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FSF APRIL, FSFE France and GNU working together

On May 21, 2001 FSF France shipped me (Loc 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.

GNU@MIT More pictures 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 stop renting 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.

Brian Youmans More pictures 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 Business 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 50 to 60 contexts a day. Well, except the day he spent talking to journalists about RMS's talk to counter the Craig Mundie statement (number of contexts dropped to 10 ;-).

Thanks FSF Europe More pictures 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 blocks 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 Gerry Sussman. Gerry 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 who made it easy and entertaining.

Savannah More pictures 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 an ethernet 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.

Empty rack spaces More pictures 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.

Joel N. Weber II More pictures 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.

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, FSFE France and GNU. It went more smoothly than most similar projects I experienced. It also involved a lot of knowledgeable people that no company could afford to get to work together. As a conclusion I would just like to thank all of them: Barton Bruce, Karthik Arumugham, 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, Cyril Bouthors.

Loc Dachary

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Copyright (C) 2003-2011, FSF France, 12 boulevard Magenta, 75010 Paris, France
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Updated: $Date: 2003-02-28 16:16:22 +0100 (Fri, 28 Feb 2003) $ $Author: loic $