FSF, APRIL, FSF France and GNU working together
loic at gnu.org
loic at gnu.org
Tue May 29 18:07:01 UTC 2001
This is the report I wrote on the plane back to France. It is
primarily targeted to friends and volunteers of the chapter france
but you may want to read it anyway.
FSF, APRIL, FSF France and GNU working together
On May 21, 2001 FSF France shipped me (Loïc Dachary) to
Boston. I was to install a new set of hardware for the Savannah
development tool. In the plane back to Paris I realized that this
week was so intense that you'd probably like to share some bits of
it with me.
The FSF distribution office (DO) is located in Boston downtown,
near the park. I went there straight from the airport to check my
mail and meet with Bradley M. Kuhn, Lisa Goldstein and
Brian Youmans who are working there to further Free Software
day after day. When I entered the 50 square meter room with my
knapsack, I also had the surprise to discover that Janet Casey
was working here. For some reason I thought she was maintaining the
Free Software Directory from somewhere else. After a cheerful
greeting, I was able to connect and everybody went back to work.
Around 7pm Richard M. Stallman came to pick me up with Tom
Turner's car. We spent an entertaining 30 minutes to go to china
town and park. You have to realize that china town is 5 minutes
walk from the DO and you'll understand why it's customary for
people living in Boston to avoid using their car. That was about
the only time I was in a car, the subway was far more convenient.
After diner we drove back to the MIT AI Lab (tech square) and I was
able to connect and work some more. The MIT AI Lab is located in
the Laboratory of Computer Science, 545 Tech Square. For some
reason someone decided to renumber it to 200 Tech Square. When I
asked, Bradley told me that they will destroy the building and
relocate everyone in another one, currently in construction across
the street. One morning, coming from tech square I paused in front
of the sign advertising the new building. On the top left it reads,
yellow on blue : William H. Gates. I did not even ask for more
information, it just gave me the creeps and I headed for the DO,
two subway stations away.
While configuring the new machine at the DO, I was immersed in the
day to day activities of the FSF. Brian tirelessly ships and
receive books, mugs and t-shirts, using more space than anyone.
There were intense discussions about the new t-shirt based on the
Nevrax Design Team drawing called the floating gnu. Lisa
worked for the FSF in the early days (86), she came back a few
weeks ago after 8 years of vacations (;-) to be the Account
Manager. I was most impressed by her ability to write and speak
Chinese fluently. Beside the fact that it's a major advantage when
going out in china town, that will help setting up FSF China. Janet
quietly works on the Free Software Directory and I'm ashamed to say
that I did not spare an hour to talk with her about it. I guess
I'll have to come back next year then ;-) Bradley does the usual
thing a Vice President and a kernel do : switching context.
Although I did not count them, a wild guess would be that he
handles from 30 to 100 contexts a day. Well, except the day he
spent talking to journalists about RMS's talk to counter the Craig
On Friday evening Lisa used her skills to organize a diner in china
town to celebrate the existence of the FSF Europe. This tribute to
the FSF Europe from the FSF was materialized by a Chinese cake
reading Thanks FSF Europe in red letters. I was more moved that I'd
be willing to admit but I got over it by drinking half of the Veuve
Cliquot bottle. On behalf of the FSF Europe members and friends, I
extend my gratitude to all FSF members and friends. Let's unite and
make Free Software available to all. Hips.
Sunday night my work was over and I started to relax. I asked
Roland McGrath for diner but he moved to California some time
(years ?) ago. Oh well. Then, at 3am, while exchanging email with
Leonard H. Tower Jr. I realized that he was probably a few
blocs away. It was indeed the case and we met for lunch near tech
square. He shared some of his souvenirs of the early days when he
co-founded the Free Software Foundation with RMS.
Before leaving tech square to the airport Bradley introduced me to
Gary Sussman. Gary scared the shit out of me by explaining that the
copyright law is controlled by Disney, world wide. Since he is a
member of the FSF board I should better check this to find out if
he was kidding or not :-)
I was not here to investigate legal matters, though. I diverted
most of the subjects that popped in the conversations by sending
email or adding tasks to Savannah. I had to focus on the real work:
installing the new machine in the collocation space and migrate the
content of the old machine to the new. That may seem boring at
first but this is counting without Joel N. Weber II and
Mark H. Weaver.
Replacing the machine used by the GNU project for CVS and the
Savannah development tool became necessary when RMS agreed that
it should welcome all Free Software projects that needed it, not
just the GNU packages. The PII300 with 128Mb of RAM and 5Gb of disk
had to be replaced. FSF France and APRIL called for donations and
found 40 000 FF for this purpose in two weeks time. While gathering
money I virtually shopped for hardware under the direction of Joel
who already had a precise idea of what was needed. The new machine
is a brand new dual PIII 800 with 1GB of ECC RAM and 90Gb of disk.
