Monthly Archives: December 2017

Nethserver: An Ideal Server Platform for Your Small Business | Linux.com


If you run a small business, you might need an in-house operating system to serve as a veritable multi-tool. Many businesses opt for Microsoft Windows Small Business Server. However, if you’re looking to cut costs and work with open source software, you have plenty of choices, each of which can perfectly function to meet your small business needs.

One such option is the CentOS 7 based Nethserver. It’s an outstanding small business platform that’s flexible enough to be just what you need and nothing more. Once installed, you can add the software necessary make business happen. Nethserver is quick to install, easy to set up, and simple to manage.

The versions

When you visit the official site of Nethserver, you will notice there are different versions of the platform. Specifically, a Community and an Enterprise edition. I’m going to be discussing the Community options as it offers plenty of features, is community supported, and free.

Did I say “plenty of features”? I did. The feature list for the Community edition of Nethserver includes:

  • Easy to use web-based interface

  • Software Center, where you can add only the packages you need

  • Full data backup

  • Manual upgrades

  • CentOS 7 foundation for solid security and reliability

  • Built-in Samba Active Directory Controller

  • Nextcloud integration

  • Certificate management

  • Transparent HTTPS proxy

  • Greatly improved firewall

  • Built-in email server

The Software Center especially should appeal to many administrators and business owners. Why? Because Nethserver allows you to install only what you need to make your workflow manageable and easy.

Let’s install Nethserver

Installing Nethserver is as easy as installing CentOS 7. In fact, it’s exactly like the installation of everyone’s favorite open source server platform. If you’ve installed CentOS 7, you won’t have any trouble installing Nethserver. And the installation of the basic platform can be completed in about five to ten minutes.

Once you’ve downloaded the Nethserver ISO, burn it to a disk or USB drive, or place it in a directory your virtual machine platform can access. I’ll be installing Nethserver via VirtualBox, so there is at least one small variation to the installation. Said variation is making sure to set the Networking option (in VirtualBox) to Bridged mode (otherwise, the machines on your network will not be able to reach your Nethserver instance). Other than that, boot the Nethserver ISO and begin the installation.

As you can see (Figure 1), the Nethserver installation doesn’t change anything from CentOS 7.

After completing the basic installation, Nethserver will reboot. Upon rebooting, you will need to log in with the credentials you created during the installation. Once authenticated, you will be dropped into a bash prompt. Chances are, you may have not configured networking to use a static address. If that’s the case, issue the command ifconfig from the prompt to find your Nethserver IP address (we’ll change it to static in a bit).
With that IP address in hand, point a browser (on the same network) to https://SERVER_IP (Where SERVER_IP is the actual address of your Nethserver machine). In the next few screens you will need to answer some fairly simple questions. The first of these screens is just to welcome you to the setup wizard. Click NEXT. In the resulting window, you are asked if you want to skip the manual configuration and restore a backup file (Figure 2).

If this is a new installation, keep the box unchecked and click NEXT.

It’s time to set a fully qualified domain name. This is especially important for two reasons:

Chances are, you’re going to need that FDQN here (Figure 3). If you don’t have one, you can always use something like nethserver.localhost.localdomain and use the box for test purposes. However, once you need to start using Nethserver as a real business-class solution, you’ll need that FDQN.

The next few screens require you to do the following:

  • Set your timezone.

  • Set the SSH port (the default is 22, Nethserver recommends using port 2222).

  • Agree (or disagree) to send usage statistics.

Once you’ve completed the above screens of the wizard, you will land on the main Nethserver page, where you will be prompted to change the server from a DHCP to Static IP address (Figure 4).

Click the Edit button, select static (when prompted), and fill out the details for the static address (Figure 5).

Once you’ve done that, you will see a DNS tab, where you can set the necessary DNS servers. Chances are, Nethserver picked up the DNS servers from your network’s router. If you find Nethserver cannot reach the outside world, make sure to visit the DNS option and make that change.

Adding software

At this point, you need to install software. To do this, click on the Software Center entry under Administration. The first time you click the Software Center entry, it will take some time for it to populate the titles, before it becomes available. Give it time and the Software Center will finally appear, ready for you to install everything you need (Figure 6).

As this is a new installation, you will probably be informed of available updates. Before you install any software, click on the Updates tab and then click DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL. I will warn you that, because this is a new install, the upgrade process can take some time. Step away from the keyboard and undertake some other task. When you come back, you will probably see yet another DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL button. I recommend rebooting before you attempt to download and install the next upgrade. Keep repeating that until there are no more updates to download and install. Once there are no more updates, comb through the listing of software and install everything you need to make Nethserver your perfect small business server.

