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Continuing my series on a [Laptop for Grandma], I thought I would pursue some of the "low-RAM" operating system choices. Grandma's Thinkpad R31 has only 384MB of RAM.
All of the ones below are based on Linux. For those who aren't familiar with installing or running the Linux operating system, here are some helpful tips:
Most Linux distributors allow you to download an ISO file for free. These can be either (a) burned to a CD, (b) burned to a DVD, or (c) written to a USB memory stick.
The ISO can be either a "LiveCD/LiveDVD" version, an installation program, or a combination of the two. The "Live" version allows you to boot up and try out the operating system without modifying the contents of your hard drive. Windows and Mac OS users can try out Linux without impact to their existing environment. Some Linux distributions offer both a full LiveCD+Installer version, as well as an alternate text-based Installer-only version. The latter often requires less RAM to use.
When installing, it is best to have the laptop plugged in to an electrical outlet, and hard-wired to the internet in case it needs to download the latest drivers for your particular hardware.
A CD can hold only 700MB. Many of the newer Linux distributions exceed that, requiring a DVD or USB stick instead. If your laptop has an older optical drive, it may not be able to read DVD media. Some older optical drives can only read CD's, not burn them. In my case, I burned the CDs on another machine, and then used them on grandma's Thinkpad R31.
To avoid burning "a set of coasters" when trying out multiple choices, consider using rewriteable optical media, or the USB option. If you don't like it, you can re-use for something else.
The program [Unetbootin] can take most ISO files and write them to a bootable USB stick. On my Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 laptop, I had to also install p7zip and p7zip-plugins first.
The BIOS on some older machines, like my grandma's Thinkpad R31, cannot boot from USB. The [PLoP Boot Manager] allows you to first boot from floppy or CD-ROM, and then allows you to boot from the USB. This worked great on my grandma's system. The PLoP Boot Manager is also available on the [Ultimate Boot CD].
While I am a big fan of SUSE, Red Hat, and Ubuntu, these all require more RAM than available on grandma's laptop. Here are some Low-RAM alternatives I tried:
Damn Small Linux 4.11 RC2
The Damn Small Linux [DSL] project was dormant since 2008, but has a fresh new release for 2012. This baby can run in as little 16MB or RAM! If you have 128MB of RAM or more, the OS can run entirely from RAM, providing much faster performance.
Of course, there are always trade-offs, and in this case, apps were chosen for their size and memory footprint, not necessarily for their user-friendliness and eye candy. For example, the xMMS plays MP3 music, but I did not find it as friendly as iTunes or Rhythmbox.
Boot time is fast. From hitting the power-on button to playing the first note of MP3 music was about 1 minute.
Installing DSL Linux on the hard drive converts it into a Debian distribution, which then allows more options for applications.
Next up was [MacPup]. The latest version is 529, based on Pupply Linux 5.2.60 Precise, compatible with Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin. While traditional Puppy Linux clutters the screen with apps, the MacPup tries to have the look-and-feel of the MacOS by having a launcher tray at the bottom center of the screen.
Both MacPup and Puppy Linux can run in very small amounts of RAM and disk space. Like DSL above, you can opt to run MacPup entirely in 128MB of RAM. Unfortunately, the trade-off is a lack of application choices.
Installation to the hard drive was quite involved, certainly not for the beginner. First, you have to use Gparted to partition the disk. I created a 19GB (sda1) for my files, and 700MB (sda5) for swap. I had troubles with "ext4" file system, so re-formatted to "ext3". Second, you have to copy the files over from the LiveCD using the "Puppy Universal Installer". Third, you have to set up the Bootloader. Grub didn't work, so I installed Grub4Dos instead.
The music app is called "Alsa Player", and I was able to drag the icon into the startup tray. time-to-first-note was just over 1 minute. Fast, but not as "simple-to-use" as I would like.
SliTaz 4.0 claims to be able to run in as little as 48MB of RAM and 100MB of disk space. Time-to-first-note was similar to MacPup, but I didn't care for the TazPanel for setup, and the TazPkg for installing a limited set of software packages. I could not get Wi-Fi working at all on SliTaz, and just gave up trying.
All three of these ran on grandma's Thinkpad R31, and all three could play MP3 music. However, I was concerned that they were not as simple to use as grandma would like, and I would be concerned the amount of time and effort I might have to spend if things go wrong.
Robert LeBlanc, IBM Senior Vice President for Middleware, gave a keynote presentation at the Red Hat Summit. Here is the [26-minute YouTube video]:
I am running Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6.2 as my primary laptop operating system. Most of IBM's products, like Lotus Notes for email, run natively on Linux for the desktop. I have a Windows XP running as a Linux KVM guest to run a few third-party software that we are still using.
If we have learned anything from last decade's Y2K crisis, is that we should not wait for the last minute to take action. Now is the time to start thinking about weaning ourselves off Windows XP. IBM has 400,000 employees, so this is not a trivial matter.
