Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fall of the Admin / Rise of the Architect?

A cohort and I engaged in a rather interesting conversation regarding the future of the "sys admin". In short the contention was made that the sys admin will dwindle with the rise of "cloud computing" and IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. With the rise of the various "as a service" platforms coming out I can not help but wonder what will become of my vaunted profesion? Will all the companies start moving away from having local sys admin's to take care of their various it tools? Will I be part of a dieing breed going the way of the big iron Unix admins?

Personally I'm not fully convinced they will go away. No doubt that the sys admin of today will be come a slightly different animal be he Linux or Windows admin. Linux and Unix admins have always been part code/script monkey. Really good Windows admins have as well but the advent of Windows power shell is causing the Windows admins to put on their coding hat and join their *nix cousins. Automation and scale will be the future for anyone who wants to learn this craft.

Typically sys admin's are used to working between 50 to 200 systems. However this all varies by application and number of supported applications. Some companies have dedicated appliation administrators or analyst where as some leave this to the role of their sys admins. The more apps an admin has to support the less number of overall systems. Now go look at a XaaS site like Amazon EC2, Google, Facebook, or Salesforce. Admin's at these places typically support a handfull of applications and hundreds if not thousands of servers. Frankly I dream of being able to work supporting 1000+:1 environment. (Currently I'm at 180+:1). XaaS is very much the future and one day I can see that most companies will either have private clouds because they don't trust 3rd parties but many companies will shift that way as they have a huge cost and headache saving benifit. But the question remains what happens to the admin?

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects employment of Sys Admins to rise 23% between 2008 and 2018. What is not addressed is the number of people going into this field. I only have anictotal evidence at the moment but demand for Sys Admin's seems to have increased. Coastal regions are looking to the US interior for employees because they cannot find enough in their area. Cloud start ups are looking for admin's to build, manage and repair their systems and business are still not fully onboard with operating in the "cloud". Don't get me wrong cloud addoption is ever increasing it seams but I the applications that are hosted as part of SaaS is still not close to it's saturation point as SaaS is still to new for the typically conservative corporations to adopt it. 

The demand for sys admins is only eclipsed by the demand for cloud developers. But even here the admin plays a critical role is supporting all those developers. No infrastructure, no app, no revenue. 

XaaS also brings about a change in the tasks of the admin. The commoditization of the infrastructure, deployment, and user management of systems starts freeing the admins to do some rather fun higher level activities like actual architecture of the systems and environment or tackling truly difficult problems. Over all I think this is good, but it does lead me to wonder how we grow from Jr. Sys Admin to Systems Architect? If the environment that a typical Jr. admin cuts his teeth on and develops his skills to be an Sr. Admin or Architect is commoditized then how does he get the necessary expertise to become and Architect? That level of work requires knowing some of the more mundane tasks in order to see the trees and the forest of any system.  With out that level of detailed knowledge it becomes more difficult to know the details of a system. Then again look what language abstraction has done programming. I'd submit that the number of people who actually code in Assembly language is very small and could possibly fit on a small cruise ship. Most software developers are using C, Java, Python, Ruby, PHP, or some other high level language. So maybe that really won't be an issue but I frankly don't know. As an admin you need to know how to manage one system before you can manage tens, hundreds, or thousands of them, so I hope we are not painting our selves into an experience corner.

Over all I think the change that the System Admin field is seeing with the commoditization of infrastructure is a good thing. It will mean changes for the role as we know it, but ultimately I think this will work out well. The number of admin's being produced is still lower than the demand for them thus keeping wages high even when taking into account the operational efficiencies that modern admins are reaching. My main concern is how we train up the next generation of admin's so they can work with the new demands that essentially call more experienced systems knowledge that can be scaled. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Killer Linux desktop apps!? Why is that even relevant?

