skip page navigation Oregon State University


OSL talks OSWALD and Ganeti at Open Source Bridge

OSL talks OSWALD and Ganeti at Open Source Bridge

OSBridge LobbyThree representatives of the Open Source Lab gave presentations at last week's Open Source Bridge conference in Portland.

The annual four-day conference is a public platform for open source developers to discuss various technologies and projects. Hundreds of people filed in each day to listen to the individual talks and share information with the open source community.

Programmer Tim Harder gave the first of the two OSL project presentations on Tuesday afternoon, while lead systems administrator/architect Lance Albertson with lead software engineer Peter Krenesky presented on Wednesday morning.

Harder's presentation, Lessons from and for the Open Hardware Movement (Slides - PDF), attracted two dozen attendees. The talk included an overview of OSWALD (Oregon State Wireless Active Learning Device) and observations from its time as an educational tool for students.

The OSL developed OSWALD to help give Computer Science students at OSU hands-on experience in class. Freshmen students were given the device to modify; it was inexpensive, had the latest in technology from the mobile space, and was completely open for development. The project met some problems, including ones spurred by varied classroom experiences, support requirements, and students with different experience levels.

OSWALD is suspended for now, until funds are collected and a new platform is discovered. But it’s an important learning tool for students, which is why the OSL has analyzed the problems in order to make the next device better suited for the college environment.

"I think it's good to continue pushing for an open platform or something that students can do that’s actually related to real-world applications," Harder said.

Harder, who handled much of the software development, says he hopes companies look at this type of project and want to help – mostly through supplying components – because it gets students familiarized with the same types of technology they would work with in the professional environment. OSWALD and future devices like it are advantageous not just for students, but for companies where those same students might work after graduation.

On the second day of OS Bridge, Albertson and Krenesky gave their presentation, Hands-on Virtualization with Ganeti (Slides - PDF). Ganeti, an open source virtualization management tool developed by Google, is the launching point for Ganeti Web Manager (GWM), a web application that allows administrators and clients to access their Ganeti clusters.

OSBridge Hacker LoungeMany OSL members are part of GWM's development – both students and full-time staff. The tool is still in its early stages, but it's growing. Wednesday marked the second year Albertson gave a presentation at OS Bridge about Ganeti; last year, it was about what it is; this year, it was about how to install and use it, and what the OSL has added to the project, in this case GWM.

"(Ganeti) is active," Albertson said. "There are lots of new features. There are community contributions. There have been several large patches on the Ganeti proper project that we included."

The OSL is taking some simple approaches to promoting GWM, like attending conferences, blogging, and talking to people about it. In terms of its function, increased setup ease has helped its popularity.

"One of the big things that we've done is make it easier to get the project up and running, not just for end users but for developers," Krenesky said. "If it's going to take you hours to get it set up, you're going to turn people off long before they even open a source file, and you don't want that."

"Everything's preconfigured. You just download it and it does most of it for you."

Photos by Reid Beels - Used under Creative Commons License

Out and About with the OSL in June

Out and About with the OSL in June

Summer conference season is upon us, and employees of the OSL will be giving several talks. Kicking off June's festivities, Leslie Hawthorn will be discussing "Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software: Saving the World One Bit at a Time" at Southeast LinuxFest. The conference runs from June 10-12 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Leslie will be speaking this Friday, June 10th.

If you find yourself in Portland, Oregon for Open Source Bridge, you'll hear from all our technical staff at the conference. Tim Harder will be covering OSWALD: Lessons from and for the Open Hardware Movement. Lance Alberston and Peter Krenesky will be giving a tutorial talk on Hands-on Virtualization with Ganeti. Open Source Bridge runs June 21-24th.

We're also gearing up for OSCON 2011, but that's a story for July. We hope to see you at Southeast LinuxFest, Open Source Bridge or both!

Emily on Essentials: Robotics, Open Source and Life as New Student at the OSL

Emily on Essentials: Robotics, Open Source and Life as New Student at the OSL

Ed. Note: As part of our ongoing series of interviews with the OSL's student employees, this week we're bringing you the story of Emily Dunham, one the newest additions to the OSL. Emily joined us just over a month ago as a student developer. Emily was kind enough to share her thoughts with the Lab's student writer, Anthony Casson.

Emily hard at work on her latest creation,
which fetched the Artistic Design award at this year's Oregon State University Engineering Expo

What year are you at Oregon State University?

I’m a freshman in computer science in the Honors College.

How was the transition from high school to college in Computer Science?

The independence has been a whole lot of fun. But college has really exceeded my expectations. The classes, especially the Honors classes, are really good; the teachers really care about the students’ personal development, learning, and involvement. And I’ve had some awesome teaching assistants in my labs.

