I am writing this column from the LISA'97 conference in San Diego. LISA is a join effort of USENIX and SAGE (Systems Administrators Guild). USENIX conferences tend to be attended by technical computer professionals, dressed in t-shirts, gathering to learn from talks and by talking to their peers, to see what the vendors have to offer and to have a good time. LISA was no exception.
There were close to 100 booths with many Linux and Linux-friendly vendors including Caldera, Digital Equipment Corporation, Enhanced Software Technologies, Red Hat Software and Walnut Creek CD-ROM. I also had the pleasure of handing the people in the Ross Technologies booth a copy of the October Linux Journal Issue 42, the one with the Ross HyperSPARC on the cover.
The conference was very Linux-aware. Vendors who did not have a Linux sign in their booth responded to a gentle prod from me with their own suggestion of adding one.
I arrived on Tuesday evening in time to attend a BoF (Birds of a Feather) session put on by Caldera. At the BoF, Caldera announced COAS, the Caldera Open Administration System. Tim Bird of Caldera and Olaf Kirch of LST in Germany—soon to be Caldera GmbH—discussed the technical details of the project and offered a demonstration.
The quick summary is that COAS is a unified approach to systems administration. While other Linux vendors such as Yggdrasil and Red Hat have offered some tools for systems administration, none have offered a unified approach. The system needs to handle administration of everything from users to firewalls and have the necessary interfaces so system administrators will be happy with the choices. Also, for now the system needs to interoperate with vi, “the universal administration tool”, as Tim Bird called it.
Caldera decided to develop COAS because its customers demanded it. To quote Tim again, “[This tool] is needed to make Linux play in the same space as the big boys”. Another important part of Caldera's plans are that COAS will fall under the GPL; that is, anyone will be able to contribute to the effort.
Will COAS work? The only non-Caldera person who has looked at the code so far is Bruce Perens, head of the Debian project. I talked to Bruce, and he is pleased with what he has seen and feels the framework is there to do multiple system administration, a concern of many including myself.
I feel COAS is a solution that is needed, and it sounds like Caldera wants to work with the whole Linux community to turn it into the right system. I have added a discussion channel on Linux Journal web site (http://www.linuxjournal.com/discussions.html) to help encourage everyone to get involved. Feel free to chip in and express yourself on the ideas being presented.
For those of you who think Linus is always out drinking beer, I can confirm that this is not the case. Linus, Dan Quinlan and I shared a bottle of wine—just another way to show the versatility of the Linux community.
Speaking of Dan Quinlan, he is the author of the Linux File System Standard and has just released a new version. (See http://www.linuxresources.com/.) There are some important changes, so you should probably take a look at it. He will also be writing a follow-up article on the standard for LJ.
The terminal room was a very pretty site with people typing away on 30 Debian Linux systems. It would have been more fun if this had been a Win95 conference, but it did prove that Linux can rush in and solve a problem.
All in all, this was another great USENIX show. It made me want to take off my publisher hat, put on my nerd hat and invest some time in attending the tutorials and sessions. There is a lot to learn and USENIX shows are an excellent place to do that learning.
Finally, the best rumor of the show: Linux is now running on SGI hardware. Expect to hear more about this port in the next few months. There are some code licensing issues that need to be addressed before the port can be released for public use, but it sounds like it will happen.