Issue #10 August 2005

Red Hat Speaks

Todd Warner, Manager, Red Hat Network

This month's issue is all about Red Hat Network, so we sat down with Todd Warner, one of the Red Hat Network Geek Herders, to learn more about RHN: both the technology and the team dynamics.

Briefly describe your role on the Red Hat Network team. How long have you been at Red Hat?

Briefly? I'm not good at "briefly". :)

I've been with Red Hat for a little over four and a half years. For most of that time, I was one of the core backend business logic programmers for Red Hat Network. My first task was to help develop the RHN Proxy Server, a service offering that I eventually "owned." Additionally, I worked extensively on RHN Satellite Server, hosted, installation tools, and other random tools. I've also done a teeny bit of work on the client-side Red Hat Update Agent, etc. So, more or less, I have worked on everything except the presentation web layer of RHN.

Additionally, I assisted the sustaining engineering effort for the team; i.e., identifying and rectifying customer issues from an engineering perspective. That role was a natural stepping stone for me to move into an engineering management role. I now manage the engineering effort surrounding quality assurance, sustaining, and release engineering. I also guide the documentation team. So, though I still touch code occasionally, I now only rarely dig into our codebase.

Red Hat recently announced the Monitoring and Solaris Management Modules as part of Red Hat Network Satellite. Do you have many customers migrating from Sun Solaris to Red Hat Enterprise Linux?
Many? Well, Solaris is still fairly prevalent, and our customers wanted a stepping stone between Solaris and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Having a cohesive management infrastructure surrounding both operating systems certainly makes it easier to reduce redundant processes and whatnot.
What are the major challenges customers are facing when migration from Solaris?

Some of the major challenges facing Solaris customers is the sheer ease of use difference between the two operating systems. Red Hat Enterprise Linux "just works" the way you would think it is suppose to without installing all the extra "stuff" to make Solaris more easily consumable. So, the sheer difference in how easy Red Hat Enterprise Linux is compared to Solaris may be a shock. ;) That's my opinion of course, but have you tried to *use* or even just install Solaris? Eek! A concession: newer Solarises (is that a word?) are a bit easier to install. ;)

In the end though, migration should be fairly easy. The biggest challenge will be ensuring all applications (especially third party) are either ported or replaced. This is probably more of an issue with end-of-lifed products since many/most Solaris ISVs have already ported their products to Enterprise Linux.

As a former tank commander, have you found many parallels between being a tank commander and keeping the Red Hat Network team in line and on task?

Excellent question actually. Believe it or not, there really is not much difference between leading a small combat team and guiding the efforts of a posse of engineers. The only difference is that they gripe about different things: one about a being cold, hungry, and tired; the other just about being hungry and tired.

In the end, the process is the same. The motivations are different, but the principles are the same. It's no wonder that large numbers of ex-military folks end up in management in the civilian world.

People aren't shooting at you in the cube farm. I suppose that's a major difference. And I don't send letters home to my wife that are still a bit gritty from the desert. I am slowly regaining my hearing as well. That's a positive!

How does Red Hat Network decrease the overall TCO for Linux systems?
By simplifying your life. Simplification of process reduces time spend on redundant, nuts-and-bolts system management tasks. Now, with the inclusion of the new monitoring functionality with Red Hat Network Satellite, a new process is interwoven into a framework that is used for your other management tasks. It's a no-brainer: less headaches, more secure software, easier process, time-saved, lower TCO.
Part of the Provisioning Module is the ability to provision a bare metal system remotely. Can you briefly explain how this works?

Sure.

In a nutshell (aka, oversimplified explanation), we've taken something that Linux has had for years and years, "kickstart," and wrapped a nice web interface around it. We've taken something a bit daunting to use for some people and made it more easily consumable and manageable.

For example, server A is connected to my RHN Satellite - once a week I like to blow away that server and reinstall the operating system, with my very specific software manifest and configuration files. This is easy to set up and manage through our web interface without having to know the intricacies of kickstart, while being integrated with the rest of my management processes.

Another example: server A and server B are different. You can use our provisioning mechanisms to compare the two machines (what's different?) and then re-provision one of those machines to more closely match the other.

Our provision and configuration management tools are powerful, easy to use, and widely used by our customers.

Can you give us any insight into what the next version of Red Hat Network will offer?

By the time folks are reading this, the next version will be nearly complete. RHN 4.0's big features are system Monitoring and Solaris patch management. Beyond the "big ticket" features, a zillion other things were improved:

  • For our disconnected RHN Satellite customers:
    • "Incremental Channel Dumps" should reduce the amount of data that has to be downloaded.
    • RHN Satellites can now self-subscribe so that, even though you are not connected to Red Hat, your RHN Satellite can update itself.
  • SSL Server Certificate expiration monitoring.
  • Translated documentation—much of our documentation for RHN is now translated to a number of languages.
  • Loads and loads of other improvements that customers may or may not notice. For example, general process flow has been tweaked in a number of places with an eventual overhaul in the works. Our goal is to make Red Hat Network as simple as possible to use. Process will continue to be improved—the web interface, to our tools, to our documentation.
If you were stranded in a military tank for 48 hours with no enemy in sight and nothing to do, what is the one possession you would want to have with you?

You just described nine years of my life in the military. ;-) Seriously though, I am truly thankful I did not have an enemy to truly worry about. The one possession I would want with me is camaraderie. Soldiers, like my fellow Red Hatters, really have a deep sense of camaraderie. That sense of fellowship can make even the most trying, or even boring, times bearable.

Life at Red Hat is never boring. There is that difference.