The Summer of Linux

This summer was “The Summer of Linux”; we experimented with Linux for the desktop, Linux for the server, and Linux in clustering. We used the Ubuntu distro for the desktop and server. We actually used the Long Term Support (6.06) version for the desktop, the older version of Ubuntu. I learned that the newest isn’t always the best, as version 7.04 would not install on our hardware. I got a chance to ask my questions about LTSP, to a developer on the Edubuntu irc channel, and we were successful in creating a thin client environment. Of course clustering was a great project where we hit some dead ends, but we recovered before the summer ended, having a functional cluster. Although I had some experience with Ubuntu, using it on my computers, this was a very educational summer. We became the admins and got a chance to implement Linux in a test environment, emulating a school computer lab, where we had to make sure the end users would be able to use Linux without any discomfort. We had to cover everything, from managing user rights to making sure every program a school computer would have, would be included in our Linux machines. In addition, we gained some experience in networking; we received some managed and unmanaged switches, configured them, and had thin clients boot over our network.

Linux has become more user friendly over the years. Ubuntu, for instance, has the nice Gnome interface, a GUI. If this were to be implemented in a school, most end users would be able to adjust. Instead of having a list of programs at the bottom, we have everything at the top. Some applications may be different, the OpenOffice suite vs. Office. It may be slightly more difficult for the end user at home installing it on his/her computer, though, especially if you run into problems. However, if one is dedicated enough, solutions to problems are all over the internet, and you can also ask questions on the Ubuntu irc channel. Once you become used to how Ubuntu works, Synaptics for downloading applications, the Linux alternative software… etc, it becomes easier. If you have to do something beyond the basics, though, you may have to use the terminal. For instance, the Grub bootloader wasn’t booting to the correct partition once, so after determining the path looking at GPart and a little bit of guessing and checking, I accessed the Grub file though the terminal. Or, you may want to install something using the terminal. Personally, I think Linux, due to distros like Ubuntu, has become more appealing, because for basic needs, it can be used without much difficulty.

This was a great summer where I was able to test several environments in which Linux can be used. I am thankful to Mr. Birchall who let us have this experience, allowing us to experiment on our own as long as we documented. We were able to finish all our projects with success, and I was glad documenting our experiences has helped people with their own Linux adventures. Linux and distros like Ubuntu with a cost of nothing are very appealing. Although many people begin using Ubuntu because of the free CDs their friends give them, if some loose ends were tied up (like the bootloader attempting to boot from the wrong partition) and marketed more, we could see an even greater rise in Linux usage.

clusterKnoppix, A Clustering Success

It has been a while since I have posted, because we have been working on our final project, making a cluster out of few computers. As I said before, we were having difficulties getting OSCAR set up. At one point it seemed to have imaged the nodes correctly, however upon testing the cluster using OSCAR’s feature to do so, we found we had several errors. We were unable to fix them, and so we decided to move on for now and try different tools. From here we tried using Rocks Cluster Distribution. You can either download the DVD with the Operating System and all the packages, CDs, or pick and choose what software you wanted and burn them to individual CDs. We originally went with the DVD choice, however, during installation, it asked the source from which it would get the packages, and it wouldn’t recognize our DVD as a choice. We tried CDs, but it would keep restarting in the middle without doing anything. Both Rocks and OSCAR had extensive documentation which I appreciated, however, since we could not get them working, we looked for another solution. During my research, clusterKnoppix always showed up, however, since it was more of a LiveCD based solution, I kept it on hold. Although from what I read, it should be easy to get one going by using LiveCDs. So we burned two and popped them into two computers, and followed these instructions. However, we would keep getting errors setting it up. I went back and did some more research, and found these instructions, which were to just boot from the CDs and they would see each other as long as they were assigned ip addresses. I immediately tried again, and they worked without any problems. I tried out the simple load balancing script that was in the first set of instructions, and it all seemed to work. The next step was to make it a permanent solution by installing it to the hard drive. We followed these instructions (the 7th post, a long set of instructions). Instead of using QTparted to partition our hard drive, we used GPart from the Ubuntu LiveCd because QTparted would not see our hard drive. We did not implement a separate partition for the cd image and we did not copy the clusterKnoppix CD contents to the hard drive the way that was suggested. Once the hard drive install was complete, we followed the instructions up to where it said “3. new: create directory for export: OK” which we selected, and we left the CD in the drive, from which it copied files. However, it created a folder called “diskless” in the root folder. After we found our cluster didn’t work, we deleted the folder and made a new “diskless” in the same location, but we copied the files from the CD to this location. In addition, for the “Client Hardware” section of the how-to, we just left the defaults, and eventually at the end everything works. We skipped some instructions, and went to where it said “Your terminal will complain about /mfs not being set-up correctly when…” and followed these steps. In addition, we also edited a script from these instructions (4th post) which we chose to implement before completing the cluster set-up. Eventually, we restarted terminalopenmosixserver (you may have to select stop, and then start) and did a openmosix restart. We booted up the nodes and watched from openmosixview as they began to appear. Our cluster was a success! During the terminalopenmosixserver and openmosix restarts, and also when booting up the nodes, there may have been small errors or warnings, but we let them be unless our cluster did not work. clusterKnoppix is a great and easy way to cluster; you can have a temporary cluster just to see it work by using the LiveCDs, or have a more permanent hard drive install.

