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Keeping Up to Date with Jordan

Ed. Note: As part of our ongoing series of interviews with the OSL's student employees, this week we've turned our spotlight to Jordan Evans, Community Systems Adminstrator. Jordan was kind enough to share his thoughts with the Lab's student writer, Anthony Casson. If you're interested in reading through our student interview series, you can find them all linked from our April 2011 Newsletter.

Jordan is the Open Source Lab’s Community Systems Administrator and is a sophomore studying mathematics at Oregon State University. He has been working at the OSL since June of 2010.

Jordan Enjoying Oregon's Springtime

What have you been working on since you started at the OSL?

I have worked on projects such as Puppet, Drupal upgrades and internal projects like vacationator and inventory. I have also been working on revamping some scripts we use to make our lives easier. As of now, I am mostly working on Puppet, Drupal upgrades from time to time, and upgrading our scripts.

How often are projects given major upgrades?

We tend to do these less frequently, as they are done for functionality, rather than security. They are really only done if a project requests it, or if the version currently running is no longer supported by Drupal. For example, last year I went through and upgraded all of the Drupal 4.7 sites we had into Drupal 5, so that they could receive regular security updates again. This is something of a never ending process, because recently Drupal 5 has hit end of life, so we will be looking to either decommission sites or upgrade them to Drupal 6. The latest version is Drupal 7, but 6 is still supported with security updates.

What’s the process like for major upgrades?

Major upgrades often look like complicated minor upgrades; we make a copy of the site and the database. Then we check a list of the currently used modules, and find out if they have equivalents in the newer version of Drupal. If so, the upgrade will probably go somewhat smoothly, and we attempt the upgrade. If they don't have compatible versions, we talk with the projects we are hosting and see if they can find a new module, or are willing to stop using the old one.

After getting the site upgraded, major upgrades will still often break smaller things that need to be fixed by hand. Pages and content will sometimes get jumbled—the wrong content for the page—and we have to go through and match everything up.

How about updating scripts?

Most of our scripts were written by a hodgepodge of people with differing programming abilities and styles. As a result we have scripts in all kinds of languages: Python, Perl, Bash, and others. Recently we have been attempting to unify these by having a coherent set of guidelines. New scripts are being written only in Python, and the old scripts are slowly being converted into Python.

Why Python?

It is fairly simple to learn for new OSL employees. It doesn't have strange rules like Perl, and is very easy to read. It is also what the Developers use in their work.

How is it being a systems administrator?

One of the things that most attracts me about this job is the issue of scalability. A lot of the problems that we run into are often pretty simple to fix for one server, but we then have to make sure it is fixable for tens or hundreds of servers, and that we spend as little time as possible fixing it in the future.

Many thanks to Jordan and Anthony for this interview!

See our news archive for other OSUOSL news stories.