Already, IBM has taken some bold steps:
Last July, IBM announced that it was switching from Internet Explorer (IE6) to [Mozilla Firefox as its standard browser]. IBM has been contributing to this open source project for years, including support for open standards, and to make it [more accessible to handicapped employees with visual and motor impairments]. I use Firefox already on Windows, Mac and Linux, so there was no learning curve for me. Before this announcement, if some web-based application did not work on Firefox, our Helpdesk told us to switch back to Internet Explorer. Those days are over. Now, if a web-based application doesn't work on Firefox, we either stop using it, or it gets fixed.
IBM also announced the latest [IBM Lotus Symphony 3] software, which replaces Microsoft Office for Powerpoint, Excel and Word applications. Symphony also works across Mac, Windows and Linux. It is based on the OpenOffice open source project, and handles open-standard document formats (ODF). Support for Microsoft Office 2003 will also run out in the year 2014, so moving off proprietary formats to open standards makes sense.
I am not going to wait for IBM to decide how to proceed next, so I am starting my own migrations. In my case, I need to do it twice, on my IBM-provided laptop as well as my personal PC at home.
Last summer, IBM sent me a new laptop, we get a new one every 3-4 years. It was pre-installed with Windows XP, but powerful enough to run a 64-bit operating system in the future. Here are my series of blog posts on that:
I decided to try out Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.1 with its KVM-based Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization to run Windows XP as a guest OS. I will try to run as much as I can on native Linux, but will have Windows XP guest as a next option, and if that still doesn't work, reboot the system in native Windows XP mode.
So far, I am pleased that I can do nearly everything my job requires natively in Red Hat Linux, including accessing my Lotus Notes for email and databases, edit and present documents with Lotus Symphony, and so on. I have made RHEL 6.1 my default when I boot up. Setting up Windows XP under KVM was relatively simple, involving an 8-line shell script and 54-line XML file. Here is what I have encountered:
We use a wonderful tool called "iSpring Pro" which merges Powerpoint slides with voice recordings for each page into a Shockwave Flash video. I have not yet found a Linux equivalent for this yet.
To avoid having to duplicate files between systems, I use instead symbolic links. For example, my Lotus Notes local email repository sits on D: drive, but I can access it directly with a link from /home/tpearson/notes/data.
While my native Ubuntu and RHEL Linux can access my C:, D: and E: drives in native NTFS file system format, the irony is that my Windows XP guest OS under KVM cannot. This means moving something from NTFS over to Ext4, just so that I can access it from the Windows XP guest application.
For whatever reason, "Password Safe" did not run on the Windows XP guest. I launch it, but it takes forever to load and never brings up the GUI. Fortunately, there is a Linux version [MyPasswordSafe] that seems to work just fine to keep track of all my passwords.
Personal home PC
My Windows XP system at home gave up the ghost last month, so I bought a new system with Windows 7 Professional, quad-core Intel processor and 6GB of memory. There are [various editions of Windows 7], but I chose Windows 7 Professional to support running Windows XP as a guest image.
Here's is how I have configured my personal computer:
I actually found it more time-consuming to implement the "Virtual PC" feature of Windows 7 to get Windows XP mode working than KVM on Red Hat Linux. I am amazed how many of my Windows XP programs DO NOT RUN AT ALL natively on Windows 7. I now have native 64-bit versions of Lotus Notes and Symphony 3, which will do well enough for me for now.
I went ahead and put Red Hat Linux on my home system as well, but since I have Windows XP running as a guest under Windows 7, no need to duplicate KVM setup there. At least if I have problems with Windows 7, I can reboot in RHEL6 Linux at home and use that for Linux-native applications.
Hopefully, this will position me well in case IBM decides to either go with Windows 7 or Linux as the replacement OS for Windows XP.
Continuing my post-week coverage of the [Data Center 2010 conference], Wendesday afternoon included a mix of sessions that covered storage and servers.
Enabling 5x Storage Efficiency
Steve Kenniston, who now works for IBM from recent acquisition of Storwize Inc, presented IBM's new Real-Time Compression appliance. There are two appliances, one handles 1 GbE networks, and the other supports mixed 1GbE/10GbE connectivity. Files are compressed in real-time with no impact to performance, and in some cases can improve performance because there is less data written to back-end NAS devices. The appliance is not limited to IBM's N series and NetApp, but is vendor-agnostic. IBM is qualifying the solution with other NAS devices in the market. The compression can compress up to 80 percent, providing a 5x storage efficiency.
Townhall - Storage
The townhall was a Q&A session to ask the analysts their thoughts on Storage. Here I will present the answer from the analyst, and then my own commentary.
Are there any gotchas deploying Automated Storage Tiering?
Analyst: you need to fully understand your workload before investing any money into expensive Solid-State Drives (SSD).
Commentary: IBM offers Easy Tier for the IBM DS8000, SAN Volume Controller, and Storwize V7000 disk systems. Before buying any SSD, these systems will measure the workload activity and IBM offers the Storage Tier Advisory Tool (STAT) that can help identify how much SSD will benefit each workload. If you don't have these specific storage devices, IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center for Disk can help identify disk performance to determine if SSD is cost-justified.
