% fortune -ae paul murphy

Snarky Juxtapositions

Humour is a wonderful thing, and once in a while I read sharky's computerworld reports from the biting edge between systems people and their problems. One of those, from last week, started out like this:

The 100 PCs in this law office are locked down to prevent users from downloading software or changing configurations. That's why one IT pilot fish spends the whole weekend updating software on the PCs, logging into each one as administrator before doing the installation.

"After working into the wee hours all weekend long, I came in Monday morning to a rash of people screaming because they couldn't get on their computers," says fish.

It turned out that many of fish's users just entered their passwords to log on, and couldn't deal with it when their user name slot showed "administrator" instead of defaulting to their usual user names.

Here's a bit from an interview with Scot McNealy and Bill Vass reported on washingtontechnology.com :

WT: Are government agencies ready to adopt a thin-client model?

McNealy: They are one of the most aggressive adopters of thin-client computing and card access across the display grid model. You access that network remotely either over a wire line or wirelessly using smart-card authentication. DISA is one of the biggest adopters of this technology, and we'll be rolling out up to 90,000 of these Sun Ray clients in the next year or so. So they love this idea, and they're proliferating.

In effect it is an open intranet within the secure community because it's multitenant. It's on Navy boats, it's in the FAA; this is a fairly pervasive technology, and it has quietly grown.

Vass: Because it's an ultrathin client, you don't replace it every couple of years, so once you've sold it, it stays there for 10 or 15 years in the environment, like a TV set. So you don't see the [sales] volumes because you sell it once and it stays there.

So now I have this odd thought: what would it have taken for Fish to do her job if she'd had 90 Sun Rays instead of 90 PCs?

Obviously it depends on the nature of the updates; but, at worst, she'd have had to install and test a new OS/Applications combination on one server - Windows or Unix - sometime during the week and then set something like this in place before leaving on Friday:

%at -c 3:15 AM SUN /home/sysadmins/bin/flip_script.csh

And, of course, nobody would have noticed anything on Monday.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.