LinuxWorld experts: Controlling chaos in multi-platform environments

* An interview with MIT's Jonathan Reed, Linux support and development specialist

This is the second in a series of newsletters, where we talk with Linux experts who will be speaking at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, which runs Aug. 14-17 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

Variety may be life's most piquant ingredient, but trying to manage and secure various operating systems in an environment that eschews strict end-user controls can be more like biting the big habanera at times.

"The biggest challenge in any large networked environment is keeping the connected computers patched and updated," says Jonathan Reed, Linux support and development specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he supports thousands of faculty, staff and students running Linux, Windows, BSD, Mac and various Unix platforms.

"Security is always an issue," he says. "The only truly secure computer is, of course, one with no network connection or removable storage devices." But this is not the case with MIT's network, where parts of the Internet were invented, and USB keychain drives are a common accessory. "The best we can do is offer update services for the various platforms (or publicize the operating system's built-in update service) and hope for the best."

Specific to managing open source systems, another problem Reed deals with is working the wide variety of configurations and operating systems that exist, Reed says. "Some Linux distributions emphasize cutting-edge software, while others emphasize stability and compatibility," he says. "Choosing one distribution and/or supporting multiple distributions can be very challenging," he adds.

"I think there's no question interoperability has improved," when it comes to the interoperability of different open source and proprietary operating systems, from server-to-server, and server-to-client, Reed says. Over the years, the Samba project has steadily improved the performance of Unix/Linux/BSD servers and Windows clients, allowing for faster file access, interoperability with Active Directory, plus other advances. On the flipside, the emergence of tools such as Novell's open-source Evolution Connector for Microsoft Windows Exchange allows Linux-based desktop clients to use e-mail/calendar applications in a Microsoft-based environment.

"The contributions of the open source community are large in both quantity and quality."

Reed will give a talk titled "Thousands of Users on Multiple Platforms: a Case Study on Controlled Chaos" on Aug. 15, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at LinuxWorld.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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