As always, it was not as simple as one would expect. Joel has an
excellent contact with Barton Bruce, Vice President of Global Naps,
a major provider of the Boston area. Global Naps is already
providing the T1 to the DO and extended this offer to host machines
of the GNU project in their main collocation building. The new
Savannah machine was the opportunity to take advantage of this
offer but it required a switch, a UPS and a terminal controller in
addition to the machine.
We ended up finding all those for a total of 37 000 FF which is a
really good deal knowing that all hardware is new and has all the
features a system administrator need to manage hardware in a
collocation space. Part of this low price must be credited to Larry
Augustin who gave us a special price break of 20% on the VA 2230 we
chose to buy. Another part comes from Joel who provided an old
desktop to act as the terminal controller.
You see, Joel has this interesting theory that an old machine that
does mostly nothing is perfectly fit for the job of controlling
serial ports. Someone has still to prove him wrong on that subject.
In addition a machine with a full fledged Free Software operating
system has encryption and this is something no specialized terminal
controller hardware cares to provides. That is surprising
considering that the terminal controller allows you to watch the
machines consoles and remotely power cycle them. In most cases you
can even interact with the bios at boot time.
Before this week I was not really convinced that a terminal control
was mandatory when installing a machine at a collocation space.
After spending a few days rebooting and crashing the machine
installed a few miles away, I could not turn back. This is not only
something you need for emergency situations, it's something you
need to install or upgrade the machine. It saves a lot of stress.
Also Bradley spared half an hour to install grub and teach me the
basics. I'm converted. Mark was my co-worker to plan the actual
migration once the hardware was setup. We agreed that we should
keep it as simple as possible. Mark designed a migration plan based
on rsync. The idea was simple: copy all the file systems, replace
the kernel, reboot and switch the DNS names. The actual migration
plan takes about one page and turned out to be that simple. We did
a hardware upgrade and kept the software installation untouched.
On Thursday Joel drove his truck to the DO where Mark and I waited
a good half an hour on the pavement with the equipment. It took us
another hour to drive the four miles to Quincy where Global Naps
have their collocation space. Barton Bruce was expecting us and we
went right to the fourth floor with all the packets. At this point
the game was to mount the hardware in racks that look like aluminum
ladders instead of the usual file cabinets. Barton, Joel and Mark
had fun trying to guess the center of mass of each equipment. After
a short stop to the fridge, Barton granted us a tour of the
building. Global Naps is an open collocation space where each
client is invited not to mess with other people hardware unless he
has the desire to see his own drop of the roof. Barton told us that
this is literally written down on the contracts and actually
happened once in the past six years.
At the end of the day the machine was online and I had two more
days to prepare for the actual switch-over. After Joel fixed a
minor problem with the kernel of the terminal controller taking a
good half of the 8MB of available RAM, I happily rebooted and
tested the new machine from tech square. I had to recompile the
kernel to increase the maximum number of groups per process. When
booting this new kernel on the exact rsync'd copy of the file
systems of the old machine, I merely had to change a few
configuration files to get it working properly.
During a good 8 hours on Saturday I exercised the migration many
times, running rsync to keep up to date with the old machine,
rebooting, testing all the services. At the same time Joel
decreased the TTL of the gnu.org zone to minimize the propagation
delay. The day before, I sent a warning to the 700 users of the
machine, advertising the switch-over for Sunday morning. And indeed
I was able to switch-over as planned. Being extra careful and
double checking every bit, the down-time was around 40 minutes.
Half an hour later everything was routed to the new machine.
This was the conclusion of a successful, 100% cooperative project
involving FSF, APRIL, FSF France and GNU. It went more smoothly
than most similar projects I experienced. It also involved a lot of
knowledgeable people than no company could afford to get to work
together. As a conclusion I would just like to thank all of them:
Barton Bruce, Joel N. Weber II, Mark H. Weaver, Bradley M. Kuhn,
Richard M. Stallman, Brian Youmans, Philippe Gerum, Juliette
Bertho, Larry Augustin, Didier Guyomarch, Rodolphe Quiedeville,
30. mailto:LoicDachary at fsfeurope.org
56. mailto:webmaster at fsfeurope.org
Loic Dachary http://www.dachary.org/ loic at dachary.org
24 av Secretan http://www.senga.org/ loic at senga.org
75019 Paris Tel: 33 1 42 45 09 16 loic at gnu.org
GPG Public Key: http://www.dachary.org/loic/gpg.txt
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