Adding users

Adding users for Nethserver isn’t quite the same as it might be on other Linux servers. You must first decide the method to be used to serve as the user directory. When you go to Management > Users and groups, you will be prompted to select between LDAP and Active Directory (Figure 7).

The route you choose will depend upon your needs. If you select LDAP, you will then have to set up a local LDAP server or bind a remote LDAP server. If you go the Active Directory route, you will have to either join a domain or create a new domain. Once you’ve either created a new local LDAP server or created a new Domain, you can then begin the process of adding users and groups.

Make it yours

That’s the gist of getting Nethserver up and running. Beyond that point, you will have to install and configure the server to make it perfectly fit your small business needs. Nethserver is very powerful and could easily take the place of the more costly Microsoft Small Business server. Give Nethserver a go and see if it doesn’t make for an outstanding solution for your business.

GDPR: Looking Beyond the Burden


The goal of the General Data Protection Regulation is laudable: ensuring data types are well-kept and strengthened protection for individuals throughout the region. Organizations worldwide are preparing for May 25, 2018,  the end of the GDPR grace period. While not every organization is subject to GDPR, any company whose business “touches” the European Union and has data about its residents could face a fine equal to 4% of global revenues if it fails to comply.

Aside from the mechanics of GDPR, the regulation presents an opportunity. In this era, data and information drives our ever-expanding digital lives. For enterprises, this means being a proper steward of the data and its consequences is effectively a fiduciary duty not to be taken lightly.

Organizations will almost always learn more about their data and its flow when considering what GDPR has introduced to Europe and how it can help elsewhere. Much of GDPR has applicability to an overall data privacy and data management strategy, and that’s good, especially when you consider the ongoing rise in breaches and mistakes such as companies failing to report them in a timely manner.

So while many U.S. companies and others outside of the EU consider GDPR a burden, it actually is a catalyst for much-needed change and all can learn from it. That there are financial consequences for falling short certainly will make organizations look harder at their practices.

There’s an approach I’ve adopted over the years when it comes to regulatory measures. It’s a mindset that any product or technology isn’t necessarily going to be compliant out-of-the-box; how it’s implemented and audited will dictate success. This is especially true for GDPR, which lacks specific application and technology requirements, instead focusing on the data and associated experience. That said, here are six steps organizations worldwide should keep in mind with GDPR.

Develop a data breach policy. GDPR structures data subject rights around many key aspects, and one specific area of focus for organizations should be what to do in a data breach situation. While no organization wants to be the next headline, we’ve seen how much worse a situation can become when a company botches breach response. Ensure resiliency in the technology to prevent a breach, but also have a plan in place to address one if it happens. The plan should include proper communications, decision-making responsibilities and more.

Implement privacy by design. How data it is transported, backed up, and accessed is critical. To help meet GDPR standards more easily, build data protection into the design of systems. Also consider data minimization, meaning only protect and secure what is necessary. Know what data is where, as well as what is subject to the privacy rules.

GDPR rules travel with the data. One interesting characteristic of GDPR is that above all, the rules apply to the data, even if it leaves the EU. This means if an organization outside of the EU processes personal data subject to GDPR, the rules travel with the data. In fact, rules may be even further tightened depending on which country the data is transported to, so understand your risk.  

Historic IT security applies to GDPR. The traditional definition of IT security is to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. The same applies in GDPR, and this is evident in Article 32 (1) (b). While this  requirement includes resiliency, the need for IT security is clear: Even as specific technologies change, IT security should be taken seriously and reinvested in to remain current.

Identify sensitive data. In this digital world, a massive transition from managing storage to managing data is underway. A key principle of GDPR is defining what is personal data, so it’s critical organizations  understand and identify sensitive data that may warrant notification if breached.

The right to know and be forgotten. A pillar of GDPR is the right to erase data, also known as the right to be forgotten. While this applies to personal data, the rest of the world can apply this logic to managing data –specifically, deleting, removing or otherwise retiring it. Many organizations have a difficult time knowing when to delete or destroy data. Having a conversation with stakeholders to confidently address both sides of this question is a good idea.

There is no silver bullet to compliance, but one thing all organizations agree on: going through any type of audit can deliver some painful lessons. Yes, GDPR may seem like a burden, but it’s worse to be blindsided because of a lack of understanding. Take the time to understand GDPR and you’ll see how it can mean  sizeable benefits, whether it impacts your organization directly or not.



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Hard Disk Drives Cling to Life as SSDs Take Off


Despite recent developments in hard-disk drive technology, solid-state drives are on the way to becoming the solution of choice for enterprise storage. They have cost more than HDDs, which held back adoption considerably for the last few years, but the situation changed this year, as I predicted.

The secondary storage market is characterized as using high-capacity 3.5 inch hard drives. The segment is price-sensitive rather than performance oriented and, due to hard-drive capacity growth over the last half-decade, remains the primary market for HDDs.