Wouldn't it be simpler to just have separate storage arrays for different performance levels?
Analyst: No, because that would complicate BC/DR planning, as many storage devices do not coordinate consistency group processing from one array to another.
Commentary: IBM DS8000, SAN Volume Controller and Storwize V7000 disk systems support consistency groups across storage arrays, for those customers that want to take advantage of lower cost disk tiers on separate lower cost storage devices.
Can storage virtualization play a role in private cloud deployments?
Analyst: Yes, by definition, but today's storage virtualization products don't work with public cloud storage providers. None of the major public cloud providers use storage virtualization.
Commentary: IBM uses storage virtualization for its public cloud offerings, but the question was about private cloud deployments. IBM CloudBurst integrated private cloud stack supports the IBM SAN Volume Controller which makes it easy for storage to be provisioned in the self-service catalog.
Can you suggest one thing we can do Monday when we get back to the office?
Analyst: Create a team to develop a storage strategy and plan, based on input from your end-users.
Commentary: Put IBM on your short list for your next disk, tape or storage software purchase decision. Visit
[ibm.com/storage] to re-discover all of IBM's storage offerings.
What is the future of Fibre Channel?
Analyst 1: Fibre Channel is still growing, will go from 8Gbps to 16Gbps, the transition to Ethernet is slow, so FC will remain the dominant protocol through year 2014.
Analyst 2: Fibre Channel will still be around, but NAS, iSCSI and FCoE are all growing at a faster pace. Fibre Channel will only be dominant in the largest of data centers.
Commentary: Ask a vague question, get a vague answer. Fibre Channel will still be around for the next five years.
However, SAN administrators might want to investigate Ethernet-based approaches like NAS, iSCSI and FCoE where appropriate, and start beefing up their Ethernet skills.
Will Linux become the Next UNIX?
Linux in your datacenter is inevitable. In the past, Linux was limited to x86 architectures, and UNIX operating systems ran on specialized CPU architectures: IBM AIX on POWER7, Solaris on SPARC, HP-UX on PA-RISC and Itanium, and IBM z/OS on System z Architecture, to name a few. But today, Linux now runs on many of these other CPU chipsets as well.
Two common workloads, Web/App serving and DBMS, are shifting from UNIX to Linux. Linux Reliability, Availability and Serviceability (RAS) is approaching the levels of UNIX. Linux has been a mixed blessing for UNIX vendors, with x86 server margins shrinking, but the high-margin UNIX market has shrunk 25 percent in the past three years.
UNIX vendors must make the "mainframe argument" that their flavor of UNIX is more resilient than any OS that runs on Intel or AMD x86 chipsets. In 2008, Sun Solaris was the number #1 UNIX, but today, it is IBM AIX with 40 percent marketshare. Meanwhile HP has focused on extending its Windows/x86 lead with a partnership with Microsoft.
The analyst asks "Are the three UNIX vendors in it for the long haul, or are they planning graceful exits?" The four options for each vendor are:
Milk it as it declines
Accelerate the decline by focusing elsewhere
Impede the market to protect margins
Re-energize UNIX base through added value
Here is the analyst's view on each UNIX vendor.
IBM AIX now owns 40 percent marketshare of the UNIX market. While the POWER7 chipset supports multiple operating systems, IBM has not been able to get an ecosystem to adopt Linux-on-POWER. The "Other" includes z/OS, IBM i, and other x86-based OS.
HP has multi-OS Itanium from Intel, but is moving to Multi-OS blades instead. Their "x86 plus HP-UX" strategy is a two-pronged attack against IBM AIX and z/OS. Intel Nehalem chipset is approaching the RAS of Itanium, making the "mainframe argument" more difficult for HP-UX.
Before Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, Oracle was focused on Linux as a UNIX replacement. After the acquisition, they now claim to support Linux and Solaris equally. They are now focused on trying to protect their rapidly declining install base by keeping IBM and HP out. They will work hard to differentiate Solaris as having "secret sauce" that is not in Linux. They will continue to compete head-on against Red Hat Linux.
An interactive poll of the audience indicated that the most strategic Linux/UNIX platform over the next next five years was Red Hat Linux. This beat out AIX, Solaris and HP-UX, as well as all of the other distributions of Linux.
The rooms emptied quickly after the last session, as everyone wanted to get to the "Hospitality Suites".
Continuing my coverage of the [Data Center 2010 conference], Tuesday afternoon I presented "Choosing the Right Storage for your Server Virtualization". In 2008 and 2009, I attended this conference as a blogger only, but this time I was also a presenter.
The conference asked vendors to condense their presentations down to 20 minutes. I am sure this was inspired by the popular 18-minute lectures from the [TED conference] or perhaps the [Pecha Kucha] night gatherings in Japan where each presenter speaks while showing 20 slides for 20 seconds each, This forces the presenters to focus on their key points and not fill the time slot with unnecessary marketing fluff. This also allows more vendors to have a chance to pitch their point of view.