Managing Ubuntu Systems, the next step in ease-of-use

(This is a copy of the message I sent to the UbuntuNGO mailing list.) As a system administrator for several years (I got my first sysadmin job back in ‘97), I’ve been frustrated with the lack of manageability of Linux systems. To reduce the cost of managing desktop systems, directory services that provide single-sign-on and centralized management capabilities are needed. Sure, there are things you can cobble together, there are ways you can integrate Ubuntu into an AD network (see this article on “Seamless Smartcard login” for an example), but these things are more complicated than they need to be. And, while I don’t think the goal should integration with AD, when Microsoft provides tools to easily manage computers throughout an organization, the cost of supporting Microsoft systems is going to be less since the cost of licensing is nothing compared to the cost of paying for the increasingly complex IT support Ubuntu requires without Directory services support built in. No, this isn’t a specifically NGO goal, but it is integral to the goal that UbuntuNGO has of getting NGOs to adopting Ubuntu on the desktop. I went through Launchpad looking for blueprints pertaining to management and directory services and found a number of initiatives. The problem, though, is the hodgepodge of efforts and lack of focus. Directory services integration is absolutely vital to getting NGOs and others to adopt Ubuntu on any sort of scale. Canonical and Ubuntu have done a great job of providing an excellent out-of-the box experience for the individual user, but scaling that up to groups of non-technical users needs work. We can make management of Ubuntu systems on a network just as easy as the use of a Ubuntu itself is, but it will take some work and we can’t expect that a great desktop experience will solve all problems. I’m interested in your thoughts.

9 thoughts on “Managing Ubuntu Systems, the next step in ease-of-use”

  1. Try some Red Hat/Fedora initiatives

    The Red Hat distro is much more focused at being enterprise ready than Ubuntu. Specifically, Red Hat has a number of really amazing enterprise products; see:

    RHEV-M for virtualization (will be a good VMware competitor):

    RHEV-M is currently closed-sourced since they bought a company to get this, but they are in the process of open-sourcing it. RHEV-M is comparable to Virtual Center. RHEV is comparable to ESX; it has either a full OS product (like ESX), or a stripped down, essentially just a kernel, product (like ESXi).

    Spacewalk/Red Hat Satellite server for system management:

    Spacewalk is the upstream, open-sourced version of the Satellite server. It manages system installs (physical and virtual), patching, configuration file management, monitoring, running remote tasks, and much more. You can run one server for multiple organizations, and within an organization, you can put systems into groups, and allow specific admins or user groups to manage specific systems. This product truly rocks. Spacewalk’s roadmap shows the next version having basic Ubuntu support. It also supports Solaris.

    Dogtag, an open source certificate authority:

    Dogtag “…supports all aspects of certificate lifecycle management, including key archival, OCSP and smartcard management, and much more.”

    FreeIPA for authentication/authorization, and more:

    FreeIPA integrates LDAP, MIT Kerberos, Dogtag, NTP, and DNS. IPA stands for Identity, Policy, and Audit. The auditing portion has been deferred, but the current versions are doing a pretty awesome job at Identity and Policy. It looks like people at Ubuntu are already looking at FreeIPA integration as well:

    – Ryan Lane

  2. Re: Try some Red Hat/Fedora initiatives

    RH is definitely doing some great things in this area. But that’s the whole point: they are “enterprise” focused. Ubuntu is focused on the end user and has lots of traction there, but they could easily make some real progress if they just used some of these RH-sponsored projects (like 389). That, and I’m a real lover of the Debian platform.

  3. Re: Try some Red Hat/Fedora initiatives

    I should also point out that this was directed to the UbuntuNGO mailing list initially, so I did intend it to be Ubuntu-focused.

  4. Landscape & Google Apps

    Ubuntu landscape & google apps for domain seem to make this work. you get a lot of stuff for free and you can setup everyone’s empathies to connect to each other.

    Except that it still costs quite a bit of money. What type of budget do NGO have? E.g. per-user/per-year?

    1. Re: Landscape & Google Apps

      Cost isn’t the only concern here. And a big selling point (in my opinion) is the libre aspect of Ubuntu, which neither Landscape nor Google Apps has.

      As to budgets, they vary. But if they can afford Microsoft (most can, and MS offers discounted pricing to NGOs) then I’m pretty sure they could afford Landscape/Apps. But *why* switch to Ubuntu if you’re just going to be using Google Apps anyway?

      Remember Licensing is not the major cost point here. Manpower to manage systems is.

  5. not only for end-users

    This is why ubuntu server comes to light, which is not oriented to the end user but rather to be used as server(easy configuration), but I think the issue here is not whether a system is oriented to the end user or not, but rather the brings cost if the system is easy or difficult to configure so requires technical specialists which generates costs.

    I could mention distributions such as clarkconnect(now clear os) or red hat which are designed for enterprises, but we are talking about NGOs and Ubuntu, in my thoughts, it complies with certain functions. For a server, i can’t expect a great desktop experience but instead of this, i want to it work as intended.

    1. Re: not only for end-users

      Ubuntu is good for servers. I have several.

      Ubuntu is also good for the desktop.

      What its not good for (as I wrote above) is managing multiple desktops in a single organization.

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