May 15 ’12

Linux on System z: New Beginnings

by David Boyes, Ph.D. in z/Journal

It’s been very hard to write this column. What do you say when one of your closest friends has a near-death experience, and the only thing you can do is sit by his or her side and hope for the best? It’s also been a very quiet period in the Linux on System z world. There isn’t much to talk about from the usual suspects, but I’ve done some digging to find several things that merit discussing in the column.

Probably the first (and most important to the business community) is the formal release of service pack 2 for SLES 11. SuSE has completed testing and GA processing, and it looks very good so far—a lot of work on the upgrade-in-place options has been done, and from the machines we’ve done in the lab, the upgrade process works smoothly … if you’ve been religious about using the packaging systems to install and deploy applications. I’ve ranted about this in other places, but it seems more important to employ the technique of using RPM or APT to push things out to servers from private repositories and to really specify and require accurate dependency information in RPMs we receive from vendors to ensure the system packaging tools know your application is there. Proper dependency information is key to allow automated tooling to detect and upgrade software correctly; I have this strange vision of the old SMP/E and VMSES/E wars to get IBM to eat its own dog food and use the packaging system consistently. It’s time to demand the same of Linux application vendors—including IBM. You can do it. We can help you, if you let us.

Second, for the more adventurous, new releases of Fedora for System z are rolling out on a regular basis (www.fedora.com). Fedora 16 for System z has a large number of substantially more modern packages for Apache, Python, and many others. It’s worth reading the change logs to see what the Red Hat engineering folks are playing with, especially with regard to changes in the start-up process. Fedora is experimenting with a tool called systemd that totally replaces the traditional init script process. It’s a radical new concept, and it looks like something that will be mainline in the not-to-distant future, so you should check it out soon.

For the more cost-conscious, it appears also that the interest in CentOS on System z (www.centos.org) is reanimating as well. CentOS (a recompile of the RHEL sources primarily for platforms that Red Hat doesn’t support well, but also interesting for appliance builders who can’t afford the Red Hat license fees) hasn’t had any maintenance love for a while (since version 4.x of RHEL), but there are rumors of the project reanimating to bring up version 5.x and 6.x releases on System z. Having a stable, supported enterprise-grade release for appliance creation appeals to a lot of people to facilitate better ways of software distribution for z/VM-oriented application images; the idea of a click-and-go installation of complex software systems is appealing at large.

In passing, I also discovered a colleague of mine, Leland Lucius, has written a line-mode interface to the z/VM System Management API (SMAPI). If you haven’t discovered SMAPI, it lets you do a number of exciting z/VM system control functions (create users, activate them, manage their resources, and lots more) from remote hosts. Something like this should have been supplied by IBM, but well, annoyance is often the mother of inventions. It’s a bit complicated to set up on the z/VM side, but the tool Leland wrote lets you do lots of neat things from a Linux host. Check it out (along with a bunch of other handy stuff) at www.sinenomine.net/leland/tools.

Also, the friend I mentioned in my intro is my rescued Persian cat, Gunther, who has been a companion through it all over the years. If you’ve never been owned by a rescue animal, please consider opening your home and heart, as it’s a very rewarding experience. Gunther is as much the author of this column as any other individual, and if I can say it, it’s been him and me against the world more times than I can count—late nights, people who don’t get it, and meeting me at the door after a day of trying to get one piece of IBM to talk to the other pieces.

This one’s for you, Old Thing: You and me against the world, one more time. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that matters.