Ask The Expert: Running a Company on Linux is Kind of Like Star Wars

Jeff "Crash" Goldin
Red Hat Help Desk Manager

Jeff "Crash" Goldin, the Yoda of the Red Hat Help Desk, may know more about how to handle the day-to-day aspects of running a company on Linux than almost anyone else in the galaxy. Under the Brim sat down with Crash this week to ask him a few questions about life, Linux, and the Jedi arts.

Q:  Hey Crash. Why do they call you Crash, anyway?

Long story... Started my senior year in high school where in a very short span of time I logged into a new BBS (remember the year was only 1990) and within a few minutes brought the entire system down. Did it enough the first couple of days the sysop changed my login. Also totaled my car in an accident. So people in different groups were calling me Crash for different reasons.

Q:  What are the greatest lessons you learned in the Star Wars films that you've applied to your job at Red Hat?

"Do or Do not. There is no try." Actually one of my bosses at a previous job said that to me in a job review. That and how to be the underdog and take down the establishment big iron systems with smaller faster systems.

Q:  Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

Well I have always been a big fan of Han Solo. Quick on his feet, pretty handy at fights, and able to "fix" things in the middle of combat.

Q:  Do you think that Han Solo would have the qualities needed to succeed on the Red Hat Help Desk?

No. He would be blasting the phone way too much. Patience is the one of the biggest virtues you need to try and keep a Linux Help Desk running. Very few non-technical people have ever used any kind of UNIX/Linux system before working here, so there is a lot of hand holding that is done in the begining.

Q:  Which character would make the best Linux System Administrator and why?

Thats easy-- R2-D2. He is cool and calm... How many people do you know who in a moment's notice spring into action and fix a hyperdive, all the time watching fellow droids get blasted into space. He can interface with about any computer system in the universe. He is handy doing the physical repairs. I don't know a system admin that does not have a least a couple of screwdrivers in his desk. He is able to switch gears in a moment's notice, go from putting a droid together to fixing a temperamental hyperdrive by turning around.

Linux admins are the same way. I can bounce from question to question, sometimes without even pausing to breathe between sentences. The other thing that R2 and Linux admins have in common is that they are used to being in the back seat. Our jobs are to make the heroes look good. We admins (and R2-D2) all keep the ship/company going and everyone just takes it for granted.

Q:  Red Hat runs nearly its entire infrastructure on Linux, including on desktop clients. About how many desktop clients do you currently support?

Well let's see... out of 600 or so Red Hat employees I would say that more than 95% are using a Linux workstation. Yes, I would like that number higher, and at one time in Red Hat's history it was 99% (we had one machine that we needed for payroll deposits). There have been some unfortunate swings in what should be the OS of choice in Red Hat's desktops, but thanks to very supportive senior management and the dedication of the IS team we have been able to keep the Dark Side out. There are still a few places where I am forced to keep a Windows machines. Payroll is the biggest one that comes to mind, and some of our specialized accounting wire transfer systems. Believe it or not, our internal sales team is 100% Linux, which I think can definitely help to win customers. All of our laptops are Linux machines, as well the most of the workstations.

Q:  What is the most technically challenging issue facing a company looking to move it's entire infrastructure over to Linux? Why?

I would have to say application porting. Especially if you are talking about the desktop users. That's my biggest fight every day, convincing people that they can still be effective at their job. You need to make sure that you can have a good answer to the question of "Well I used to do X with this application, how do I do it with Linux?"

Q:  What sort of companies should not attempt to migrate their desktops to Linux yet? What sort of companies are ready now?

I would say companies already using Solaris or UNIX servers can convert pretty easily. They already should have a lot of the tech savvy needed to go the next step. Obviously for companies with many technical workstations making the switch would be the least painful. Companies that are pure Windows shops with Outlook, Project and Office connecting to NT servers will definitely have a lot of pains.

Q:  How hard would it be to migrate the Death Star to Linux?

Really, really hard, since they keep getting blown up by those pesky rebels. Linux does work on a lot of different platforms, so I figure if you could set up an installation server and you could automate the install you might be able to get it done in a few weeks.

Q:  Say the Empire needs some convincing first. What is the greatest advantage you see in an infrastructure running entirely on Linux?

Oh that's easy-- remote maintenance. When a user is having a problem, instead of having to walk them over the phone through bizarre windows, we can log onto their machine and fix it with no pesky reboots. We are even using Red Hat Network to keep the workstations updated. which is saves us a lot of headache. All of this reduces the amount of man hours need for support so I can run most of the Help Desk from one location and still keep remote offices up and running.

Q:  Let's play a little word association game. I'll give you an operating system name, you give me the name of the Star Wars vehicle most likely to run it's infrastructure on that OS.
Q:  Solaris
A:  Imperial Walkers. Big, lumbering but gets the job done
Q:  Windows NT
A:  Got to go with the Death Star on that one. Looks good on outside, can do the one job it is designed for OK. But throw 1 proton torpedo and it goes boom.
Q:  Red Hat Linux
A:  I am going to pick the X-Wing. Linux runs on the older machines, it's a bit tougher in combat, and can take some pings. It is also easy on the budget of any under-funded rebellion.
Q:  What do you find most fulfilling about working at Red Hat?
A:  Well it does feel good to solve problems, and doing it with Linux does make it easier.
Q:  We need you to use your Yoda powers and "farsee" for a second. Episode II-- good or bad?
A:  Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.
Q:  Jar Jar Binks: "Leave the guy alone" or "He should be hunted down and eaten by Ewoks"?
A:  Well after living in North Carolina, I would recommend a nice Eastern Carolina Jar Jar pull (that's like a barbecue for you non-Southerners).
Q:  Thanks for taking the time-- may the force be with you.