces risk and degree of difficulty but at the expense of choice. DIY has ultimate choice but requires additional personnel costs, not only to build but to support and maintain the platform. These are the two paths open to IT shops looking to Kubernetes and containers to solve the problems of their 21st century applications.

Canonical, however, is creating a third path to new platforms. At the Canonical Analyst Day (September 12, 2019) in New York City, Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth articulated a different vision for Kubernetes platforms than is typically expressed by vendors. Based on their Juju and Charms toolset, Canonical hopes to offer the benefits of the curated experience and the flexibility of the DIY. With Charms, Canonical hopes to encapsulate best practices and integrations, in effect curating the parts. Instead of combining these into a set platform, they are offering Juju as a way to combine these parts, Lego like, into a custom platform. Charms describes what the software should be; Juju says where the software should go. At the component level, Charms knows how to configure, provision, and deploy a piece of software while Juju knows the existing infrastructure and where a Charmed component can and should go.

So, why a third path? The most obvious benefit is flexibility. Most platform plays assume that you will want what they have already tested and integrated. Simplicity is the byword since complexity is harder to do and support. If the platform vendor has integrated Istio and Envoy for the service mesh, that is what is supported. If IT’s platform engineers believe Linkerd makes more sense, they now have the responsibility for figuring out how to integrate it and manage its deployment. It’s a simple trade off – the cost of engineering versus the constraints of pre-determined components. While this works for a lot of applications, there are plenty where deviation from the platform is called for. The third path that Canonical is envisioning changes that dynamic. It provides the advantages of DIY with the advantages of the curated platform. This is not to say that DIY or curated platforms are wrong. For many companies, one or the other works for them. Not all IT environments, however, can go in the two common directions. They lack the resources to build their own platforms from scratch but need more flexibility than a standard platform can give them. They need purpose-built platforms at standardized pricing. This is where the third path becomes valuable.

It’s not at all unexpected that Canonical would take a path that diverges from the pack. This has been their modus operandi since the very beginning. The Charm-Juju experience is just another example of Canonical refusing to accept the status quo and, instead, looking for a way to forge a different trail through the woods of IT.