Monthly Archives: September 2017

Solus 3 Brings Maturity and Performance to Budgie | Linux.com


Back in 2016, the Solus developers announced they were switching their operating system over to a rolling release. Solus 3 marks the third iteration since that announcement and, in such a short time, the Solus platform has come a long way. But for many, Solus 3 would be a first look into this particular take on the Linux operating system. With that in mind, I want to examine what Solus 3 offers that might entice the regular user away from their current operating system. You might be surprised when I say, “There’s plenty.”

This third release of Solus is an actual “release” and not a snapshot. What does that mean? The previous two releases of Solus were snapshots. Solus has actually moved away from the regular snapshot model found in rolling releases. With the standard rolling release, a new snapshot is posted at least every few days; from that snapshot an image can be created such that the difference between an installation and latest updates is never large. However, the developers have opted to use a hybrid approach to the rolling release. According to the Solus 3 release announcement, this offers “feature rich releases with explicit goals and technology enabling, along with the benefits of a curated rolling release operating system.”

Of course, no average user really cares if an operating system is a rolling release or a hybrid. From that particular perspective, what is more important is how well the platform works, how easy it is to use, and what it offers out of the box.

Let’s take a look at those three points to see just how well Solus 3 could serve even a new-to-Linux user.

What Solus 3 offers out of the box

On many levels, this is the most important point for first-time users. Why? Because there are many Linux distributions available that don’t meet the minimum needs, without having to tinker and add extra packages out of the box. This, however, is an area where Solus 3 really shines. Once installed, the average user will have everything they need to get their work done — and then some.

First off, Solus 3 features the Budgie desktop (Figure 1). Anyone that has ever used a PC desktop, since Windows XP, will be instantly at home. The standard features abound:

Once users get beyond the desktop interface, they’ll find all the applications necessary to go about their days:

  • Firefox web browser (version 55.0.3)

  • LibreOffice office suite (version 5.4.0.3)

  • Thunderbird email client with Lightning calendar pre-installed (version 52.3.0)

  • Rhythmbox audio player (version 3.4.1)

  • GNOME MPV movie player (version 0.12)

  • GNOME Calendar (version 3.24.3)

  • GNOME Files file manager (version 3.24.2)

Do note, the above version numbers reflect a system update upon initial installation.

Solus 3 also includes a fairly straightforward Software Center tool — one that has a nifty trick up its sleeve. Unlike many Linux distributions, the Solus Software Center includes a Third Party section that doesn’t require the user to have to install added repositories to add the likes of Android Studio, Google Chrome, Insync, Skype, Spotify, Viber, WPS Office Suite, and more. All you have to to do is open up the Software Center, click Third Party, and find the third-party software you want to install (Figure 2).

Beyond the desktop and the included software, Solus 3 offers the user a remarkably pain-free experience, right out of the box.

There are also a few small additions that go a long way to making Solus a special platform. Take, for instance, the Night Light feature, a tool that reduces eye strain by taking care of the  display’s blue light. From within the Night Light tool, you can even set a schedule to enable/disable the feature (Figure 3).

The only issue I can find with included packages is the missing Samba-GNOME Files integration. Normally, it is possible to right-click a folder within the file manager and enable the sharing of said folder, via Samba. Although Samba is pre-installed, there is no easy way to enable Samba sharing within the default file manager. For those that really need to share out directories with Samba, you’ll have to do it the old-school way … via the terminal.

Solus 3 does make it fairly easy to connect to other shares on your network (by clicking Other Locations in Files and then browsing your local network).

How easy is it to use?

By now, you’ve probably drawn the conclusion that Solus 3 is a new-user dream come true. That conclusion would be spot on. The developers have done an amazing job of ensuring nothing could possibly trip up a new user. And by “nothing,” I do mean nothing. Solus 3 does exactly what a Linux distribution should do — it gets out of the way, so the user can focus on work or social/entertainment distraction. From installation of the operating system, to installation of software, to daily use … the Solus developers have done everything right. I cannot imagine a single user type stumbling over this take on Linux. Period. This is one Linux distribution with barely a single bump in the learning curve.

How well does Solus 3 work?

Considering how “young” Solus is, it is remarkably stable. During my testing phase, I only encountered one issue with the platform—installing the third-party Spotify client (NOTE: Other third-party software installed fine, so this is, most likely, a Spotify issue). Even with that hiccup, a second attempt at installing the Spotify client succeeded. That should tell you how issue-free Solus is. Outside of that (and the Samba issue), I am happy to report that Solus 3 “just works” and does so with grace and ease. To be honest, Solus 3 feels like a much more mature platform than a “3” release should.

