Thursday, July 28, 2005


Been a bit busy lately. So much so that I've almost submerged out of sight.

With the closure of my place of work we've been working extremely hard to decommission a pretty significant computing service. It's been tough.

Our kit (aging but still serviceable) has been split up and sent off to a number of other departments - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 - not to mention some kind people who actually paid us for some of our older kit.

While our service has been shut down, it lives on in spirit.

Actually shutting down a large system cleanly was quite interesting. And, by and large, it did go down cleanly in an organised fashion, while being essentially functional right up to the bitter end. We've been shutting down and decommissioning kit steadily for weeks, and consolidating services onto fewer servers. Shutting a system down is the easy part - we've spend the last two days untangling the spaghetti of ten years worth of patch cables. One of my colleagues was still answering user support queries mid-afternoon yesterday - by early evening the system was down for good. This morning it got put into a lorry and the new owners should be receiving it soon. It just remains to send the last few bits of junk off to the local recycling company, hand in my keys, and put my feet up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Missing the comforts of $HOME

I'm currently involved in a project with another organization to replicate large parts of our computing infrastructure on their systems.

It's been a while since I've had to use a system that I haven't personally specified and installed. All my systems are set up the way I want, matching the requirements of the applications, and work extremely well.

So it's a bit of a shock to be given an existing system and have to use that. At least it's running Solaris, so I don't have to port my code. But it feels wierd to go back to something prehistoric like NIS - we've used NISplus for over a decade - and some of the other design decisions like not using the automounter aren't decisions I would make myself. So I'm working in slightly unfamiliar territory, and it makes me realize how spoilt I am on my own systems.

(Moving some of our own application code over revealed some rather - ahem - strange implementation decisions. For example, I was fixing up a whole bunch of scripts today that had to construct the name of a user's home directory. Now, most of our users get their home directories automounted under /people, so the scripts refer to the home directory as /people/$USER. Oh dear! Why not use $HOME?)

But back to the comforts of $HOME. We've installed a wide range of useful software over the years - most of it a very long time ago now. Some of these tools come in extremely handy for certain tasks, and I've become used to having everything available - to the point that I forget that it doesn't come on a system as standard. Some of these things aren't very big, and I'll give you one small example of the sort of thing I'm talking about: rgrep. Just a recursive grep, you say. That's true - I could use grep, maybe allied with find, but rgrep is one of those little finishing touches that turns a bland computer system into my $HOME.