Monday, March 17, 2008

OGB: constitution

Work in the OpenSolaris project is done under a constitution, which lays out how the community is structured.

Sort of, anyway. The constitution covers both the Governing Board and Community Groups, but in fact most of the activity around OpenSolaris takes place in User Groups (where people get together) and Projects (where code is written), and also in Communities of Interest (where technologies get discussed). None of these last 3 parts of the organization are defined by the constitution.

Indeed, they are hardly mentioned. Even though community groups are tasked by the constitution to initiate and manage projects to achieve their objectives, it isn't clear (because projects aren't defined) whether the projects established by a Community Group are the same as the Projects hosted on, or whether project is used in the generic sense.

As for user groups, they are managed as projects. While I believe this to be correct in the sense that they can reuse the machinery and infrastructure, they should explicitly be called User Groups and given their own place in OpenSolaris as first class citizens.

And then we have Communities. Originally, when OpenSolaris came about, a bunch of communities were created. And these were Communities of Interest - focussed around a general technical area (for example, performance), or a specific technology (dtrace). Then the constitution came along, and created the notion of Community Groups. As part of the bootstrapping process, many of the original Communities became Community Groups, while some did not. The whole thing is a total mess, and part of that mess is overloading the notion of a community to mean two different - and often incompatible - things. I think we need to find a way to clearly separate the mechanism of governance from the day to day interactions of users in the community.

And then there's the amount of effort wasted by the current structures. Creating a project means you have to persuade a community group to authorise it (and not all communities can, remember, and of those that can persuading the machinery to work at all and getting the approval can be a painful and time-wasting process). Creating a community involves redefining the governance hierarchy and invites considerable debate.

Where to go from here, then? I think we need to call out the existence and standing of projects and user groups in the constitution; we need to make the creation of those parts of the structure be lightweight and effortless, so that anyone can just do it; we need to have a structure whereby projects and user groups are monitored and helped (sponsored, if you like); we need to revert communities to be communities of interest (which can then be created as required with no effort) and build a new governance infrastructure that just gets out of the way and lets people work on bettering OpenSolaris as fast as they're able to without putting roadblocks in their way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OGB: expectations

It's clear that the OpenSolaris community isn't in a particularly healthy state. While there's a lot of real work being done, the community is dogged by infighting - not to mention a distrust of Sun and its motives.

Part of this comes from a lack of clarity and focus. In particular, we're guilty of not even setting expectations, let alone meeting them.

Without clear expectations, we have a problem - everyone in the community makes up their own expectations of what they can achieve and what everyone else should be doing. All those expectations are going to be different, and everyone is going to end up frustrated and disappointed.

So one important thing the incoming OGB is going to have to do is to set everyone's expectations appropriately. People (and Sun) need to understand what can and can't be achieved - even if an accurate setting of expectations means they're quite low to start with.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

OGB: Bio

Glynn asked the OGB nominees to provide brief affiliations and a Bio. I've done the affiliation already, so here's a brief history of me:

I come from Nottingham, England. I read physics at St. John's College, Oxford, and stayed on to do a D. Phil. in Theoretical Astrophysics in the Department of Theoretical Physics. Computing at this point was VAX VMS based - I managed to get my hands on a VAXstation 2000.

I moved over to Toronto, to the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. This is where I first used Unix in anger - on my own Sun 3/50. (Almost everyone had a 3/50, so I rewrote my code and ran it across a dozen 3/50s at once.)

Back to England, to the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. There was a gradual incursion of Sun hardware into predominantly VAX territory and, being a Unix guy, I ended up doing the sysadmin because there wasn't anyone else at the time who would. I also set up one of the earliest websites in the UK at the IOA.

With a family to support, and having found that I had some level of competence with this computer malarkey, I joined the Medical Research Council to work as a Systems Administrator at the Human Genome Mapping Project, which offered online services to academic researchers working on the Human Genome Project. We were Sun based, by and large, and this lasted almost 11 years before the grant renewal process failed and I was out of a job.

I then spent a year commuting down the the University of Hertfordshire. This wasn't a great success, not helped by the several hours a day it took to drive down there.

I'm now working as Senior Unix Systems Administrator for ProQuest, an online publisher in Cambridge. Not only is it a good place to work, it's less then 15 minutes from home.

Along the way I've used mostly Sun systems, with IBM, SGI, and DEC alpha, and Linux disturbing the peace from time to time. I remember the pain of the SunOS 4 to Solaris transition. I've been using Unix for almost 20 years and have never (a) used a shell without command line editing, and (b) used vi. (Except for long enough to exit them for something better, that is.)

I was part of the beta programs for Solaris 7, 8, 9, and 10. Including the various update releases, and we were a Solaris 10 platinum beta site. We managed to beta test some hardware along the way - including the B1600 blade system, the V250, and the V40z (tunred it on and I was deafened; ran one benchmark and I was a convert). And then I became involved in OpenSolaris, including being part of the pilot.

Monday, March 03, 2008

X2200M2 blues

Again. Sigh.

So the X2200M2 has an upgraded firmware that updates both the BIOS and the SP. Updating is a good thing, as there are a number of known problems with old version (open relay, amongst others).

For those updating, it's important to be aware of a few issues that you might run into.

When I tried this, I essentially lost all serial access to both the BIOS and the running instance of Solaris.

If you're running something older than the tools and drivers CD 1.3, then go to the 1.3 version first, and do the newer versions in a separate step. If you don't, you'll get a CMOS checksum error and will need to clear it. I found a physical power-cycle worked.

You might have to go into the BIOS and reset to optimized defaults.

Once you've updated to the current version, then you might have to go into the BIOS (under Advanced/Remote Access) and change the serial port from COM1 to COM2. Doh!

They default baud rate has changed back to 9600. You know all the customizations (including building a modified boot image on your jumpstart server) we've had to do to set the baud rate to 115200? Don't do those bits, they now cause more harm than good. (The other customizations are still necessary, it's just the baud rate.)

So after that I do get both BIOS access and can see Solaris booting up. I don't see grub coming up as it boots, though.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Nominated for OGB

I was slightly surprised - but highly gratified - to be nominated for membership of the OpenSolaris Governing Board.

I had to think about this, as being on the OGB clearly isn't a walk in the park. There's a lot of work to be done - for whoever gets elected this time around.

There are obvious mismatches between the existing constitution and the actual functioning (if that's the right word) of the community. As such, there are a few constitutional amendments already under discussion.

One of those amendments (554) is that candidates should disclose their interests. In accordance with this:

1. I'm a systems administrator employed by ProQuest in their Cambridge office. We use Sun and Solaris, so are a customer of Sun. My management are happy for me to accept the nomination, provided (as always) that my OpenSolaris work does not interfere with my professional responsibilities. As such, the views and opinions I bring are my own, and are not representative of my employer beyond the fact that I'm working in a context where I'm paid to use Solaris. I do not believe that a conflict of interest exists.

2. I've been a user (and beta tester) of Solaris for years, and have been a long-term participant in the OpenSolaris project. As a user rather than a developer I believe I would broaden out the OGB, and can make a useful contribution towards developing our fine community.

3. I'm a core contributor in the Systems Administration and Installation and Packaging Community groups. While not a programmer by trade, I have made some modest code contributions to OpenSolaris.