Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Roll Your Own Linux Distro

Filed under: Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,Novell,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

My regular readers all know how much I love Linux.

Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t run it as my main OS, but I love it for servers. Truly, truly, I do. I use it for all kinds of things, including my own, home-grown imaging system. Sure, it’s not Novell’s ZENWorks, but it does work pretty well. Back in the days when everyone seemed to be coming out with their own specialized distribution, I always thought it would be fun to roll one of my own. Yeah, I know, I am such a geek!

Anyway, thanks to PC Plus, you can roll your own Linux distro. Hit the link to see their super-excellent tutorial.


MCSE is too easy

Filed under: Certification,Life Goals,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:31 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

No, really, it’s way, way too easy.

Why do I say that? Because an eight-year old has just become an MCSE.
Look, there’s a lot of debate in the industry around how valuable certifications really are. Most of us know that the only real value that certifications have are to get you past Human Resources and in front of a hiring manager who actually knows the technical side well enough to know if you’re really qualified. Sure, I’ve got my Novell and a Linux certification and, yes, that attracts Headhunters who have to sort us some way, but they’re not an accurate measure of what I can really do. I’ve never bothered to get my Microsoft certifications, though I probably should. I haven’t bothered because they’ve got the worst reputation for being so-called paper certifications. It’s possible to get them without ever having touched a machine with Microsoft systems installed on it at all. A point proven by an eight-year old completing the certification.
What is wrong with that picture Microsoft?


Novell Cancels BrainShare

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Deep Thoughts,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:29 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous


Okay, this is for the geeks, specifically for the Netware geeks, like me. Novell has canceled next year’s BrainShare. It’s not clear whether this is just due to a really bad economic situation this year, or whether this will be permanent, but, after 20 years, Novell has canceled their premier convention/training session/user-conference. It does not give me a good feeling for the future of Novell or Netware in general. (If you’re interested, you can read the actual announcement here: Novell BrainShare.)

I’m just so shocked I’m not sure what else to say.

Netware was the first real, viable Local Area Network operating system that wasn’t UNIX or some other mainframe system. Yes, there were others, Banyan VINES, SCO XENIX, and even the early Windows Server, but none were as robust and easy to use in those early days as Novell’s Netware. And, you could load it on what was basically a high-powered desktop machine. It might not run well on that, but you could do it.
Novell was the first certification I got when I was new to the network-geek-game. Back in the day, Netware was the thing to know. Now, it seems like a dead, or dying, technology. Now, we’re all learning Linux and UNIX, which, of course, was what Netware was modeled after. Wow, the times, they are a changing.

So, if you’re a fellow network geek like me, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments. I have to say, I’m really shocked by this news. It cannot mean good things for Novell, even if they only cancel for this year and start up again next year.


GroupWise twice as stable

Filed under: Certification,E-Mail Entry,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 9:36 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Even though I use Microsoft Windows Server 2003 at work, I’m an unabashed Novell fan.

This is a total geek-out post, so if you’re not into server operating systems or e-mail systems or if up-time doesn’t matter in your world, ignore it, okay?

Now, for the few of you who are left, let me emphasize, I am a total Novell fanboy.  I mean, I totally drank the Kool-Aid on this one, okay?  I don’t have a Novell tattoo or anything, but I have been a Novell Certified Engineer since Jesus was a baby.  And, I’ve maintained that certification through the years, even though I have to admit, we’re kind of hitting the law of diminishing returns here.
Novell’s e-mail solution is called Groupwise.  It started out life as something else, but it’s been improved to a very reliable, stable platform that was actually pretty easy to maintain.  Of course, that’s relative when it comes to e-mail packages, but it was a good trade off between ease-of-use and robustness that made it a really nice solution.  And, obviously, it integrated very cleanly into the rest of Novell’s network management systems.  So, once it was all setup right, you could make a user and a new e-mail account in pretty much the same step.  I loved it.

Naturally, there was always a rivalry between Novell and Microsoft.  They each fired shots back and forth about who had the better, more reliable product.  Die-hards like me always argued in favor of Groupwise.  Guess what?  It turns out, we were right!  Google did some testing and polling and compared e-mail packages.  Naturally, they came out as the most reliable system, though, if they lock your account, good luck getting it unlocked again.  But, go to their blog entry about their e-mail findings and scroll down until you get to the graphic.  Go ahead, click the link and look at the graphic.  I’ll wait.
Did you notice the shortest bar, next to Gmail?  Yeah, Novell’s Groupwise.
Groupwise, on average, has half the down-time of a Microsoft Exchange system.  Half!  And, I bet if you loaded it in a multiserver configuration, or even a Linux server, that number would drop even more.  But, still, half as much downtime as Exchange!

