Monthly Archives: June 2018

How to Install and Use Flatpak on Linux | Linux.com


The landscape of applications is quickly changing. Many platforms are migrating to containerized applications… and with good cause. An application wrapped in a bundled container is easier to install, includes all the necessary dependencies, doesn’t directly affect the hosting platform libraries, automatically updates (in some cases), and (in most cases) is more secure than a standard application. Another benefit of these containerized applications is that they are universal (i.e., such an application would install on Ubuntu Linux or Fedora Linux, without having to convert a .deb package to an .rpm).

As of now, there are two main universal package systems: Snap and Flatpak. Both function in similar fashion, but one is found by default on Ubuntu-based systems (Snap) and one on Fedora-based systems (Flatpak). It should come as no surprise that both can be installed on either type of system. So if you want to run Snaps on Fedora, you can. If you want to run Flatpak on Ubuntu, you can.

I will walk you through the process of installing and using Flatpak on Ubuntu 18.04. If your platform of choice is Fedora (or a Fedora derivative), you can skip the installation process.

Installation

The first thing to do is install Flatpak. The process is simple. Open up a terminal window and follow these steps:

  1. Add the necessary repository with the command sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alexlarsson/flatpak.

  2. Update apt with the command sudo apt update.

  3. Install Flatpak with the command sudo apt install flatpak.

  4. Install Flatpak support for GNOME Software with the command sudo apt install gnome-software-plugin-flatpak.

  5. Reboot your system.

Usage

I’ll first show you how to install a Flatpak package from the command line, and then via the GUI. Let’s say you want to install the Spotify desktop client via Flatpak. To do this, you must first instruct Flatpak to retrieve the necessary app. The Spotify Flatpak (along with others) is hosted on Flathub. The first thing we’re going to do is add the Flathub remote repository with the following command:

sudo flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

Now you can install any Flatpak app found on Flathub. For example, to install Spotify, the command would be:

sudo flatpak install flathub com.spotify.Client

To find out the exact command for each install, you only have to visit the app’s page on Flathub and the installation command is listed beneath the description.

Running a Flatpak-installed app is a bit different than a standard app (at least from the command line). Head back to the terminal window and issue the command:

flatpak run com.spotify.Client

Of course, after you’ve re-started your machine (upon installing the GNOME Software Support), those apps should appear in your desktop menu, making it unnecessary to start them from the command line.

To uninstall a Flatpak from the command line, you would go back to the terminal and issue the command:

sudo flatpak uninstall NAME

where NAME is the name of the app to remove. In our Spotify case, that would be:

sudo flatpak uninstall com.spotify.Client

Now we want to update our Flatpak apps. To do this, first list all of your installed Flatpak apps by issuing the command:

flatpak list

Now that we have our list of apps (Figure 1), we can update with the command sudo flatpak update NAME (where NAME is the name of our app to update).

So if we want to update GIMP, we’d issue the command:

sudo flatpak update org.gimp.GIMP

If there are any updates to be applied, they’’ll be taken care of. If there are no updates to be applied, nothing will be reported.

Installing from GNOME Software

Let’s make this even easier. Since we installed GNOME Software support for flatpak, we don’t actually have to bother with the command line. Don’t be mistaken, unlike Snap support, you won’t actually find Flatpak apps listed within GNOME Software (even though we’ve installed Software support). Instead, you’ll find support through the web browser.

Let me show you. Point your browser to Flathub.

Let’s say you want to install Slack via Flatpak. Go to the Slack Flathub page and then click on the INSTALL button. Since we installed GNOME Software support, the standard browser dialog window will appear with an included option to open the file via Software Install (Figure 2).

 

This action will then open GNOME Software (or, in the case of Ubuntu, Ubuntu Software), where you can click the Install button (Figure 3) to complete the process.

Once the installation completes, you can then either click the Launch button, or close GNOME Software and launch the application from the desktop menu (in the case of GNOME, the Dash).

After you’ve installed a Flatpak app via GNOME Software, it can also be removed from the same system (so there’s still not need to go through the command line).

What about KDE?

