3rd Annual Open Source Symposium Highlights

Monday Nov 8th 2004 by Lyne Bourque
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Lyne Borque reports on some of the highlights during the event that may help bolster the role of open source in enterprise IT.

"Open source is not just a product but an idea." – Chris Jankal, Professor, Seneca College

It was the appropriate kickoff to the 3rd Annual Open Source Symposium this year at the Don Mills Campus of Seneca College, in Toronto, Canada.

Moreso than a technological perspective, open source is about ideas. It involves looking at something, finding a solution and offering it to anyone that can benefit from it. Sometimes it even involves taking existing products and opening them up to more people. This is, in fact, the case with LANUX, an open source project from 10th Power.

Seneca College, it should be noted, is working with 10th Power on LANUX along with Novell.

"Big Picture" Administration

LANUX allows administrators to remotely manage and configure multiple Linux boxes through the use of a simple Web GUI, meaning that the administrative machine can be based on any platform. And the database ends up becoming an audit trail of changes that have been made to several configurations and settings.

This ensures that an IT manager can track and audit the activities of junior administrators on various servers. Furthermore, these junior administrators only see and affect what they are authorized to "touch" thanks to the implementation of a constrained user interface.

Additionally, the browser-based control panel even allows for some command-line interface (CLI) commands, so if you are still a hard-core command line user you will still be able to revel in keyboard pounding configuration sessions.

Another welcome feature: any entry that can potentially make the server unstable won't be processed. This avoids an "uh-oh" moment, something that is particularly even more of an issue for modestly sized business with limited IT resources.

The product's architecture truly falls in line with the open source concept, notably a modular design that makes it possible for additional components to be bolted on as per the needs of the company. This idea of sticking to the open source philosophy means that customization and flexibility are within the reach of IT departments of all sizes.

Now, because it's open source people often think "hobbyist" or "home user". That's not at all the case with LANUX. It is geared specifically towards small- to medium-sized business, where managing 15, 20, 30-plus servers can become a handful. For single-server environments, this is rather overkill. But keep in mind; some products are vastly expensive when you scale up to medium-sized deployments.

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Other areas of interest included a look at Voice over IP (VoIP) and the open source contributions (which appears rather slow at this point — perhaps too new of a topic for some); and a look at the impact that open source could make for developing regions.

One Box, Many Users

During an interesting presentation, a single machine proved the multi-user, single workstation concept after plugging in multiple monitors, keyboards and mice.

With a simple patch and some configuration, the presenter had created a workstation for himself, his wife and daughter to use simultaneously and yet independent of each other, thus ensuring individual privacy. Again, you may think this is just a home solution but use a little imagination...

This concept could easily be used in shared environments like kiosks, public Internet stations, libraries, and applications that aren't particularly graphically intensive (that is, Pixar may not benefit from this). There was one bug to work out: sound. Apparently, audio was rather sporadic, blaring out of the wrong speakers at the wrong time. But everything else went smoothly.

The last presentation was on a topic that I was certainly interested in: NoCatAuth.

For environments that make public hotspots available, NoCatAuth is an excellent open source product that manages Internet access without incurring huge costs.

A simple, Linux bastion host (that is, a box that is a simplistic yet hardened) will do the trick along with Apache and the NoCatAuth setup. Anyone attempting to gain access to the network will be denied access until they properly log in through their web-browser to the NoCatAuth server.

Final Word

It was Novell's CTO, Ross Chevalier, who put things into perspective: "Open Source is about the freedom to choose ... it's about work being an activity, not a place". By subscribing to this mindset, organizations find the freedom to develop, and become effective and efficient business entities in the process. Adopting open source doesn't mean doing it for free.

If there's one lesson to take away from the symposium is that open-source "opens" the door to new ideas, which is what IT is all about anyways, isn't it?

Resources:

LANUX: http://www.lanux.com

MultiUser Single Workstation Linux: http://cs.senecac.on.ca/~ctyler/ruby

NoCatAuth: http://nocatauth.net

Seneca College, 3rd Annual Open Source Symposium: http://cs.senecac.on.ca/~sos3 for presentation materials

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