Miguel de Icaza, creator of the Gnome Desktop, is a little down on the Linux Desktop. I cannot say I really disagree with his assessment. All the "great" desktop apps for Linux are really niche apps or apps that are cross platform. Chrome, Firefox, Thunderbird, even LibreOffice are all cross platform so their's nothing there that says Linux only. As a SysAdmin I would cry without ClusterSSH but that is really something for the SysAdmin niche. Adobe's PhotoShop works on Mac OS X and Windows but it is also a niche app (and rumor has it runs fine under Wine) that will be used by graphic designers, not Joe and Jane Smith.

As much as Miguel has a point it goes much broader than he realizes. It's not just Linux as Mac and Windows are going to hit the same problem for different reason. The 80% to 90% of computer users don't need the desktop. Killer apps or not their consumption habits are going to change and the PC will revert to niche areas. The killer app they do use (Internet and productivity software) are going mobile.

Get a good tablet with keyboard (bluetooth, usb, whatever) and suddenly the non-niche market has no need for the desktop. The PC of old will essentially be used by power users (gamers, programmers, developers, etc). Office apps will be in the "Cloud" or at least not needing a huge desktop to do the work. All the tablet needs is productivity software and the ability to connect to one to two larger displays and it will have wiped out the business PC as the productivity platform. All those office workers can start their spreadsheet or power point in a meeting and complete it at their desk on dual monitor goodness and not skip a beat. I have one Linux Admin in my office who has already said if he could get a ClusterSSH and a good shell client on his iPad he would have no need for a desktop.

Miguel's complaint about he Gnome/KDE and various windows manager's is frankly irrelevant to most people. If anything the Linux field needs to start thinking about next display technology and how it can jump in on the up and coming computer input technologies beyond the current multi touch. (Think of that computer desk from "The Island").
Apps come and go. They are what bring people to the computer platform but form factors also impact their usage. The power in a tablet computer is sufficient for the majority of people's needs. We are just waiting for the productivity apps to catch on and for the tablet designers to realize how the can supplant the desktop PC. Yes, niche players will always go for their desktop of choice but most of them will probably have a productivity device (Laptop/Tablet/Mobile device) on hand as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I use Linux in a corporate environment and proxy support sucks.

I have two work stations, a Windows XP desktop and Linux workstation. The bulk of my day to day work is done from the workstation. This does not come without some pitfalls. My most aggravating being proxy server authentication. Windows NTLM and it's ability to pass along your authentication is rather nice and simplifies your world. Linux on the other hand can be a little daunting at times.

My workstation currently runs Ubuntu 11.04. I had been running with Fedora 13 then 14 but frankly Fedora is not that user friendly for a desktop. SELinux borderlines on the insane if you use it and mildly annoying if you put it in passive mode. Yes, you could disable SELinux which is what many people do but as many times as you have to log in as root to do something useful it really seems counter productive. Ubuntu/Debian's sudo setup is far superior in this regard. And in my opinion APT is far easier to work with than YUM. Just managing repositories seems faster. Which takes me back to my previous issue, proxies.

Proxies, simply put, need help in Linux. Proxies are a standard in the corporate world. Which should tell you why it so important. When Chrome first came out it relied on the OS proxy settings which caused problems if you were needing to authenticate to the proxy. It was quickly updated and partially resolved the issue but authentication is still a bear. Some pages may prompt you several times to authenticate, others my only prompt you once. Not that this is due to the application. Firefox is prone to the multi-authentication issue where as Chrome will prompt once and your good for that session... most of the time. Other apps are not so forgiving or feature rich. Banshee authenticates with basic auth. Many productivity apps depend entirely on the OS provide proxy config but they don't even utilize it fully as many will ignore the authentication piece and just time out.

Now some apps will allow you to save your password. GREAT! However corporate password policy may not be so nice. If you have to change your password every 30 to 45 days trying to remember which app stored your password can be hazardous to your login attempt. I used to have Thunderbird remember my proxy password and this worked great until the password changed. Add to it I was in a rush and opened up multiple applications all failing their initial authentication and wham! "Your account is locked out".

