Next, we will consider another important aspect in adopting GNU/Linux systems. Let's suppose that we are amateurs at handling this system; or, the opposite, that we are experienced and wish to adopt one or several GNU/Linux systems as individual users for working in our small organisation; or that we are considering replacing the infrastructure of our large company or organisation in full (or part).
Migrating to a new system is no trivial matter, it needs to be evaluated through a study that analyses both the costs and the beneficial features that we expect to obtain. Also, migration can be done in full or in part, with a certain degree of coexistence with former systems.
We will be dealing with a full or partial migration project of our IT systems to GNU/Linux and, as administrators, we will be responsible for this process.
As in any project, we will have to study the way of responding to questions such as: Does the change make sense in financial terms or in terms of performance benefits? What is the migration's objective? What requirements will we want to or need to fulfil? Can we do a partial migration or do we need to do a full migration? Is coexistence with other systems necessary? Will we need to retrain users? Will we be able to use the same hardware or will we need new hardware? Will there be important added costs? Or simply, will it go okay? These and many others are the questions that we will have to try and answer. In the case of a company, the answers would be provided in a migration project, specifying its objectives, requirements, the implementation process, and including a financial analysis, user training plans etc. We will not go into this in detail, but will consider some of these issues in a simple manner. And in the final workshop we will examine a few small cases of how we would implement the migration.
Also, the moment we start migrating to GNU/Linux, we will start to notice the advantages the system brings to our organisation:
a) Costs: reduction in license costs for the system's software and applications. GNU/Linux has 0 cost for licenses if purchased from the Internet (for example, in the form of images from the distribution's CDs), or a negligible cost if we take into account that the nearest comparison for systems with equivalent features would be Windows Server systems with license costs ranging between € 1,500 and € 3,000, without including a large amount of the additional software that a typical GNU/Linux distribution would include.
But careful, we should not underestimate maintenance and training costs. If our organisation consists solely of users and administrators trained in Windows, we may have high costs for retraining personnel and, possibly, for maintenance. Therefore, many big companies prefer to depend on a commercial distributor of GNU/Linux to implement and maintain the system, such as the business versions offered by Red Hat, SuSe and others. These GNU/Linux versions also have high license costs (comparable to Windows), but at the same time are already adapted to business structures and contain their own software for managing companies' IT infrastructure. Another important aspect, to conclude with cost estimates, is the TCO concept (total cost of ownership), as a global evaluation of the associated costs that we will find when we undertake a technological development; we don't just have to evaluate the costs of licenses and machines, but also the costs of training and support for the people and products involved, which may be as high or more than the implemented solution.
b) Support: GNU/Linux offers the best maintenance support that any operating system has ever had, and it is mostly free. Nevertheless, some companies are reluctant to adopt GNU/Linux on the basis that there is no product support and prefer to buy commercial distributions that come with support and maintenance contracts. GNU/Linux has a well-established support community worldwide, through various organisations that provide free documentation (the famous HOWTOs), specialised user forums, communities of users in practically any region or country in the world etc. Any question or problem we have can be searched on the Internet and we can find answers within minutes. If we don't, if we have found a bug, error, or untested situation, we can report it on various sites (forums, development sites, distribution bug sites etc.), and obtain solutions within hours or, at the most, within days. Whenever we have a question or problem, we should first try a few procedures (this is how we will learn) and if we do not find the solution within a reasonable amount of time, we should consult the GNU/Linux community in case any other user (or group of users) has encountered the same problem and found a solution, and if not, we can always post a report on the problem and see if we are offered solutions.
Normally, if we have systems that are already functioning we will have to have some services implemented for users or for helping the infrastructure of the IT support. The services will fall within some of the categories seen above, with the GNU/Linux options that we mentioned.
GNU/Linux systems are not at all new, and as we saw in the introduction, stem from a history of more than thirty years of UNIX systems use and development. Therefore, one of the first things that we will find is that we are not lacking support for any type of service we want. If anything, there will be differences in the way of doing things. Also, many of the services used by IT systems were conceived, researched, developed and implemented in their day for UNIX, and only subsequently adapted to others systems (such as Windows, more or less successfully).
Many companies with proprietary UNIX participate in GNU/Linux and offer some of their developments to the community.
Any service available at the time may be adapted to GNU/Linux systems with equivalent (if not the same) services.
Example 2-6. Example
A famous case is the one of the Samba servers [Woo00] [Sam]. Windows offers what it calls "sharing files and printers on the network" by means of its own protocols known generically as SMB (server message block) [Smb] (with network support in the NetBios and NetBEUI protocols). The name CIFS (common Internet file system) is also commonly used, which is what the protocol was called in a second revision (which continued to include SMB as a basic protocol). These protocols allowed the sharing of files (or disks) and printers on a network of Windows machines (in a workgroup configuration or in Windows domains). In UNIX this idea was already old when it appeared in Windows and services such as NFS for sharing files or managing printers remotely were already available using TCP/IP protocols.