The HDD capacity growth curve has, however, stalled out. Moving beyond 14TB – the capacity Western Digital announced in October and the largest HDD to date — will prove difficult technically. The common approach to larger capacity has been Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR), where a laser is used to magnetically “soften” the area to write a bit. Vendors promise to reach 100TB capacity in eight years, for example, but the technology is very difficult to get right, never mind produce in volume.

WD said it’s using an alternative approach, MAMR, which uses microwaves to achieve softening. The company promises to ship its first MAMR product in 2019, which may prove a bit optimistic. The problem with either approach is that we already have 32TB SSDs, which fit in a smaller 2.5 inch footprint, effectively half the size of these bulk HDDs.

The evolution of SSD capacity is moving rapidly along with 3D NAND, die stacking, and QLC cell architectures all poised to drop prices rapidly in 2018 and to make even larger capacities available. We can certainly expect 64TB SSDs in 2018 and perhaps even see the 100TB units several vendors have promised.

These large SSDs will likely be at a dollars/terabyte premium over HDDs for a while, but the capacity increase and reduced size means many fewer appliances will be needed to store secondary, cold, data. Moreover, non-traditional drive packaging such as Intel’s elongated M2 blades, with 32 blades of 32TB each in a 1U appliance, promise 5PB in a 1U appliance when combined with compression.

Already this year, perceptions around SSD costs have been impacted by a realization that the much greater throughput possible with SSD primary storage means that fewer servers are needed to run a given workload, with the resulting savings more than offsetting extra pricing for the drives. Also, the cost of NVMe flash drives has moved close to SAS and SATA pricing, resulting in NVMe now being the interface of choice in servers and even desktops.

At the same time, SSD-based all-flash arrays (AFAs) have displaced the RAID array as the preferred approach in networked storage. Here, because of the high bandwidth available, AFAs support compression of both the primary data they store and the secondary data stream being offloaded to other storage appliances. For most applications, compression results in a 5:1 effective multiplication of the raw capacity. Because HDD primary storage is way too slow, compression is not a viable option for RAID arrays.

A third trend benefiting SSDs is the growth of hyperconverged infrastructure. Based originally on SSDs, HCI has migrated to NVMe SSDs to obtain the response times and throughput those drives bring. Led by Excelero, the next step in HCI is direct connection of NVMe drives to the RDMA Ethernet fabric of the cluster of nodes, removing latency and providing very high throughput. Excelero’s approach opens up directly connecting future NVMe Ethernet drives to the cluster fabric, allowing a great deal of parallelism in the cluster storage design.

The result of all of these trends is that this year the battle for market share is heating up, with SSD pulling ahead strongly in the enterprise drive class. At the same time, SAN-based primary storage is in decline, with RAID array sales falling quarter by quarter.

Can desktops hold the HDD market up for a while? I just bought a new system, with a mid-market motherboard. It has four slots for M2 NVMe SSDs! Gamers will generally go for speed, especially more so when the price of the NVMe drive is identical to the SATA equivalent!

One bump in the road for SSDs is flash die production capacity. The conversion to 3D NAND was more difficult for suppliers than expected, causing shortages in the first half of this year. With that problem moving into the history column and real capacity gains from the recent innovation of die stacking  for 3D NAND, 2018 will see supply moving close to demand. Still, demand will be high for NAND die so shortages may persist during the transition from HDDs.

With few factors in their favor, hard drives are looking to go the way of the Dodo. This isn’t going to be an overnight phenomenon. Radical changes like this take half a decade or more to complete and even at the end there will be a market for legacy systems.

 



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8 Tech Books for Winter Reading


With the official start of winter fast approaching, the cold, short days already have many hunkering down and focused on indoor activities. The weather is perfect for curling up in front of a fire with a book. For IT pros, it’s a great time to expand their knowledge by catching up on some of the latest tech books.

Our collection covers some of the hottest topics in the technology industry today, including cloud infrastructure, containers, and cybersecurity. You’ll also find a book about problem solving in modern networks by well-known experts Russ White and Ethan Banks, and even a graphic novel. Mostly all recent releases, these tech books are essentially hot off the press.

Today, more than ever, IT pros need to keep up with rapidly evolving technology trends. Enterprise adoption of cloud, software-defined technologies, and automation are breaking down traditional IT silos, so it’s a good idea to learn about technologies outside your usual realm. What better time than now, especially if you have some downtime during the holidays? Maybe you can even put some gift cards to good use by stocking up on tech books that can broaden your horizons.

Read ahead for some ideas of what to read during the chilly months ahead.