With my head bowed I schlepped over to the domain admin, as my account can only be reset by a Domain admin, and requested they reset my password. After a long story as to why my account was locked I was greeted with typical Windows Admin jest of getting a real OS. To which I counter "They won't get me a UNIX work station" and then walk back to my desk to type in the new password.

What makes things more frustrating is that the Linux proxy tool gives you the option to put in your username and password for the proxy. However it rarely if ever works. Add to that I don't know how secure it is. I'd love to have the Linux proxy tool updated so that it worked with authentication proxies, stored your password securely, or just used your local authentication. I think this alone would help the corporate adoption rate, or at least make my life a little easier.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Microsoft $5.2 billion VS Apple's $5.99 billion

The Wall Street Journal documents Microsoft 3Q Net Jumps 31%, But Windows Decline Dims Outlook -

Short answer, Microsoft did better than it has been but not enough to beat out it's rival Apple. Which is funny given how Microsoft bailed out Apple back 1997. Some theorize that without Gates, Microsoft is just moving on to a the slow death. Apple suffered without Steve Jobs for several years and look what happened when he returned!

Ars commented on the same story yesterday and the comments section went the way of the troll. But there were some good points made. One, Apple is a hardware company not a software company like Microsoft. Yes, they do have some software but they have dominated with their hardware and they have capitalized on the App Store which is a constant stream of revenue for Apple, to the tune of almost $2 billion. That's a huge sum for something that requires relatively little effort on Apples part. Microsoft has nothing to compare/compete with the App Store.

Microsoft is trying it's hand at the mobile game but lets be real. The hardware part is nothing compared to the application end and Apple gets a nice slice from every pie that goes through their store.

Apple gets 30% of every dollar that goes through the app store and that is almost free money. Add in the price of the phone, and what Apple gets for kick backs from the phone providers and you make lots of money. Microsoft doesn't compete. Apple has mobile providers nearly frothing at the mouth to get access, where as Microsoft is "meh, I guess we can carrier your OS."

My personal opinion is the Microsoft VS Apple is a bad comparison. They do have some overlap but they both compete in vastly different areas. I'd be more interested to see analysis on the Android impact as Android of today is the PC of yesteryear and Apple lost that battle in the 80's and 90's.

Android is not making more money than Apple but it has captured market share. Microsoft is not significant in the phone market, but Google is and Android VS iPhone is a far more realistic comparison.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apotheker and future of HP

On November 1st, 2010 Léo Apotheker took the reigns of HP. The man has some big plans; webOS on every HP, increase HP's software profile, and bring back innovation that Mark Hurd chucked. But not all is sunny in HP land, today Bloombergs Carol Hymowitz and Douglas MacMillan note Apotheker's involvement in some shady dealings regarding HP's Board.

Over all I hope the best for HP. Hurd helped the money line but only helped in bringing down the business. The HP employee's started to remind me of Sprint folks because they didn't know when the axe would fall. Mark Hurd took to acquiring new things but cut off that which made HP great, namely it's people. If Apotheker's rehtoric can be believed then he is at least looking to bring back HP's innovative spirit. Which they will need. Dell has been making inroads in the server space, and personally I like Dell enclosures and servers better than HP's. We have notorious firmware issues with HP, where as our Dell systems don't have to be patched unless something is broke. HP Blade's are a different beast.

NOTE: Word to the wise, if you buy an C7000 fill the bays and then don't touch it if at all possible. Otherwise a firmware update on one blade may cause you to have to update everything on the other blades and the enclosure.

On the software end Oracle and HP have been beating on each other for a while but HP is falling behind. Frankly I think HP needs to capitalize on Oracle's bad blood in the FOSS community. Apotheker would be wise to encourage HP to back the disgruntled players in MySQL and the Java space.

In the end only time will tell. Apotheker has said he has learned from his mistakes and SAP and  "The one thing I've learned is to try to manage my temper better and get rid of cynics sooner." (see "Apotheker seeks to save hp's lost soul with software").