Category Archives: General

Random musings on technology or management or whatever.

Oracle Declares War On Open Source

Some days, it doesn’t pay to be a Java shop.  Oracle has discontinued OpenSolaris and is suing Google over making a Java fork for their mobile phones.  Are OpenJDK, mySQL, and OpenOffice next on the destructive rampage?

We like using open source.  We also like coding our Web apps in Java; it’s heavier duty than PHP/Ruby and more open than .NET – or at least it was.  We’re actually a big Oracle shop – we use mySQL for our cloud offerings but use loads of Oracle databases (and Oracle ERP) internally.  But it’s hard to interpret this as anything other than a series of crappy moves that will result in diminishing the ecosystem we’re trying to use to create products and Web apps.

It seems like Larry Ellison is really fond of the old Microsoft “I am your monopolistic corporate overlord” kind of business relationship.  Warning – if we want one of those, we’d use Microsoft; they’re cheaper and better at it.

It’s partly the fault of the open source “companies” – they willingly sell out to the corporate-overlord set (Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, HP, CA) and then, no matter what they say, they’re not really open any more.  Java was allegedly open sourced by Sun but now Oracle is suing Google for exercising that open source license on the basis of patent infringement.  Heck, a lot of the open source companies have instead become “open core” which is often mostly a lie.

So is Open Source already dead, and this is just part of the feeding frenzy of the big boys scooping it up?

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TRISC 2010 – Texas Regional Infrastucture Security Conference

TRISC starts today. Only one of the Agile Admins is up in Dallas today, and there are some pretty good speakers lined up today with some really interesting talks.

I am looking forward to talks on DNSSEC, Pen Testing, and a talk from Robert Hansen.

Stay tuned for more TRISC coverage and in the interim, feel free to follow the coverage on my twitter account.

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How to hire an Agile Admin

The Kitchen Soap blog has some great interview questions for hiring a WebOps position. Check it out, it is worth the read.

In my experience with hiring, a real simple one is to ask (while holding their resume), “Can you tell me about yourself?” Sure, I can read what it says, but letting them verbalize usually is a good indicator. In one of the last sets of interviews I did I asked a candidate this question and I got a gruff response, “It is all right there, what do you need to know?” Good communication skills? No, see you later.

One other question I like is, “What are two character flaws you have?” Usually someone prepares for one in advance with something like, “I am an over-committed worker…” or other statement that is meant to actually show a positive side about them. Asking for two lets you watch for quick thinking and (again) communication skills. In our industry technical is a must, but people can be trained. If you are bad at communicating or just a jerk, then no amount of training can help.

Anyone else have some good interview Q’s?

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vim tip of the day

One thing that every admin (agile or not, although we hope agile) needs to do is use vi.  Or vim for the slightly more civilized, which I am encouraging adoption therof by calling this the vim tip of the day in lieu of the vi tip of the day.

If you are reading this, and are thinking, “what is vim?” then you might want to skip this.  If you read this and are thinking, “I dream in regex and I just can’t wait” then you might be a little let down.  But for those of us that are left, here is a handy little vim tip for you.

Often I find myself looking running

sudo vim /etc/hosts

which is fine and dandy. But more often than not, I forget to sudo. When that happens and you are just about to save your work you are greeted with a “Can’t open file for writing” message. Dang! At this point you probably copy out the changes you made, exit the file, and reopen the file using sudo. All the while you are wondering, “surely there is a better way.”

Well there is.

:w !sudo tee % >/dev/null

Type this into vim and it will save your work just as if you were running vim using sudo.

I am not sure if this will be a regular feature, but I am going to try and cook up some other vim tips and share them with you.

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Book Review: Smart & Gets Things Done, by Joel Spolsky

Joel Spolsky is a bit of an internet cause célèbre, the founder of Fog Creek Software and writer of joelonsoftware.com, an influential programming Web site.

The book is about technical recruiting and retention, and even though it’s a small format, under 200 page book, it covers a lot of different topics.  His focus is on hiring programmers but I think a lot of the same principles apply to hiring for systems admin/Web systems positions.  Hiring has been one of the hardest parts of being a Web systems manager, so I got a lot out of the book and tried putting it into practice.  Results detailed below!

The Book

The first chapter talks about the relative effectiveness of programmers.  We often hire programmers and pay the good ones 10% more than the bad ones.  But he has actual data, drawn from a Yale professor who repeatedly teaches the same CS class and assigns the same projects, which shows something that those of us who have been in the field for a long time know – which is that the gap in achievement between the best programmers and the worst ones is a factor of ten.  That’s right.  In a highly controlled environment, the best programmers completed projects 3-4 times faster than the average and 10x faster than the slowest ones.  (And this same relationship holds when adjusting for quality of results.)  I’ve been in IT for 15 years and I can guarantee this is true.  You can give the same programming task to a bunch of different programmers and get results from “Here, I did it last night” to “Oh, that’ll take three months.”  He goes on to note other ways in which you can get 10 mediocre programmers that cannot achieve the same “high notes” as one good programmer.  This goes to reinforce how important the programmer, as human capital, is to an organization.