Give Solus 3 a try

If you’re looking for a new Linux distribution that will make the transition from any other platform a no-brainer of a task, you cannot go wrong with Solus 3. This hybrid release distribution will make anyone feel right at home on the desktop, look great doing so, and ease away any headache you might have ever experienced with Linux.

Kudos to the Solus developers for releasing a gem of a distribution.

Learn more about Linux through the free “Introduction to Linux” course from The Linux Foundation and edX.

5 Disaster Recovery Tips: Learning from Hurricanes


Hurricanes Irma and Harvey highlight the need for DR planning to ensure business continuity.

 

This has been an awful year for natural disasters, and yet, we’re not even midway through a hurricane season that’s been particularly devastating. Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and the flooding that ensued, has resulted in loss of life, extensive property damage, and crippled infrastructure..

Naturally, businesses have also been impacted. When it comes to applications, data and data centers, this is a wake-up call. At the same time, these are situations that motivate companies and individuals to introduce much-needed change. With this in mind, I’ll offer five tips any IT organization can use to become more resilient against natural disaster, no matter the characteristics of their systems and data centers. This can lead to better availability of critical data and tools when disaster strikes, continuity in serving customers, as well as peace of mind knowing preparations have been made and work can continue as expected.

1. Keep your people safe

When a natural disaster is anticipated (if there is notice), IT staffers need to focus on personal and family safety issues. Having to work late to take one more backup off-site shouldn’t be part of the last-minute process. Simply put, no data is worth putting lives at risk. If the rest of these tips are followed, IT staff won’t have to scramble in the heavy push of preparation to tie up loose ends of what already should be a resilient IT strategy.

2. Follow the 3-2-1 rule

In my role, I’ve long advocated the 3-2-1 rule, and we need to keep reiterating it: Have three different copies of important data saved, on two different media, one of these being off-site. Embrace this rule if you haven’t already. There are two additional key benefits of the 3-2-1 rule: It doesn’t require any specific technology and can address nearly any failure scenario.

3. 10 miles may not be enough

My third tip pertains to the off-site recommendation above. Many organizations believe the off-site copy or disaster recovery facility should be at least 10 miles away. This no longer may be sufficient; the path and fallout of a hurricane can be wide-reaching. Moreover, you want to avoid having personnel spend unnecessary time in a car traveling to complete the IT work. Cloud technologies can provide a more efficient and safer solution. This can involve using disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) from a service provider or simply putting backups in the cloud.

4. Test your DR plan

Ensure that when a disaster plan is created there is particular focus on anticipating and eliminating surprises. This should involve regularly testing of backups to be certain they are completely recoverable, that the plan will function as expected and all data is where it needs to be (off-site, for example). The last thing you want during a disaster is to find that the plan hasn’t been completely implemented or run in months, or worse, discover there are workloads which are not recoverable.

5. Communications planning

My final recommendation is to work backwards in all required systems and with providers of all types to ensure you don’t have risks you can’t fix. Pay close attention to geography in relation to your own facilities, as well as country locations for data sovereignty considerations. This can apply to telecommunications providers, too. A critical component about response to any disaster is that organizations are able to communicate. Given what has happened in some locations in the path of Hurricane Irma, even cellular communication can be unreliable. Consider developing a plan to ensure communications in the interim if key business systems are down.

The recent flood and hurricane damage has been significant. The truth is, when it comes to the data, IT services, and more, there is a significant risk a business may never recover if it’s not adequately prepared. We live in a digitally transformed world and many businesses can’t operate without the availability of systems and data. These simple tips can bring about the resiliency companies need to effectively handle disasters, and prove their reliability to the customers they serve.

Rick Vanover is director of technical product marketing for Veeam Software.



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Choosing a Cloud Provider: 8 Storage Considerations


Amazon Web Services, Google, and Azure dominate the cloud service provider space, but for some applications it may make sense to choose a smaller provider specializing in your app class and able to deliver a finer-tuned solution. No matter which cloud provider you choose, it pays to look closely at the wide variety of cloud storage services they offer to make sure they will meet your company’s requirements.

There are two major classes of storage with the big cloud providers, which offer local instance storage with selected instances, as well as a selection of network storage options for permanent storage and sharing between instances.