If you prefer using the KDE desktop environment, you’re in luck. If you issue the command sudo apt install plasma-discover-flatpak-backend, it’ll install Flatpak support for the KDE app store, Discover. Once you’ve added Flatpak support, you then need to add a repository. Open Discover and then click on Settings. In the settings window, you’ll now see a Flatpak listing (Figure 4).

Click on the Flatpak drop-down and then click Add Flathub. Click on the Applications tab (in the left navigation) and you can then search for (and install) any applications found on Flathub (Figure 5).

Easy Flatpak management

And that’s the gist of using Flatpak. These universal packages can be used on most Linux distributions and can even be managed via the GUI on some desktop environments. I highly recommend you give Flatpak a try. With the combination of standard installation, Flatpak, and Snaps, you’ll find software management on Linux has become incredibly easy.

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

Open Source Storage: 6 Benefits


Storage software creation, delivery, and support are all evolving at a high rate today. We’ve added open source coding, support-services bundling, platform pre-integration, code as a service, microservice architectures, and scalable  software-defined storage services to the traditional bundled proprietary code approach. Open source packages in the storage word are now mainstream solutions.

The acceptance of open source storage is no accident. The leaders in the space, such as Ceph and Gluster, are all characterized by large communities, well-organized communications between developers, liaison with the customer base, and the support of a commercial vendor delivering full technical support and, typically, for-profit enterprise editions with additional features. These open source storage products compete with for-profit code and maintain leadership in most areas other than prices.

Apart from the leading packages, we see many other examples of open source storage code arising from communities of interest, such as the Btrfs and OpenZFS file systems, the LizardFS and Lustre distributed file systems, and Pydio, a file sharing system. , These projects vary in fullness of feature set and code quality, so that in their early stages it is definitely buyer beware. These packages, however, are a rich source of innovation for the storage industry and some will likely grow beyond their niche status in a couple of years, so it is impossible to dismiss them out of hand.

The community nature of open source means several things. First, it makes niche solutions easier to obtain since the community pre-defines a receptive customer base and a roadmap of needs. Compare this with the traditional startup – raising funds, defining an abstract product, developing it, and then finding customers. Community-based solutions lead to much more innovation. Often, solutions serving your specific needs are available, though a thorough evaluation is needed to offset risk.

In and of itself, open source storage code would not be interesting without the availability of commodity  hardware platforms that are much cheaper than gear from major league traditional vendors. It’s relatively easy to integrate open-source code onto these low-cost, highly standardized platforms. Generally, the standardization inherent in commodity hardware makes most open source code plug-and-play, irrespective of the hardware configuration.

In this slideshow, I delve into six open source storage benefits, and why you should consider open source storage for your data center.

(Image: Camm Productions/Shutterstock)



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Get Started with Snap Packages in Linux | Linux.com


Chances are you’ve heard about Snap packages. These universal packages were brought into the spotlight with the release of Ubuntu 16.04 and have continued to draw attention as a viable solution for installing applications on Linux. What makes Snap packages so attractive to the end user? The answer is really quite easy: Simplicity. In this article, I’ll answer some common questions that arise when learning about Snaps and show how to start using them.

Exactly what are Snap packages? And why are they needed? Considering there are already multiple ways to install software on Linux, doesn’t this complicate the issue? Not in the slightest. Snaps actually makes installing/updating/removing applications on Linux incredibly easy.

How does it accomplish this? Essentially, a Snap package is a self-contained application that bundles most of the libraries and runtimes (necessary to successfully run an application) into a single, universal package. Because of this, Snaps can be installed, updated, and reverted without affecting the rest of the host system, and without having to first install dependencies. Snap packages are also confined from the OS (via various security mechanisms), yet can still function as if it were installed by the standard means (exchanging data with the host OS and other installed applications).

Are Snaps challenging to work with? In a word, no. In fact, Snaps make short work of installing apps that might otherwise challenge your Linux admin skills. Since Snap packages are self-contained, you only need to install one package to get an app up and running.

Although Snap packages were created by Ubuntu developers, they can be installed on most modern Linux distributions. Because the necessary tool for Snap packages is installed on the latest releases of Ubuntu out of the box, I’m going to walk you through the process of installing and using Snap packages on Fedora. Once installed, using Snap is the same, regardless of distribution.