Next, he delves into how you find good developers.  Unfortunately, the easy answers don’t work.  Posting on monster.com or craigslist gets lots of hits but few keeps.  Employee referrals don’t always get the best people either.  How do you find people, then?  He has three suggestions.

  1. Go to the mountain
  2. Internships
  3. Build your own community

“Go to the mountain” means to figure out where the smart people are that you want to hire, and go hang out there.  Conferences.  Organizations.  Web sites.  General job sites are zoos, you need venues that are more specifically spot on.  Want a security guy?  Post on OWASP or ISSA forums, not monster.com.

We do pretty well with internships, even enhancing that with company sponsored student sourcing/class projects and a large campus recruiting program.  He has some good sub-points however – like make your offers early.  If you liked them as an intern, offer them a full-time job at that point for when they graduate, don’t wait.  Waiting puts you into more of a competitive situation.  And interns should be paid, given great work to do, and courted for the perm job during the internship.

Building a community – he acknowledges that’s hard.  Our company has external communities but not really for IT.  For a lot of positions we should be on our our forums like fricking scavengers trying to hire people that post there.

Continue reading

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Dang, People Still Love Them Some IE6

We get a decent bit of Web traffic here on our site.  I was looking at the browser and platform breakdowns and was surprised to see IE6 still in the lead!  I’m not sure if these stats are representative of “the Internet in general” but I am willing to bet they are representative of enterprise-type users, and we get enough traffic that most statistical noise should be filtered out.  I thought I’d share this; most of the browser market share research out there is more concerned with the IE vs Firefox (vs whoever) competition aspect and less about useful information like versions.  Heck we had to do custom work to get the Firefox version numbers; our Web analytics vendor doesn’t even provide that.  In the age of more Flash and Silverlight and other fancy schmancy browser tricks, disregarding what versions and capabilites your users run is probably a bad idea.

  1. IE6 – 23.46%
  2. IE7 – 21.37%
  3. Firefox 3.5 – 17.28%
  4. IE8 – 14.62%
  5. Firefox 3 – 12.52%
  6. Chrome – 4.38%
  7. Opera 9 – 2.20%
  8. Safari – 1.95%
  9. Firefox 2 – 1.27%
  10. Mozilla – 0.48%

It’s pretty interesting to see how many people are still using that old of a browser, probably the one their system came loaded with originally.  On the Firefox users, you see the opposite trend – most are using the newest and it tails off from there, probably what people “expect” to see.  The IE users start with the oldest and tail towards the newest!  You’d think that more people’s IT departments would have mandated newer versions at least.  I wish we could see what percentage of our users are hitting “from work” vs. “from home” to see if this data is showing a wide disparity between business and consumer browser tech mix.

Bonus stats – Top OSes!

  1. Windows XP – 76.5%
  2. Windows Vista – 14.3%
  3. Mac – 2.7%
  4. Windows NT – 1.8%
  5. Linux – 1.8%
  6. Win2k – 1.5%
  7. Windows Server 2003 – 1.2%

Short form – “everyone uses XP.”  Helps explain the IE6 popularity because that’s what XP shipped with.

Edit – maybe everyone but me knew this, but there’s a pretty cool “Market Share” site that lets people see in depth stats from a large body of data…  Their browser and OS numbers validate ours pretty closely.

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Oracle + BEA Update

A year ago I wrote about Oracle’s plan on how to combine BEA Weblogic and OAS.   A long time went by before any more information appeared – we met with our Oracle reps last week to figure out what the deal is.  The answer wasn’t much more clear than it was way back last year.  They do certainly want some kind of money to “upgrade” but it seems poorly thought through.

OAS came in various versions – Java, Standard, Standard One, Enterprise, and then the SOA Suite versions.  The new BEA, now “Fusion Middleware 11g” comes in different versions as well.

  • WLS Standard
  • WLS Enterprise – adds clustering, costs double
  • WLS Suite – adds Coherence, Enterprise Manager, and JRockit realtime, costs quadruple

But they can’t tell us what OAS product maps to what FMW version.

There is also an oddly stripped down “Basic” edition which noted as being a free upgrade from OAS SE but it strips out a lot of JMS and WS stuff; there’s an entire slide of stuff that gets stripped out and it’s hard to say if this would be feasible for us.

As for SOA Suite, “We totally just don’t know.”

Come on Oracle, you’ve had a year to get this put together.  It’s pretty simple, there’s not all that many older and newer products.  I suspect they’re being vague so they can feel out how much $$ they can get out of people for the upgrade.  Hate to break it to you guys – the answer is $0.  We didn’t pay for OAS upgrades before this, we just paid you the generous 22% a year maintenance that got you your 51% profit margin this year. If you’re retiring OAS for BEA in all but name, we expect to get the equivalent functionality for our continued 22%.

Oracle has two (well, three) clear to dos.