As with any storage, performance is a factor in your decision-making process. There are many shared network storage alternatives, including storage tiers from really hot to freezing cold and within the top tiers, differences depending on choice of replica count, and variations in prices for copying data to other spaces.

The very hot tier is moving to SSD and even here there are differences between NVMe and SATA SSDs, which cloud tenants typically see as IOPS levels. For large instances and GPU-based instances, the faster choice is probably better, though this depends on your use case.

At the other extreme, the cold and “freezing” storage, the choices are disk or tape, which impacts data retrieval times. With tape, that can take as much as two hours, compared with just seconds for disk.

Data security and vendor reliability are two other key considerations when choosing a cloud provider that will store your enterprise data.  Continue on to get tips for your selection process.

(Image: Blackboard/Shutterstock)



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Enterprises Gearing Up for IoT


For a few years now, experts have been advising enterprises to prepare their IT infrastructure for an onslaught of connected devices and it appears companies are paying heed. According to a study by 451 Research, enterprises are planning to boost storage capacity, networking, and other infrastructure to accommodate the increased data produced by their internet of things projects.

The study, which polled 575 IT and IoT decision makers worldwide, found that organizations are making changes to their IT resources to support their IoT projects. Specifically, they’re planning to increase storage capacity (32%), network edge equipment (30%), server infrastructure (29%), and off-premises cloud infrastructure (27%) over the next year.

451 Research analysts said “the collection, storage, transport and analysis of IoT data is impacting all aspects of IT infrastructure.”

More than half of the IT pros surveyed reported that their companies initially store and analyze IoT data at a company-owned data center. “IoT data remains stored there for two-thirds of organizations, while nearly one-third of the respondents move the data to a public cloud,” analysts said.

About 65% of those surveyed, which are based mostly in North America and Europe, said they’re planning to increase their spending on IoT projects in the next 12 months. Less than 3% plan to reduce their IoT spending, according to 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise: Internet of Things – Workloads and Key Projects.

 

451 Research supplemented its web-based survey with 11 in-depth phone interviews with IoT IT managers and C-level executives

Top IoT use cases include data center management and surveillance and security monitoring, but in two years, facilities automation is likely to be the main use case, analysts said.

Many of the companies surveyed said they process IoT data at the edge, either on the IoT device or in nearby IT infrastructure.

“Companies are processing IoT workloads at the edge today to improve security, process real-time operational action triggers, and reduce IoT data storage and transport requirements,” Rich Karpinski, research director at 451 Research, said in a prepared statement. While some say that they plan to conduct deeper data analytics at the network edge as well, most of the heavy data processing is happening in company-owned data centers or public cloud, he added.

Nearly half of those polled reported having a hard time finding workers with IoT skills, according to the report. Data analytics, security, and virtualization are the skills most in demand, according to the report.

A separate study released late last month by satellite communications company Inmarsat also found an IoT skills shortage. According to the global survey of 500 senior IT decision-makers conducted by Vanson Bourne, 60% of those polled said they need more cybersecurity staff to handle the deluge of IoT data and 46% said they lacked staff with experience in analytics and data science. Nearly half said they lacked technical support skills required for successful IoT deployments.

 



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The Beautiful Nitrux Linux Distro Could Be a Contender | Linux.com


What happens when you take Ubuntu 17.10, a new desktop interface (one that overlays on top of KDE), snap packages, and roll them all up into a pseudo rolling release? You get Nitrux. At first blush, this particular Linux distribution seems more of an experiment than anything else — to show how much the KDE desktop can be tweaked to resemble the likes of the Elementary OS or MacOS desktops. At its heart, however, it’s much more than that.

First and foremost, Nitrux makes use of snap packages; so installing software is handled a bit differently than the norm. Even though Nitrux is based on Ubuntu, apt install isn’t what you want to use (although it is available).

I’m getting ahead of myself. This distro focuses very much on the GUI — so the GUI should be the route you take. Good thing Nitrux includes a GUI software installer tool for that purpose. That Nitrux uses snaps is good and bad, and it’s the bad that will put users off faster than the good.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s first talk about what Nitrux is. This particular take on the Linux desktop is focused on the portable, universal nature of snap packages and makes use of a unique desktop, called Nomad, which sits atop KDE Plasma 5. It’s minimum requirements are:

  • 2.66 GHz quad-core CPU or better.

  • 4 GB system memory.

  • 256 MB video memory and OpenGL 2.0 support.

  • 4.29 GB of free hard drive space.