So, why don’t more people use it?


SCO Owes Novell

Filed under: Certification,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,News and Current Events,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:28 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Finally a little justice!

Man, this trial has dragged out for years and years and years! But, in spite of apparently basing their entire income structure on suing people for copyright infringement, SCO now owes Novell $2.5 million dollars for doing just that. You’d think that a company that ended up primarily made of, and run by, lawyers would have been pretty careful in regards to the lawsuits they exposed themselves to if they planned on extorting money from people for intellectually property infringement. Well, I would, at any rate.

(Yeah, I know this is kind of old news, but, hell, I’ve been busy and this slipped by me until now.)

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Review: Nagios

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,Ooo, shiny...,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before.

Some time ago, I was having problems with traffic on my network. Something, somewhere was apparently causing some issues with bandwidth on our Internet connection. Or, at least, that’s what our ISP kept telling us. It was, I think, the excuse they were using to avoid dealing with an e-mail problem.
Regardless, I had to find a tool to monitor our network traffic. I ended up using Wireshark for that, but along the way, I discovered a number of OpenSource monitoring tools for various purposes. The one that impressed me the most was Nagios.

Nagios is, according to the opening paragraph on their website, “an Open Source host, service and network monitoring program.” While I never did configure anything to monitor the network, per se, I did configure this to watch both local servers and third-party web and mail servers.
First of all, it’s important to know that Nagios runs on Linux. So, to install the software, you first have to have an available Linux server on which to install it. I’m using an old workstation that I installed the latest version of Fedora, the free version of RedHat. Getting the initial install done wasn’t very hard at all. In fact, there were RPMs available, so all I had to do was use RedHat’s package manager to get the base install loaded on the machine.

After the initial software load, I mainly followed the Quick Install instructions that they link to on the first page. Then, since I was mainly monitoring Windows servers and workstations, I found the cleverly titled help page, “Monitoring Windows Machines“, and followed that. This page ran me through the basics of installing the NSClient++ on a Windows machine and configuring Nagios to connect to and monitor that client. One thing that I had to find out the hard way was that the entries for the monitored systems have to be duplicated for each host. In other words, there is no way to just list all the Windows systems you want to monitor. You have to created entries describing each host individually. That’s not a big deal, honestly, since you can open the configuration files in a text editor and just copy, paste and edit the required entries.
I did have a few false starts here, until I figured out the correct syntax and the fact that every host has to be part of a previously defined group. But, other than that little glitch, configuration was fairly simple.

It took a little more digging, but I later found instructions for passively monitoring services running on servers without a client. I now use my private installation of Nagios to monitor our company webserver, both POP3 and SMTP on our hosted e-mail server, as well as my two Windows 2003 servers. I can even check on the Microsoft SQL database, thanks to information I got from this post on the OSdir mailarchive. And, did I mention that all this software was free? Yeah, the documentation wasn’t the best and it took me a little while to figure out the install and config, but it was far easier than the other monitoring software I played with and I can let anyone who has the username and password check these stats from their own workstation via a web browser. How cool is that? Oh, and did I mention that this can be used to monitor Linux/Unix systems, Windows systems and even Netware systems? Nagios pretty well covers it all!
(Oh, and as a side note, if you’re messing around with the configuration and want to reset the statistics, just stop the service and delete /usr/local/nagios/var/status.dat, then restart the service. All your counts will zero and all the checks will start fresh.)
In short, if you’re looking for a low-cost but versatile monitoring system and aren’t afraid to read the documentation, I highly recommend investigating Nagios.


Christmas Bonus

Filed under: Apple,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I got a kind of Christmas bonus Friday.

iMac So, Friday, after long resisting it, I finally cleaned up my office.
I had all kinds of junk there, most of which I threw out. But, there was this older iMac. It was in decent shape, outside of a temperamental wireless card. So, rather than get rid of it, I asked the boss if I could have it. Mac lover that he is, he was thrilled to give it to someone who’d appreciate it. And, I think maybe he thought he’d converted me to the Apple camp. He hadn’t, but now I have two versions of desktop Windows, Linux and OS X in my house. Not to mention Novell and Linux server systems. So, now, when someone asks me to convert files for them, format shouldn’t be an issue.