(Image: Creative Family/Shutterstock)



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Top 5 Linux Music Players | Linux.com


No matter what you do, chances are you enjoy a bit of music playing in the background. Whether you’re a coder, system administrator, or typical desktop user, enjoying good music might be at the top of your list of things you do on the desktop. And, with the holidays upon us, you might wind up with some gift cards that allow you to purchase some new music. If your music format of choice is of a digital nature (mine happens to be vinyl) and your platform is Linux, you’re going to want a good GUI player to enjoy that music.

Fortunately, Linux has no lack of digital music players. In fact, there are quite a few, most of which are open source and available for free. Let’s take a look at a few such players, to see which one might suit your needs.

Clementine

I wanted to start out with the player that has served as my default for years. Clementine offers probably the single best ratio of ease-of-use to flexibility you’ll find in any player. Clementine is a fork of the new defunct Amarok music player, but isn’t limited to Linux-only; Clementine is also available for Mac OS and Windows platforms. The feature set is seriously impressive and includes the likes of:

  • Built-in equalizer

  • Customizable interface (display current album cover as background — Figure 1)

  • Play local music or from Spotify, Last.fm, and more

  • Sidebar for easy library navigation

  • Built-in audio transcoding (into MP3, OGG, Flac, and more)

  • Remote control using Android app

  • Handy search function

  • Tabbed playlists

  • Easy creation of regular and smart playlists

  • CUE sheet support

  • Tag support

Of all the music players I have used, Clementine is by far the most feature-rich and easy to use.  It also includes one of the finest equalizers you’ll find on a Linux music player (with 10 bands to adjust). Although it may not enjoy a very modern interface, it is absolutely unmatched for its ability to create and manipulate playlists. If your music collection is large, and you want total control over it, this is the player you want.

Clementine can be found in the standard repositories and installed from either your distribution’s software center or the command line.

Rhythmbox

Rhythmbox is the default player for the GNOME desktop, but it does function well on other desktops. The Rhythmbox interface is slightly more modern than Clementine and takes a minimal approach to design. That doesn’t mean the app is bereft of features. Quite the opposite. Rhythmbox offers gapless playback, Soundcloud support, album cover display, audio scrobbling from Last.fm and Libre.fm, Jamendo support, podcast subscription (from Apple iTunes), web remote control, and more.

One very nice feature found in Rhythmbox is plugin support, which allows you to enable features like DAAP Music Sharing, FM Radio, Cover art search, notifications, ReplayGain, Song Lyrics, and more.

The Rhythmbox playlist feature isn’t quite as powerful as that found in Clementine, but it still makes it fairly easy to organize your music into quick playlists for any mood. Although Rhythmbox does offer a slightly more modern interface than Clementine (Figure 2), it’s not quite as flexible.

VLC Media Player

For some, VLC cannot be beat for playing videos. However, VLC isn’t limited to the playback of video. In fact, VLC does a great job of playing audio files. For KDE Neon users, VLC serves as your default for both music and video playback. Although VLC is one of the finest video players on the Linux market (it’s my default), it does suffer from some minor limitations with audio—namely the lack of playlists and the inability to connect to remote directories on your network. But if you’re looking for an incredibly simple and reliable means to play local files or network mms/rtsp streams VLC is a quality tool.

VLC does include an equalizer (Figure 3), a compressor, and a spatializer as well as the ability to record from a capture device.

Audacious

If you’re looking for a lightweight music player, Audacious perfectly fits that bill. This particular music player is fairly single minded, but it does include an equalizer and a small selection of effects that will please many an audiophile (e.g., Echo, Silence removal, Speed and Pitch, Voice Removal, and more—Figure 4).

Audacious also includes a really handy alarm feature, that allows you to set an alarm that will start playing your currently selected track at a user-specified time and duration.

Spotify

I must confess, I use spotify daily. I’m a subscriber and use it to find new music to purchase—which means I am constantly searching and discovering. Fortunately, there is a desktop client for Spotify (Figure 5) that can be easily installed using the official Spotify Linux installation instructions. Outside of listening to vinyl, I probably make use of Spotify more than any other music player. It also helps that I can seamlessly jump between the desktop client and the Android app, so I never miss out on the music I enjoy.

The Spotify interface is very easy to use and, in fact, it beats the web player by leaps and bounds. Do not settle for the Spotify Web Player on Linux, as the desktop client makes it much easier to create and manage your playlists. If you’re a Spotify power user, don’t even bother with the built-in support for the streaming client in the other desktop apps—once you’ve used the Spotify Desktop Client, the other apps pale in comparison.

The choice is yours

Other options are available (check your desktop software center), but these five clients (in my opinion) are the best of the best. For me, the one-two punch of Clementine and Spotify gives me the best of all possible worlds. Try them out and see which one best meets your needs.

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