On that 4.29GB of free hard drive space, I installed Nitrux as a VirtualBox VM with 10GB of space. Upon installation, I installed the LibreOffice snap package, only to find out I was then out of space. I don’t know about you, but no LibreOffice installation I’ve ever done takes 5GB of space. I say this, only so you’ll be aware, should you opt to text Nitrux via VirtualBox—give that virtual disk about 20GB of space.

The Nomad desktop (Figure 1), will feel instantly familiar.

The desktop includes a dock, a system/notification tray, a quick search tool (Plasma Search), and an app menu. Of all the elements on the desktop, it’s the Plasma Search tool that will appeal to anyone looking for an efficient means to interact with their desktops. With this tool, you can just start typing on a blank desktop to see a list of results. Say, for example, you want to open LibreOffice writer; on the blank desktop, just start typing “libre” and related entries will appear (Figure 2).

The search feature is also capable of enabling/disabling various plugins, to add extra functionality. For example, you can include Bookmarks, web shortcuts, terminal applications, power management, and more to the desktop search (this is done through System Settings > Search > Plasma Search).

Take a step back

Although the Nitrux desktop might well be something every new user (even to Linux) could get up to speed with quickly, getting to the point of usage can be a bit confusing. Why? First off, when booting up the live instance, you are asked for a password, but never told what it is. Said password, for the Live user nitrux, is nitrux. Beyond that, the operating system installer is not what you might be used to. Instead of including an “Install Nitrux” button on the Live desktop, there’s absolutely no indication as to what one should do to install the platform. Turns out, Nitrux uses Systemback for installation. Once you have the live instance up and running, click on the desktop menu and locate the Systemback entry (Figure 3).

The one downfall of using Systemback is it is not nearly as intuitive as many other live distro installers. Once you start the tool up, you must click System install (Figure 4).

The first interactive section of the Systemback System installer is simple: you enter your user information. It’s the the next screen — for disk partitioning — that will trip up most users. Although Systemback will autodetect a partition, you have to delete it and create a new one, because the Mount point drop-down is greyed out. It isn’t until you delete the autodetected partition and create a new partition that you can select the mount point and file system type (Figure 5).

Here’s where we have to dock Systemback another point in user-friendliness. Once you’ve selected a mount point and filesystem type, you then have to click on the left-pointing green arrow to apply the settings. Why not a simple Apply Changes button? With that complete, you’ll then be able to click the Next button, so the installation can continue and complete.

I cannot imagine how many instances of Linux I have installed over the years, dating back to the late 1990s. Even with those early iterations of Linux, I must confess, this one had me dumbfounded. No, it’s not impossible—not even slightly; but with a desktop as user-friendly as Nomad, I wonder why the developers opted to make use of a platform installer that will most likely leave new users scratching their heads and, quite possibly, giving up. That is a shame, as Nitrux is certainly something to be experienced.

A step forward

The idea of making use of snap packages is intriguing, one that would allow for:

  • Developers to deliver the latest version of their app

  • App isolation and confinement, which improves the security and reliability said app

The biggest downfall (for the moment) is that not every Linux package has been rolled into a snap. For instance, my favorite audio player, Clementine, has yet to find its way to a snap package. The über-popular Audacity audio recorder doesn’t have a snap package. The list goes on and on.

The good news is, if there’s a piece of software that doesn’t yet have a snap, it can be installed by way of the usual means (i.e., sudo apt install clementine). That means anyone using Nitrux won’t be severely limited to what software they have available to them. However, that does sort of defeat the purpose of using snap packages. When possible, at least with Nitrux, always install with snap packages.

One other feature of note is the inclusion of Android apps (Figure 6).

From what it seems, users might be able to install and run Android applications. However, on two different installations, I have yet to get this feature to work. Even the pre-installed Android apps never start. What promised to be a really cool out of the box experience, fell flat.

Who is this distro for?

That’s a tough question. New users would feel right at home on the Nomad desktop — getting there, however, could be problematic. Skilled Linux users should have no problem using Nitrux and might find themselves intrigued with the snap-centric Nomad desktop. The one advantage of having a distribution centered around snap packages would be the ease with which you could quickly install and uninstall a package, without causing issues with other applications. However, that can be achieved with any distribution supporting snap packages.

In the end, Nitrux is a beautiful desktop that is incredibly efficient to use — only slightly hampered by an awkward installer and a lack of available snap packages. Give this distribution a bit of time to work out the kinks and it could become a serious contender.