The case for splitting Novell

Phil Windley in a recent Between the Lines posting entitled 'Split Novell?' mused that Novell's relatively poor identity management business performance (in comparison to the industry in general) was perhaps a result of poor strategic synergy between their operating system (Suse) and IDM product lines. Not being a financial follower of the IDM market I cannot say for certain whether he is right or wrong, but I do agree with his basic assertion that Novell should be split in two. For a while now I have felt that their emphasis on Suse Linux is to the detriment of their excellent product offerings in the identity and network services markets such as eDirectory/iManager, IDM, iFolder and ZenWorks.

Commoditising the operating system

The success of Novell during the 80's and early 90's was due in no small part to their tried and tested Netware operating system. Unfortunately the operating system market has changed, Windows has matured and Linux has gained a strong foothold as a ubiquitous, free platform for reliably hosting network services. With the gradual demise of Netware, Novell had an opportunity to step out of the low-level operating system market and focus on the aspects of their business that where going strong. In this process they could have left the grunt work of maintaining the base operating system to partners such as Red Hat, Suse and even Microsoft. This would have provided a clean and relatively open migration path for existing Netware customers who are committed to a Novell infrastructure (i.e. eDirectory/Groupwise/Zenworks) and for the most part ignore the underlying operating system so long as it was stable and supported by a reputable party.

Instead of adopting a lightweight approach Novell opted to maintain their tried and true business model through the purchase Suse Linux as a straight replacement for Netware in their product arsenal. This meant that instead of placing development emphasis on getting their network and identity products seamlessly working on a range of partner operating systems attention was focused on fusing Novell's existing identity and network services into Suse Linux. The culmination of these efforts has resulted in Open Enterprise Server (OES), an excellent Netware 6.5 replacement that continues with the Novell tradition of marketing a tightly bound operating system/network services stack. Unfortunately this focus on a closed server/services model has been to the detriment of the network and identity services' deployment flexibility and marketing appeal as these valuable offerings must be coupled to and marketed alongside their related server products.

Add the SLED 10 menu to OpenSUSE 10.1

Vichar Bhatt has pointed out it is possible to install the Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop start menu on OpenSUSE 10.1. Because the codebase is the same installation is straightforward, all that needs to be done is install the relevant rpm for x86 or x64 and then enable the menu applet within Gnome.

The upshot of all this is you receive all the usability benefits of SLED without having to fork out any cash. It is a great tip and it really improves the OpenSUSE experience, especially now that they have released the remastered version of 10.1 which includes the working Zen update mechanism.

Automatic home directory creation when using LDAP

Centralised authentication in the form of LDAP (or similar) is very useful but Linux assumes a valid user has a directory in /home. By default Suse does not create a home directory for a user who has authenticated via an external source which is a real problem if they want to run many programs.

One way to get around this is to mount the home directory on an external server which contains the home directories but this can be difficult and a drain on network bandwidth. An easier way to solve the problem is to tell PAM (the Linux authentication manager) to create the directory on login. To do so on Suse edit the /etc/pam.d/common-session file and add the following:

Changing Ethernet device names in Suse 10

Recently I put a second, faster network card in a server. On booting OpenSuse 10 assigned the new card the name eth2 and the existing, built-in Ethernet device eth0. A number of applications, for example Samba and dnsmasq, typically bind to an Ethernet name rather than a specific IP or MAC address. It is possible to change the individual configuration files for each of these services but this is a little ugly considering my goal was to install the new hardware and disable the existing device, leaving everything else untouched.

A tidier solution is to assign eth0 to the new card and eth1 to the older (unused) device. Figuring out how to do this is a little confusing, there is no Yast option to configure network names and manually editing /etc/sysconfig/network/ifcfg-eth(mac address) provides no help either. Instead you must edit the file /etc/udev/rules.d/30-net_persistent_names.rules and change the device name associated to the relevant network MAC address. In a two card setup the file will look a little like this (each network device entry is on a single line):

Sharing disk partitions between Xen instances

Picture this, you have your Xen server and a couple of virtual instances configured and you are very happy. That is however until you want two or more of those instances to read or write files from the same disk partition. One way to get around this problem is to use a network file sharing protocol like NFS or CIFS and have one instance operate as a file server whilst the others connect as clients. Sure, a configuration like this works but it requires quite a bit of time to setup and more importantly it drains precious processor cycles as many extra, resource intensive processes must be run.

Enabling T3G on Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop

Mike Clements has been having some fun with Telecom's T3G mobile broadband service and getting it to work with Linux (namely Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop). He was using the Sierra Aircard 580 and information on how to get it working on Linux can be found on

For those who do not want spend time reading about the basics or learn by trial and error here is a step by step guide from Mike...

Enable LVM on software-RAID during a Suse installation

If you have tried setting up LVM on top of a LVM-enabled software-RAID partition during a standard Suse installation you may have hit a brick wall where the installer tells you that there are no available LVM partitions. This is a bug in the installer, it looks as if the LVM setup tool only checks physical partitions for LVM labels and ignores software-RAID partitions that have LVM labels.

Steve Wray has pointed out that you can get this functionality to work by creating a small physical partition and giving it an LVM label. The LVM setup tool will see this partition and allow the configuration to continue quite happily with the software-RAID partitions available for use. I have not tested this but I think it is worth giving a spin as the data integrity of RAID-1 coupled with the flexibility of LVM is a compelling combination (though performance maybe an issue).

Novell promoting the Linux community

This is not a bad move from Novell. By setting up this Frapr mashup they have in some part begun to illustrate the depth and breadth of the Linux (mainly Suse) community. I put my name down just because of the rumours that there were Suse Linux licenses potentially up for grabs, I would not mind a Suse Linux Enterprise Server license as they are pretty pricey. Novell traditionally have been too old fashioned in their approach to Linux, hopefully this move and the growing quality of the Novell Open Audio podcast help in some way to break those old stodgy barriers down.

SuSE/OpenLDAP/Samba Howto

This tutorial assumes you are familar with basic Linux and Windows concepts and are comfortable using SuSE Linux 9 (Professional or Enterprize). SuSE 9.2 Professional was used during the production of this guide but for most part the commands, software and general concepts should be applicable on any current version of SuSE (or OpenSUSE).
To ease configuration it is very helpful to do most things from another desktop so that you can use really useful utilities like graphical Internet browsers and copy/paste tools.

SSL-enabled MySQL rpms for SUSE 10

Unfortunately the default MySQL binaries for SUSE 10 have been compiled without SSL support. Why this is a case is difficult to determine, the SSL-enabled server and client seem just as reliable as their non-SSL equivalents and with OpenSSL being used it would not seem to be a licensing issue. Anyway below are the SSL-enabled rpms generated from SUSE 10's MySQL srpm package:

For more information on running MySQL 4.1 with secured connections checkout the excellent online MySQL documentation.