You’ve been going to Beaver BarCamps since you were a high school student in Corvallis’ neighbor, Philomath. What keeps you coming back?

BarCamp is fascinating just for the totally different paradigm of it. I had an opportunity to attend a normal conference as part of the Intel Learning Company, the freshman open source group that I’m involved with. After having done that, I started appreciating how unique BarCamp really is.

How did you get a spot on the OSL team?

I attended one of their sessions about being a systems administrator, and then spoke with the people who made that presentation afterwards about what I’m interested in and how it’s similar to a student job I held in high school. They invited me to apply, and so I applied; I interviewed. They told me I had gotten the job by the end of the week, and I started the next Monday.

What interested you about the OSL?

For a long time, I didn’t really know what the OSL was—didn’t know it was here—but I started hearing about it in various newsletters that go out to students, and at BarCamp. I started looking around. Almost every time I installed an application in Ubuntu I thought, ‘Okay, that comes from OSU OSL; that’s what that place is.’ I started paying attention to the neat things it does, the ways it’s involved, and then realized it seemed like a really cool place. After meeting the people here—they’re just really great people to work with because they absolutely love learning, and that’s why they’re in it.

How has working in your new position been so far?

On the Friday before I started work, I was talking to Rob McGuire-Dale and he said, ‘It’s a great job. It’s a really great job. It’s the best student job on campus, but be warned: the first week is just a fire hose of information.’ Everybody, though, really seems to enjoy teaching; I never feel like a question is stupid, and people are always helpful about where I can go to learn things—how I should approach them—they’re always happy to answer my questions. I’ve been learning really fast; I’ve been thrown into the middle of this Ganeti Web Manager framework, which is a mix of several languages I hadn’t worked with very extensively in the past. So it’s just been fascinating untangling it all.

What are some skills you bring to the OSL?

I personally feel like one of my unique skills is the ability to communicate—to translate ‘geek’ into English, almost—to write documentation for non-experts.

What are you hoping to get from your time at the OSL?

First off, during school, my classes make me realize, ‘Oh, it would be so cool to do something like that. It would be so cool to learn that language. It would be so cool to work on a programming project.’ But I never really take the time to do that. So on a personal level, the OSL is forcing me to take the time to learn new languages, learn the intricacies of how a certain computer, a certain software system works. And on the professional level, I could graduate here with three years of professional software development experience, and that is just a phenomenal opportunity.

Has anyone in particular helped you along during the first few weeks?

One person who has almost always been in the office when I am is Corbin Simpson, and he really enjoys teaching. He made a point that I understand the basics and how Python works. He really went out of his way to figure out what I know so far and point out specifics of what someone of my exact knowledge will need to be aware of about the new languages. He’s been extremely helpful.

Does the OSL push you to develop your abilities, and does it help you learn new ones?

I feel like their top priority is not just to get x number of lines of code written in a day. Their top priority is for everyone who works here to come out as a better software developer, even if they’re the best software developers around. They’re very interested in my learning. It’s just a whole lot of fun to work with everyone.

Many thanks to Emily and Anthony for this interview!

Special Student Attendee Packages for LinuxCon North America 2011

Special Student Attendee Packages for LinuxCon North America 2011

You may recall from our recent newsletter that the OSL team is organizing a student focused track at the Linux Foundation's upcoming conference, LinuxCon North America 2011. Dubbed Linux Learners Day, these sessions for students will be taught by OSL staff and will focus on fundamentals of Linux, embedded systems and open source community involvement. LinuxCon NA 2011 will take place the week of August 15th in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Conference registration is now open, and the folks at the Linux Foundation were kind enough to put together several discounted packages for student attendees.

All Aboard the Tux Bus for Vancouver!
  • For students traveling from Corvallis or Portland, Oregon, the Linux Foundation offers a package including round trip bus transportation, five nights shared accommodation and registration for all LinuxCon NA 2011 session, plus Linux Learners Day, all for only $300.
  • For students who will make their own travel arrangements to Vancouver, B.C., the discounted registration and five days accommodation package is still available for only $300.
  • For students who will make their own lodging and travel arrangements, attendance at Linux Learners Day and LinuxCon NA 2011 has been discounted to only $100.
  • Linux Learners Day is free of charge for all student attendees.

For more details, including how to register, please see the information on Student Programs at LinuxCon NA 2011.

And once you're done registering, don't forget to check out the Linux Foundation's two awesome contests this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Linux. Creative expression on video or cotton welcome!

Many thanks to our friends at the Linux Foundation for their invitation to collaborate on Linux Learners Day and for making arrangements for students to have affordable access the conference and lodging.

We'll see you on the bus to Vancouver!

Ed. Note: The Tux Bus image is courtesy of Flickr user notfrancois and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Keeping Up to Date with Jordan

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!