One of the problems with replacing the Windows sharing services based on NetBios/NetBeui (and ultimately with NetBios over TCP/IP) was how to support these protocols, since if we wanted to keep the client machines with Windows, we could not use the UNIX services. For this purpose, Samba was developed as a UNIX server that supported Windows protocols and that could replace a Windows server/client machine transparently, with client users with Windows not having to notice anything at all. Moreover, the result in most cases was that the performance was comparable if not better than in the original machine with Windows services.
Currently, Samba [Sam] is constantly evolving to maintain compatibility with Windows file and printer sharing services; because of the general changes that Microsoft subjects SMB/CIFS [Smb] protocols to (the base implemented by Samba) with each new Windows version, in particular the evolution of workgroup schemes in the operating systems' client versions, to centralised server (or group of servers) schemes, with specific user authentication services (NTLM, NTLMv2, Kerberos), and centralised storage of the system's management such as Active Directory. In addition to this, the configuration of existing domain servers (whether with primary controller, backup or Active Directory).
Currently, in migration processes with Samba, we will need to observe what configurations of Windows clients/servers (and its versions) exist on the system, as well as what user authentication and/or information management systems are used. Also, we will need to know how the system is structured into domains (and its controller servers, members or isolated servers), in order to make a complete and correct mapping towards Samba-based solutions, and into complementary user authentication (winbind, kerberos, nss_ldap) and management services (for example openLDAP) [Sama] [Samb] .
In the migration process, we need to consider how we want to migrate and if we want to migrate totally or partially, coexisting with other services or equipment that has a different operating system .
In the environments of large organisations, where we find a large number of heterogeneous systems, we will need to take into account that we will almost certainly not migrate every one of them, especially workstation type systems that are dedicated to running a basic application for a specific task; it could be that there is no equivalent application or simply that we wish to keep these systems for financial reasons or in order to maximise an investment.
We can migrate various elements, whether the services we offer, the machines that offer the services or the clients who access the services.
Elements that can be migrated include:
a) Services or machines dedicated to one or more services. In migrating, we will replace the service with another equivalent one, normally with minimum possible impact unless we also wish to replace the clients. In the case of Windows clients, we can use the Samba server to replace the file and printer services offered by the Windows machines. For other services, we can replace them with GNU/Linux equivalents. In the case of replacing just one service, normally we will disable the service on the machine that offered it and enable it on the new system. Client changes may be necessary (for example, new machine addresses or parameters related to the service).
If a server machine was responsible for an entire function, we will need to analyse whether the machine was dedicated to one or more services and whether they can all be replaced. If so, we will just have to replace the old machine with the new one (or maintain the old one) with the services under GNU/Linux and in any case, modify a client parameter if necessary. Normally, before making a change, it is advisable to test the machine separately with a few clients in order to make sure that it performs the function correctly and then to replace the machines during a period when the system is inactive.
In any case, we will certainly have to back up data existing prior to the new system, for example, file systems or the applications available in the original server. Another point to consider in advance is data portability; a problem we often find is compatibility when the organisation used data or applications that depended on a platform.
Example 2-7. Example
To mention a few practical cases that some companies find nowadays:
Databases: using a Microsoft SQL Server for example, makes us totally dependant on its Windows platform, plus, if we use proprietary solutions in a specific environment for database applications, they will be difficult to transfer. Other databases such as Oracle and DB2 (IBM) are more portable because they have a version in the different platforms or because they use more portable programming languages. We could also work with PostgreSQL or MySQL database systems (it also has a version for Windows) available in GNU/Linux, and that allow an easier transition. At the same time, if we combine it with a web development we have a lot of possibilities; in this sense, nowadays we use systems such as: web applications with Java, whether servlets, applets, or EJB; or solutions such as the famous LAMP, the combination of GNU/Linux, Apache, Mysql and Php.
b) Workstation: in these migrations, the biggest problem stems from the applications, whether for CAD, animation, engineering or scientific programs, which are the workstation's main reason for being. Here it will be important to be able to replace them with equal or at least compatible applications with the same expected features or functionality. Normally, most of these applications stem from a UNIX world, given that most of these workstations were conceived as UNIX machines. Meaning that a compilation or minimum adaptation to the new GNU/Linux may be enough, if we have source code (as tends to be the case with many scientific applications). If we are dealing with commercial applications, the manufacturers (of engineering and scientific software) are starting to adapt them to GNU/Linux, although in these cases the applications are usually very expensive (easily hundreds to thousands of euros).
c) Desktop client machines. Desktop machines continue to be a headache for the world of GNU/Linux, because they involve a number of additional problems. In servers, the machines are assigned clear functionalities, as a rule they do not require complex graphic interfaces (often text communication is sufficient), and the normally specific high performance hardware is purchased for a specific set of functions and the applications tend to be the servers themselves included in the operating system or some third party applications. Also, these machines are often managed by administrators with extensive knowledge of what they are dealing with. However, in the case of desktops, we are dealing with a problem factor (in itself and more so for administrators): the system's end users. The users of desktop systems expect to have powerful graphic interfaces that are more or less intuitive and applications that allow them to run routine – usually office – tasks. This type of user (with a few exceptions) has no reason to have advanced knowledge of computers; in general, they are familiar with office suites and use a couple of applications with varying degrees of skill. Here GNU/Linux has a clear problem, because UNIX as such was never conceived as a purely desktop system and was only later adapted with graphic interfaces such as X Window and the different desktops, such as the current GNU/Linux ones: Gnome and KDE. Furthermore, the end user tends to be familiar with Windows systems (which have almost a 95% share of the desktop market).
