Friday, 22 December 2006

The curse of the micro client

Well I haven't posted for 2 days mainly because I haven't made any concrete progress in the last 2 days. The limitations of the device in question are beginning to be annoying - if only the guys had pushed the boat out and installed 256 MB of RAM it would be a completely different story.

The current thrust of the work in trying to get a useful setup on our micro client has been using VMWare to get a minimal installation of the Slackware Linux distribution which can then be imaged and put onto our compact flash card. The trouble is that even with the cut down kernel and using the excellent package management tool which come in the Slackware setup, as soon as a few packages are selected it bloats very quickly to our 128MB limit.

Another problem seems to be that Slackware has a slightly different folder configuration to the fedora/red hat/centos distros and as a result nagios struggles to configure itself. All a bit painful really and it might be easier to look at another network monitoring tool which is a little more basic.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Training the puppy.

Having spent a few days using the new 'device' now it is becoming clearer that my initial plan might not be practical. No great surprise there as I am sure anybody who has ever had a plan will agree but thankfully all is not lost.

The root of the problem is the lack of RAM on the computer, as puppy Linux requires 50-60Mb of RAM to sit in and the device only has 128 available which is very constricting. The only applications I wanted to install were Nagios and Apache but in order to compile these programs I would also need devx which filled up the available resources even before it could fully install never mind the other apps. This required a rethink and at Robs suggestion we tried compiling these programs on a virtual machine, the idea being to copy the finished items back afterwards. On digging a little deeper it seems that this approach may also be flawed because when looking into the rather nifty Nagios live CD which is a precompiled fully operational ISO of Apache and Nagios with no other rubbish thrown in it seems that the minimum required RAM is 256 MB.


Enter Cheops to save the day!

On browsing the available dotpups, which are prepackaged installs for puppy much like RPM's for red hat, I found a program called Cheops which appears to be an anorexic version of Nagios. It may not be quite as polished but essentially looks as though it will do what I need which is tell me or the other IT guys if a server or one of the more essential switches falls over during the festive season. Installation is a breeze and so far it is quite happily mapping the network without me having to even tell it where to look which is nice :o)

Watch this space.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Its Arrived!

Exciting news - Christmas has come early for the IT department (or at least for me because no body else can get near it!) as our shiny new toy has arrived. About four weeks ago now I read an article on the register about thin clients and more specifically a company called Norhtec and their new micro client Jr. This is a very simple embedded computer based on a lowly 200 MHz processor which is designed to run a cut down version of Linux for simple tasks, but it turns out to be surprisingly capable.

The application I have in mind for it is as a platform for our Nagios network monitoring system which is currently running on a cheap desktop machine loaded with Fedora. Given that desktop machines can use anything up to 200 Watts even when free wheeling and of course even running Linux they occasionally have glitches and crash, the idea of having a tiny computer with no moving parts and which only requires 15 Watts is very appealing both from an environmental and a reliability standpoint.

When the machine arrived first impressions were very good, its tiny - about the same size as a 3.5" hard disk, and boots up with the (optional) compact flash based puppy Linux installation in about 2 minutes. The only thing we had to do was quickly pop to Maplins for an adapter to change the rather exotic Thai power pins to something more mainstream :o)

As the operating system runs entirely in RAM it takes a while to get into the mindset of installing applications to the master rather than installing into RAM and the application disappearing next time you boot up.

So far I have installed FireFox 2 which runs nicely even with the new Flash 9 Beta plug in, and this afternoon I will attempt to squeeze Apache and Nagios onto it if they will fit. Might need to have a muck out first though ;o)

Friday, 15 December 2006

IT begins

We have been having discussions about bringing some new elements to the company website, this blog is what you might call a toe in the water, if we find that we can keep up the postings and write something which is actually interesting we may have to create a blog on our main site. Over the next couple of weeks I will try to put up some background posts as well as some progress posts to fill in the details about the nature of IT at BandP.

A view from the rack is the personal blog of an IT manager who works for a pub company - hence beer