Now, that is what I call a Christmas bonus!


10 Things to Think About When Buying a Laptop

Filed under: Apple,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell,Red Herrings,Review,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:25 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

My laptop saved me.

As most of my regular readers know, my laptop really saved me when I was in the hospital getting my chemotherapy treatment. If I hadn’t had that, I might have just about gone crazy. For one thing, it kept me in touch with many of my friends via e-mail and blogs. For another thing, I was able to get some things done at work via that laptop and a secure, remote connection to our server. That wasn’t my intention when I bought it, but, still, it’s been a very good investment and I’m very, very happy to have made it. I’d even say it was worth going into a bit of debt to get it when I did. It was something I’d put off doing for… Well, for a very long time.

Anyway, if you’re thinking about getting a laptop, the upcoming Christmas season is as good a time as any. These days laptops go on sale just like all electronics do, at Christmas, after Christmas and at the beginning of the school year. But, with deference to the TechRepublic article from which I drew the main points, here are ten things to keep in mind when buying a new laptop:

#1: Operating system

#2: CPU#3: RAM

#4: Video card

#5: Ports

#6: Screen size

#7: Integrated wireless

#8: Integrated Bluetooth

#9: Track pad

#10: Battery life

So, if you’re taking advantage of the great sales at the last minute, keep that in mind.  And, if you’re in the market for a laptop, Microcenter is going to have some pretty great sales just after Christmas this year, it looks like.  They’ve always done right by me.
That’s NOT a paid endorsement, by the way.  They’ve just always done right by me.


D.I.C.E. Framework

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,Linux,MicroSoft,Novell — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:45 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Just a little something for the techie manager-types.

I know I still have some tech-geeks who read this blog. I mean, I did start out, all those years ago, blogging about mainly technical stuff and some of the real die-hards have to still be reading, right? Well, I do try to keep y’all in mind and occasionally write up something that might help you get things done. Most of you fellow geeks know me as a Novell enthusiast, but I don’t limit myself to just one set of tools. There’s an old saying that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Well, I like to keep a bunch of tools in the old tool bag to solve all kinds of problems.

Sometimes, though, it’s not that easy to figure out which tool to use. So, when I saw these two related articles on TechRepublic about choosing the right tools, I thought I’d share. The first is a blog post that describes the D.I.C.E framework. (In short, D.I.C.E is an acronym for Difficulty, Investment, Capability and Expandability. All things to keep in mind when implementing new technology.) The second article is really a download. It’s a spreadsheet that helps you evaluate systems in relation to the D.I.C.E framework.
So, between the two, you should have a little extra help determining what technology to install and support.
And, you might even pick up a few ideas about how to present it to the boss, too!

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up."
   --Ogden Nash



WiFi Security

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun Work,Geek Work,Novell,The Dark Side,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:45 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Or, the lack thereof.

Okay, so, those of you who know me and my professional career know that security is near and dear to my heart.  Now, I’m no hacker or even a full time security professional, but I’m very, very aware of security and how important it is.  In my last post, I mentioned how much I love having so much wifi connectivity and how nice it was when I was in the hospital to have that easy access.  Well, that’s still true, but I also know how open and insecure that wireless connection is.
This year at DefCon, there was a very popular demo that showed just how easy it was to get information off a wireless connection and exploit it.  In fact, some poor attendee, who should have known better, got his Gmail account hacked, in public, because he didn’t secure his connection properly.  And, earlier this year, some German security experts went on at length about how insecure the WEP protocol is and why that shouldn’t be your only line of defense on wireless networks.

Now, as much as I enjoy my wifi, I’ve also been very vocal about how insecure wifi networks are, by their very nature, for years.  In fact, I got into a rather heated “discussion” with a co-worker and our mutual manager about that at a former job.  Somehow, neither of these gentlemen quite understood how throwing packets out all over, where anyone could snoop them, was an inherently insecure system, even if you used advanced encryption.  Encryption, as the hackers say, is meant to be broken, and sooner or later, it always is.  Again, this is all just logic and reason, but, in a world where anyone who manages a website and a handfull of PCs can call himself a Director of IT, the practical application of logic and reason is a rare thing indeed.
So, enjoy those free wifi connections at your favorite coffee house, but, keep in mind how easy it is for a hacker, or even a script kiddie, to pull vital information off that wide open connection.

(And, if you’re going to DefCon, check out their “Be Prepared” guide, or the DefCon survival guide at the Register.)

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."
   --Frederick Keonig

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