Back To Work

I had been taking a break from work, but now I’m back. There has still been no luck with OSCAR, so we are going to try some different hardware. Meanwhile, we completed two other smaller assignments. The first was writing a guide to use the Imation Pivot Flash Drives. In addition, we also had to finalize on some software we were going to put on a mini-cd that will go home with students. It already had the FirstClass email client, Firefox, and we agreed on adding AVG Anti-Virus, and Ad-Aware Anti-Spyware. I felt if we were adding Anti-Virus software, we should also at least include Anti-Spyware to fully protect the system. We move on from here!

OSCAR…not working quite yet

Yesterday, I used the start_over script in OSCAR to…start over. I did the log out and back in it said, and I proceeded to reinstall and reconfigure OSCAR. This time, though, I opted to use a mirror for the rpms it needed, and I then proceeded to build the client image. After a very long time, an error was reported, it told me to check a log file which is really a script. Meanwhile, the client computers don’t even boot past the bios with the hard drives in. Today, we will have to somehow format the hard drives and start over with OSCAR.

Getting OSCAR ready

Our next task is to set up a small cluster, a “supercomputer”. Right now, there are two software based solutions we are going to look at, both involving Linux. The first one which is supposed to be easier to set up, and very well documented, is OSCAR. I found the instructions to setting it up here. We decided on using Fedora 5 as our OS base, since it was fully supported, so we downloaded it and installed it on the Dell server. Once this was complete, I began setting up OSCAR. Once a lot of the tedious set up was over, I attempted to run the set up script like it said in the documentation. However, the name in the documentation was wrong as I soon discovered, I did find it, though. A few more errors popped up, however, I just looked at the log and made the necessary changes. Once this was complete, the gui based setup came up, and I proceeded to install the server package, and next was the image for the client nodes. Setting it up though, required some more legwork. I had originally set it up so the necessary rpms for the client nodes would be downloaded from a mirror. I thought this would be too slow, so I got the rpms off the cds for Fedora. However, I was getting errors that dependencies, other packages that packages need, were missing. Therefore, we tried a combination of both cds and mirror, and after a long wait, it said completed successfully. Next was the deployment of the images. After setting it so it would get the image off the server, I turned on three clients. The first one got errors, which I believe occurred because the first one has to be the server. The other two seemed to have installed. However, those two no longer can boot from the hard disk, in fact, they don’t boot past the HP screen unless the hard drive is removed. Brian removed the CMOS battery, and I put them back and tried the computers again this morning, however, to no avail. I was waiting to post some good news in our supercomputing ventures, but here is where we’re at.

Managed Switches

We decided today after testing the mini cds and the applications to figure out the managed switches. Mr. Birchall had given us an SMC EZ1024DT–an “EZ” unmanaged switch, an SMC Tigerswitch which was managed and we had an HP ProCurve 224M. For the Edubuntu server project, we decided to use the EZ switch and experiment with the managed switches a bit later. Today, we started with the HP switch since we could actually find documentation on HP’s site. We connected it directly to the server through a serial port, and fixed the ip address and the gateway, so we could also use the web interface–previously this was not working. Once we tested to see if everything was working, we configured the SMC Tigerswitch the same way by connecting it via serial. We are able to use all our switches now, and hopefully we may be able to play around with a more advanced switch later.

Applications to Send Home on Mini-CDs

Mr. Birchall wanted us to test some applications to send home, mainly the FirstClass client software so students can access school email. We would place these applications on a mini cd-r. Therefore, we also had to test the integrity of the mini cd-rs. For applications, we decided on adding Firefox and also Pidgin for Windows, and just Firefox for Macs. We like Firefox as an internet browser and we added Pidgin because it is an open source alternative to AOL Instant Messenger. We burned many mini cd-rs with the software and tried them in our different cd readers. We did some more testing by scratching them and exposing them to everyday wear and tear. We concluded the integrity of the discs were fine; we had no problem burning and reading the discs, and the mini cds couldn’t take any less abuse than regular cds.



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