1.  Figure out what BEA product bundles give functionality equivalent to old OAS bundles

2.  Give those to support-paying customers

3.  Profit.  You’re making plenty without trying to upcharge customers.  Don’t try it.

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State of SOA

We have a pretty decent-sized SOA implementation here.  I got interviewed by InformationWeek magazine about it, and you can read my thoughts on SOAP vs REST and related topics in:

InformationWeek Analytics: State Of SOA

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Browser Support – Just Do It

I am moved to post today by a gripe.  We have a lot of products and SaaS vendors that for some reason feel like they don’t need to support browsers other than whatever it is they have in their mind as the one browser they’re going to support.   I have Firefox 3, Internet Explorer 8 beta, and Chrome on my PC but still can’t use many of the darn programs I needed to use today.  (Of course, you can’t run different IE versions on the same box without resorting to virtualization or similar, so once I went to IE8 beta I knew I was in a world of hurt).

Let me share with you the top 10 browsers we see on our Web site.  These numbers are from the last 500k visits so they should be statistically representative.

  • IE7 – 34.9%
  • Firefox – 31.0%
  • IE6 – 25.9%
  • Safari (includes Chrome) – 4.1%
  • Opera 9 – 2.3%
  • IE8 beta – .9%
  • Mozilla – .4%
  • Charlotte – .1%
  • Yeti – .1%
  • IE5 – .1%

All you suppliers who think “I don’t need to support Firefox” – think again.  And you’re all doing a bad job of supporting IE8.  I know it’s new – but if you’ve already been only supporting one browser, be advised that as soon as IE8 goes gold everyone will auto-download it from Microsoft and then you’re SOL.   And there’s a lot of IE6 out there still, even if you are trying to do “IE only.”

To name names – Peopleclick.  IE7 support only.  Really?  You really only want 35% of users to use your product?  Or you think we’re going to mandate an internal company standard for your one app?  Get real.

Sharepoint.  No editing in Firefox.  When we evaluated intranet collaboration solutions here, we got down to Atlassian Confluence and Sharepoint as finalists, but then the “no Firefox” factor got Sharepoint booted for cause.  Confluence itself doesn’t support Safari until its newest version, which was annoying.  (Microsoft does promise the new version of Sharepoint out later this year will have adequate Firefox support.)

Graphs don’t work right in Firefox in Panorama, otherwise a pet favorite APM tool.

So guys – I know it’s a pain, but the Windows browser market is split and Macs are undergoing a renaissance.  Real companies don’t tell 5 to 10 percent of their customers to screw off (let alone 65%, Peopleclick).  It’s a cost of doing business.   You’re getting out of a whole bunch of client side code writing by cheating and using Web browsers for it, so be grateful for that rather than ungrateful that you have to test in a couple different browsers.  Because corporate decisionmakers like myself will ask, and we will make buying decisions based on it.

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A DoS We Can Believe In

We knew that the historic inauguration of Barack Obama would be generating a lot more Internet traffic than usual, both in general and specifically here at NI.  Being prudent Web Admin types, we checked around to make sure we thought that there wouldn’t be any untoward effects on our Web site.  Like many corporate sites, we use the same pipe for inbound Internet client usage and outbound Web traffic, so employees streaming video to watch the event could pose a problem.  We got all thumbs up after consulting with our networking team, and decided to not even send any messaging asking people to avoid streaming.  But, we monitored the situation carefully as the day unwound.  Here’s what we saw, just for your edification!

Our max inbound Internet throughput was 285 Mbps, about double our usual peak.  We saw a ni.com Web site performance degradation of about 25% for less than two hours according to our Keynote stats.  ni.com ASPs were affected proportionately which indicates the slowdown was Internet-wide and not unique to our specific Internet connection here in Austin.  The slowdown was less pronounced internationally, but still visible.  So in summary – not a global holocaust, but a noticeable bump.

Cacti graphs showing our Internet connection traffic:

obamabumpcactihrlyobamabumpcactidaily

Keynote graph of several of our Web assets, showing global response time in seconds:obamabumpkeynoteLooking at the traffic specifically, there were two main standouts.  We had TCP 1935, which is Flash RTMP, peaking around 85 Mbps, and UDP 8247, which is a special CNN port (they use a plugin called “Octoshape” with their Flash streaming), peaking at 50 Mbps.   We have an overall presence of about 2500 people here at our Austin HQ on an average day, but we can’t tell exactly how many were streaming.  (Our NetQoS setup shows us there were 13,600 ‘flows,’ but every time a stream stops and starts that creates a new one – and the streams were hiccupping like crazy.  We’d have to do a bunch of Excel work to figure out max concurrent, and have better things to do.)

In terms of the streaming provider breakdown – since everyone uses Akamai now, the vast majority showed as “Akamai”.  We could probably dig more to find out, but we don’t really care all that much.  And, many of the sources were overwhelmed, which helped some.

We just wanted to share the data, in case anyone finds it helpful or interesting.

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