In the case of desktops, GNU/Linux has a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the most critical ones is that it does not come preinstalled on machines, which obliges the user to have a certain amount of knowledge in order to be able to install it. Other reasons could be:
Example 2-8. Note
The desktop environment is a battle yet to be waged by GNU/Linux systems; which need to defeat users' reluctance to switch systems and generate awareness of their ability to offer simple alternatives and applications that can handle the tasks demanded by users.
• User reluctance: a question a user may ask is: Why should I switch system? Will the new environment offer me the same thing? One of the basic reasons for changing will be quality software and its cost, since a large proportion will be free. On this point, we should consider the issue of illegal software. Users seem to consider that their software is free, when really they are in an illegal situation. GNU/Linux software offers good quality at a low cost (or at no cost in many cases), with several alternatives for the same job.
• Simplicity: users are normally lost if the system does not have similar reference points to those the user is already familiar with, such as interface behaviour or tools with similar functionality. Users generally expect not to have to spend too much extra time on learning how to handle the new system. GNU/Linux still has a few problems with more or less automatic installations, which means that a certain amount of knowledge is still required in order to install it correctly. On this point, we should mention the ease of installing it in different environments provided by recent desktop oriented distributions like Ubuntu [Ubu]. Another common problem concerns support for the PC hardware; even though it is improving all the time, manufacturers still don't pay enough attention to it (partly for reasons of market share). Until there is a clear intention in this regard, we will not be able to have the same support as other proprietary systems (like Windows). However, we should emphasise the work of the Linux kernel community to offer the right support for new technologies, in some cases by supporting the manufacturer or by preparing primary support (if not supported by the manufacturer) or alternative support to that offered by the manufacturer.
• Transparency: GNU/Linux environments have many complex mechanisms, such as daemons, services, difficult to configure ASCII files etc. For end users, it should be necessary to hide all of these complexities by means of graphics programs, configuration wizards etc. This is the path taken by some distributions such as Red Hat, Mandriva, Ubuntu or SuSe.
• Support for known applications: a standard office suite user will face the problem of data portability or handling data formats. What to do with existing data? This problem is being solved daily, thanks to the office suites that are starting to have the functionalities a desktop user needs. For example, if we consider a migration from using a Windows Office suite, we can find suites such as OpenOffice (free software) that can read (and create) the formats of Office files (with some restrictions). Format compatibility is not difficult when it is open, but in the case of Windows, Microsoft continues to maintain a policy of closed formats; and a serious amount of work is needed in order to be able to use these formats, by means of reverse engineering (a fairly costly process). Also, in the Internet age, when information is supposed to move about freely, undocumented closed formats are more an obstacle than anything else. The best thing is to use open formats such as RTF (although these also have some problems because of the many versions of it that there are), or XML based formats (OpenOffice generates its own documents in XML), or PDF for read-only documents. We should also highlight recent efforts by the OpenOffice community to create the standard open document (used by the suite from versions 2.x), which have made it possible to have a free format as an ISO standard for document creation. This fact has obliged Microsoft to (partially) open its format in versions starting from Office 2007, to incorporate OpenXML formats.
• To provide valid alternatives: the software we stop using has to have alternatives that do the same job as the previous system. Most applications have one or several alternatives with similar, if not better, functionalities. On the Internet you can find different lists of (more or less complete) applications for GNU/Linux that match the functionality of Windows applications.
• Support for running applications for other systems: under some conditions it is possible to run applications for other UNIX systems (with the same architecture, for example, Intel x86), or for MS-DOS or Windows, through compatibility packages or some type of emulator.
Example 2-9. Note
For examples of GNU/Linux equivalent applications, see:
http://www.linuxalt.com/http://wiki.linuxquestions.org/wiki/Linux_software_equivalent _to_Windows_software http://www.linuxrsp.ru/win-lin-soft/table-eng.htmlç
Most of the problems that affect desktop migrations are being overcome slowly but surely and will allow us in future to have a larger number of GNU/Linux desktop users, who, as they increase, will have access to better applications encouraging software companies to start implementing versions for GNU/Linux.
In the case of companies, it can be overcome with a gentle migration, starting with servers and workstations, and then desktops after following an extensive training program for users in the new systems and applications.
A process that will help to a large extent is to introduce open code software in education and in public administrations, as in the case of Extremadura region in Spain with its GNU/Linux distribution called Linex; or recent measures for taking this software to primary education, or the measures taken by universities by running courses and subjects using these systems.