Installation

The first thing you must do is install the Snap system, aka snapd. To do this on Fedora, open up the terminal window and issue the command:

sudo dnf install snapd

The above command will catch any necessary dependencies and install the system for Snap. That’s all there is to is. You’re ready to install your first Snap package.

Installing with Snap: Command-line edition

The first thing you’ll want to do is find out what packages are available to install via Snap. Although Snap has begun to gain significant momentum, not every application can be installed via Snap. Let’s say you want to install GIMP. First you might want to find out what GIMP-relate packages are available as Snaps. Back at the terminal window, issue the command:

sudo snap find gimp

The command should report only one package available for GIMP (Figure 1).

To get a better idea as to what the find option can do for you, issue the command:

sudo snap find nextcloud

The output of that command (Figure 2) will report Snap packages related to Nextcloud.

Let’s say you want to go ahead and install GIMP via Snap. To do this, issue the command:

sudo snap install gimp

The above command will download and install the Snap package. After the command completes, you’ll find GIMP in your desktop menu, ready to use.

Updating Snap packages

Once a Snap package is installed, it will not be updated by the normal method of system updating (via apt, yum, or dnf). To update a Snap package, the refresh option is used. Say you want to update GIMP, you would issue the command:

sudo snap refresh gimp

If an updated Snap package is available, it will be downloaded and installed. Say, however, you have a number of Snap packages installed, and you want to update them all. This is done with the command:

sudo snap refresh

The snapd system will check all installed Snap packages against what’s available. If there are newer versions, the installed Snap package will be updated. One thing to note is that Snap packages are automatically updated daily, so you don’t have to manually issue the refresh command, unless you want to do this manually.

Listing installed Snap packages

What if you’re not sure which Snap packages you’ve installed? Easy. Issue the command sudo snap list and all of your installed Snap packages will be listed for you (Figure 3).

Removing Snap packages

Removing a Snap package is just as simple as installing. We’ll stick with our GIMP example. To remove GIMP, issue the command:

sudo snap remove gimp

One thing you’ll notice is that removing a Snap package takes significantly less time than uninstalling via the standard method (i.e., sudo apt remove gimp or sudo dnf remove gimp). In fact, on my test Fedora system, installing, updating, and removing GIMP was quite a bit faster than doing so with dnf.

Installing with Snap: GUI edition

You can enable Snap support in GNOME Software with a quick dnf install command. That command is:

sudo dnf install gnome-software-snap

Once the command finishes, reboot your system and open up GNOME Software. You will be prompted to enable third party repositories (Figure 4). Click Enable and Snap packages are now ready to be installed.

If you now search for GIMP, you will see two versions available. Click on one and if you see Snap Store as the source (Figure 5), you know that’s the Snap version of GIMP.

Although I cannot imagine a reason for doing so, you can install both the standard and Snap version of the package. You might find it difficult to know which is which, however. Just remember, if you use a mixture of Snap and non-Snap packages, you must update them separately (which, in the case of Snap packages, happens automatically).

Get your Snap on

Snap packages are here to stay, of that there is no doubt. No matter if you administer or use  Linux on the server or desktop, Snap packages help make that task significantly easier. Get your Snap on today and see if you don’t start defaulting to this universal package format, over the standard installation fare.

The NVMe Transition


The buzzword of the moment in the storage industry is NVMe, otherwise known as Non-Volatile Memory Express. NVMe is a new storage protocol that vastly improves the performance of NAND flash and storage class memory devices. How is it being implemented and are all NVMe-enabled devices equal? And what should IT infrastructure pros consider before making the NVMe transition?

Background

NVMe was developed as a successor to existing SAS and SATA protocols. Both SAS and SATA were designed for the age of hard drives where mechanical head movement masked any storage protocol inefficiencies. Today with NAND flash, and in the future with storage class memory, the bottlenecks of SAS/SATA are more apparent because NAND flash is such a high-performance persistent media. NVMe addresses these performance problems and also implements greater parallel operations. The result is around a 10x improvement in IOPS for NVMe solid-state drives compared to SAS/SATA SSDs.

Adoption models

Storage vendors are starting to roll out products that replace their existing architectures with ones based on NVMe. At the back-end of traditional storage arrays, drives have been connected using SAS. In recent weeks, both Dell EMC and NetApp have announced updates to their product portfolios that replace SAS with NVMe.

