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Windows to Linux basics: 'OS bigots are not what people are looking for'

Enterprise computing environments are rarely single-operating system islands nowadays. That's why this is a good time for Windows administrators to bone up on Linux. "If Windows folk truly want to be successful, they're going to have to learn other technologies required in today's heterogeneous environments," said Ask the Expert advisor Kenneth Milberg. In this interview, Milberg and fellow Ask the Expert advisors Matt O'Keefe and John H. Terpstra explain why Windows administrators should study Linux. Then they map out a beginning curriculum. A veteran of technical positions with Hewlett-Packard Co. and SCO Group, Milberg is president of Unix Solutions, an IT consulting firm. Terpstra, president and CEO of PrimaStasys Inc., is a well-known contributor and visionary in the open-source community and co-founder of the Samba Team. O'Keefe is chief technology officer and founder of Sistina Software and an expert in the areas of clustering technologies and storage infrastructures.

What should be the first class in Linux 101?
Sit for the LPI exams if you want to go a route of least costs. Enroll in the Red Hat Certified Engineer program and get up to speed fast. Why should Windows shops and IT pros start studying Linux?
They should be boning up for the same reason that Unix shops need to bone up on Linux and Windows. You can't work in a vacuum today.

OS bigots are not what people are looking for. Each platform has its own bread and butter today: Unix in enterprise mission-critical databases; Linux in Web/mail/DNS servers; and Windows in anything on the desktop. But proponents of each of these operating systems are also going after one another with increasing success.

Linux has been successful lately, attacking on a two-front war, getting business from Unix folk and also going after the desktop with a vengeance. If Windows folk truly want to be successful, they're going to have to learn other technologies required in today's heterogeneous environments. If they do not, senior management will have to bring in consultants to perform work outside of [current employees'] standard work, which would be too expensive down the road.

The bottom line: Windows and Unix administrators will have to adapt to succeed, given the nature of today's technology. What Linux technologies should they study first?
Windows server administrators are well advised to study the following Linux technologies: Samba, a network file system protocol that allows Windows clients to access storage on a Linux server; and LVM, the Linux Logical Volume Manager, is useful for managing disk devices. What Linux-friendly software packages should Windows pros study?
There are a variety of free and commercial versions of the standard software packages required by most server operating systems:

Backup: Consider Amanda (a free network backup program) or a commercial offering from Veritas (NetBackup) or Arkeia.

File systems: Linux has more high-quality file system choices than any other operating system, and many are free, including the standard ext3 found in all Linux kernels. Sistina GFS, from my own company, is also another option. [It] is [a] native, scalable cluster file system, highly useful if you are considering a Linux cluster with shared storage.

High availability: Consider SteelEye, Veritas or HP for server failover products. If you are willing to try something new, there are also open-source alternatives, such as Red Hat's Piranha.

What Linux technologies should they study first?
For starters, you need to know how Unix file system and access control permissions work. You need to understand how to configure users and groups. You need to know how to back up and restore the system with minimal (no) downtime. What should be the first class in Linux 101?
The history. You can't understand Linux without first getting at its roots and the background. There's no Bill Gates pulling the strings here. Open-source defines Linux at its core, which is a strange animal for most Windows folk to understand. Which Linux distributions would be the most valuable for IT pros to study?
Get an intro to Linux book with a copy of Red Hat Linux.

Then install Red Hat and play. Understand how it works and what it can do. Run Samba on the box, and have your PCs [networked] to the Linux box. And then decide if you still want to pay so many dollars for your Microsoft Windows server licenses! What are 'musts' for Windows shops that are considering bringing Linux into an enterprise environment?
The first thing I would recommend is: Read all the software licenses. Make sure that you understand them before you make any form of move. With each possible IT solutions implementation, identify under the terms of the license precisely who is taking what risks.

Next, ask yourself the question, if my suppliers were to make a sudden and rash change towards a more restrictive and much more costly licensing scheme, what precisely is my company's exposure? (This should be your guide to deciding which legacy applications to keep or new applications to implement.)

Lastly, before implementing a Linux solution, make sure you understand the platform and know how to manage it. As I said before, get trained. Which Linux distributions would be the most valuable for IT pros to study?
Two popular Linux distributions are SuSE and Red Hat. If your company requires active commercial support, these distributions can provide it. In addition, the Linux kernels and associated software that come with these distributions are well documented online and in recent technical books. You will want to choose a distribution supported by the application vendors your company considers important. Any other advice for Windows shops anticipating a move to Linux? Learning Guide: Linux basics for Windows shops" chapter download from A Practical Guide to Red Hat Linux

Archived Featured Topic: Linux versus Windows

FEEDBACK: What Linux basics do you recommend for a Windows admin or shop?
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Any other advice for Windows shops anticipating a move to Linux?
You will also need to learn how to find support and solutions for your problems. Identify all the important Linux applications you will be dependant on, find the support and training channels for these products, and start listening in on key IRC channels and mailing lists for these products.

Here are good sites and their topics:

  • -- DNS/DHCP
  • -- Microsoft Windows file and print interoperability
  • - Web proxy serving
  • - Apache Web Server
  • - Web automation using php
  • - SQL for Windows clients
  • http: - printing
  • - configuration management

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