IT Management

Just like Dr. McCoy and Captain Kirk in the “Star Trek” episodes where all hope seemed lost, from the doom and gloom of my last commentary, we move on to discuss the final acquisition of Novell by Attachmate. Yes, the heavy door of final approval has slammed shut on the formal approval of the deal by both companies, and the merger is complete. In a mass email to customers, the new management promised to continue to provide support for the SLES operating system and tools, and to maintain the support services familiar to Novell customers. So far, no major worries, right?

To some extent, no. The usual faces and phone numbers still answer, and customers are still able to submit problem reports and get answers. The part that concerns me is that Attachmate is doing a bit of housecleaning and redirection of resources; to wit, closing down less profitable parts of the operation, and trimming investments in others. A few days after the closure of the final deal, pink slips arrived on the desks of the Mono development team at Novell. If you haven’t followed Mono, it’s essentially an independent implementation of the Microsoft-promoted alternative to Java—.NET, an abstract virtual machine implementation to address the problem of writing portable software. Like Java, .NET code compiles to a pseudo-machine instruction set and features lots of nifty tools and development capabilities. However, the Linux community has had very slow uptake of the technology because of the link to the Microsoft “Evil Empire”; Microsoft has taken a path emphasizing .NET as a way to move to Windows, not away from or in parallel with Windows. The Mono team has developed and maintained an interpreter for the .NET pseudo-machine on multiple platforms (and with a little help from the ever-awe-inspiring Neale Ferguson), including System z.  Code developed with .NET tools can be deployed on a Mono install on arbitrary platforms with little care to how it’s designed. Novell has been the principle backer of Mono, and its previous close relationship with Microsoft has somewhat protected the project from the rough and tumble of intellectual property issues. 

The trouble now is what happens to Mono without the support of the majority of the development team? Should customers continue to pay the extra fee for Mono support that Novell generated when they split the Mono support away from the SLES support subscription, or will they defect to other providers?

Also related to the Novell acquisition, a court has ruled that Microsoft’s bulk patent purchases of Novell intellectual property pre-acquisition will have to be returned to Attachmate in exchange for cash and a perpetual license to use the technology. Time will tell how this strange matchup of “frenemies” will play out.

In our own labs, we’ve been working with the latest RHEL 5 release (5.6) and are finding it pretty stable. Some nice updates to Python support packages (a reasonably modern “twisted” package was a nice bonus) and some new reliability and stability improvements are included. It’s worth checking out if you aren’t ready to go all the way to RHEL 6 on all your non-z platforms. We’ve also started working on the SLES 11 SP2 beta packages—some significant bug fixes to YaST and a lot of updated work in device detection and SCSI FCP device management hit us pretty hard. We’ll have a more detailed report at GA for SP2.

In general news, there are a couple of interesting things you might find useful. First, a group of VM and Linux community members are attempting to revive the annual VM Workshop. In the past, the workshop was held at universities and provided a great, low-cost (under $500) way to get a VM education in a not-so-flashy setting—dorm rooms, college campuses, and cheap eats. It lapsed with IBM’s changes in license terms for VM, which made it much harder to keep VM systems at universities, but this round is sponsored by a set of volunteers. VM Workshop was the best value for the dollar in the past, and I think the new one promises to be just as good. Check out

Second, the Website has come in handy for tracking kernel releases at various points in the Novell product line. It lists the kernel releases for each version of SLES 9, 10 and 11, including service pack releases. It’s helpful for tracking down what service and patches are available; those of you who do systems auditing will find it useful for determining if systems have important patches applied.

Until next time, best wishes for a great summer!

Dr. David Boyes is CTO and president of Sine Nomine Associates. He has participated

in operating systems and networking research for more than 20 years, working on

design and deployment of systems and voice/data networks worldwide. He has

designed scenarios and economic models for systems deployment on many platforms,

and is currently involved in design and worldwide deployment of scalable system infrastructure

for an extensive set of global customers.