Dell EMC released PowerMax, the NVMe successor to VMAX. NetApp introduced AFF A800, which includes NVMe shelves and drives. In both cases, the vendors claim latency improves to around the 200-300µs level, with up to 300GB per second of throughput. Remember that both of these platforms scale out, so these estimates are for systems at their greatest level of scale.

Pure Storage recently announced an update to its FlashArray//X platform with the release of the //X90 model. This offers native NVMe through the use of DirectFlash modules. In fact, the FlashArray family has been NVMe-enabled for some time, which means the transition for customers can be achieved without a forklift upgrade, whereas PowerMax and AFF A800 are new hardware platforms.

NVMe is already included in systems from other vendors such as Tegile, which brought its NVMe-enabled platforms to market in August 2017. Vexata has also implemented both NVMe NAND and Optane in a hardware product specifically designed for NVMe media. The Optane version of the VX-100 platform can deliver latency figures as low as 40µs with 80GB/s of bandwidth in just two controllers, Vexata claims.

End-to-end NVMe

A new term we’re starting to see emerge is end-to-end NVMe. This means that from host to drive, each step of the architecture is delivered with the NVMe protocol. The first step was to enable back-end connectivity through NVMe; the next step is to enable NVMe from host to array.

Existing storage arrays have used either Fibre Channel or iSCSI for host connections. Fibre Channel actually uses the SCSI protocol and of course, iSCSI is SCSI over Ethernet. A new protocol, NVMeoF, or NVMe over Fabrics, allows the NVMe protocol to be used on either Fibre Channel or Ethernet networks.

Implementing NVMeoF for Ethernet requires new adaptor cards, whereas NVMeoF for Fibre Channel will work with the latest Gen5 16Gb/s and Gen6 32Gb/s hardware. However, it’s early days for both of these protocols, so don’t expect them to have the maturity of existing storage networking.

Controller bottlenecks

One side effect of having faster storage media is the ability to max out the capability of the storage controller. A single Intel Xeon processor can fully exploit perhaps only four to five NVMe drives, which means storage arrays may not fully exploit the capabilities of the NVMe drive itself.

Vendors have used two techniques to get around this problem. The first is to implement scale-out architectures, with multiple nodes deploying compute and storage;  WekaIO and Excelero use this approach. Both vendors offer software-based solutions that deliver scale-out architectures specifically designed for NVMe. WekaIO Matrix is a scale-out file system, whereas Excelero NVMesh is a scale-out block storage solution. In both instances, the software can be implemented in a traditional storage array design or used in a hyperconverged model.

The second approach is to disaggregate the functions of the controller and allow the host to talk directly to the NVMe drives. This is how products from E8 Storage and Apeiron Data work. E8 storage appliances package up to 24 drives in a single shelf, which is directly connected to host servers over 100Gb/s Ethernet or Infiniband. The result is up to 10 million read IOPS and 40GB/s of bandwidth at latency levels close to those of the SSD media itself.

Apeiron’s ADS1000 uses custom FPGA hardware and hardened layer 2 Ethernet to connect hosts directly to NVMe drives using a protocol the vendor calls NVMe over Ethernet. The product offers near line-speed connectivity with only a few microseconds of latency on top of the media itself. This allows a single drive enclosure to deliver around 18 million IOPS with around 72GB/s of sustained throughput.

Choices

So what’s the best route to using NVMe technology in your data center? Moving to traditional arrays with an NVMe back-end would provide an easy transition for customers that already use technology from the likes of Dell or NetApp. However, these arrays may not fully benefit from the performance NVMe can offer because of bottlenecks at the controller and delays introduced with existing storage networking.

The disaggregated alternatives offer higher performance at much lower latency, but won’t simply slot into existing environments. Hosts potentially need dedicated adaptor cards, faster network switches, and host drivers.

As with any transition, IT organizations should be reviewing requirements to see where NVMe benefits their needs. If ultra-low latency is important, then this could justify implementing a new storage architecture.

Remember that NVMe will — in the short-term at least — be sold at a premium, so it also makes sense to ensure the benefits of the transition to NVMe justify the cost.



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