eRacks Open Source Systems Blog

Making the world safe for Open Source

from The Open Source Newsletter – July 2008

Aside from all the usual green advice, what can a conscientious SysAdmin do to save money during this time of rising energy prices and a challenging economic situation?

Here is eRacks’ top-ten list of recession-proofing strategies:

  • 1 – Update the Linux OSes if they are older than kernel 2.6.21, to take advantage of the ACPI tickless idle. Install PowerTOP (on Intel-based desktops & notebooks) or other similar tools that examine power consumption by application.
  • 2 – Basic maintenance: vacuum the vents (from the outside of the chassis, with the computer off). The buildup of dust and dirt prevents airflow. After cleaning, the systems will cool more easily. The vacuum and/or the little bottle of compressed air are your friends. A word of caution though: don’t even think about reversing the vacuum to blow the dust inside the computer case. The household dust inside the vacuum is not a good thing for the computer (or you). In fact, don’t stick the vacuum inside the computer case at all, since vacuums create static electricity which can also damage your system.
  • 3 – Re-think your network diagram. Old systems are often wasteful of energy.
    • Consider consolidating systems; Own your own virtualization system:
      eRacks/SOLO and eRacks/SUITE are capable of running several virtual machines simultaneously.

      eRacks/SOLO Virtualization Server

      Your physical host server can be configured with your choice of a virtualization host, including the freely available version of VMWare or Linux-native KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), as well as a large number of possible virtual operating systems and applications, including web, DNS, email, proxy and other infrastructure services.

      You’ll save power, save money, and also allow for more centralized administration and ease of backup. eRacks will even pre-install the targeted configurations of your choice. Just ask.

    • Or take advantage of a hosting solution like Libre Hosting. Get full (root) use of your own virtual server fast. This is a great way to test out a new project, minimizing both your financial investment and configuration effort.
    • Or use newer low power servers like the eRacks/LITE, eRacks/QUIET, and any of our desktop line. eRacks will happily customize a system for low power usage, with your requirements.
  • 4 – Plan for upgrades. Buy systems that use only industry-standard components (like eRacks!) so that you can upgrade without being tied to a manufacturer and higher prices.
  • 5. Plan for efficient scaling. This depends on the most likely way(s) your company/institution would require expansion in the future. An increase in number of users, production, machine power, etc would each create different infrastructure requirements. Planning longer term, could enable growth while minimizing costs. Using hosted virtualized servers could allow for more flexibility in scaling, up and down, – very handy in peak demand time.
  • 6. Rethink security and firewalls. Use preventive measures now, rather than costly fixes later. Read summaries of firewall logs to gauge how busy your firewall system is. Consider options like eRacks’ failover redundant firewall:

  • eRacks/TWINGUARD Redundant Firewall

  • 7. Update your sysadmin tools. Make a bootable DVD or USB drive with your favorite sysadmin utilities on it. Save time by setting up system monitoring and detect any issues before they become big problems.
  • 8. This one is for the marketing/sales dept: Find clients that are recession-proof. Where are your main profits coming from? Do you have a few clients in markets that are recession-proof? If not how can you attract those clients, now and get on their vendor lists? – Educational institutions are usually somewhat stable in their purchasing because people tend to return to school in times of a recession.
  • 9. Again to the marketing guys: Globalize your products and presentation. Keep in mind that a weak dollar may increase your international customers.
  • 10. Always wise: Keep notes – keep an internal company wiki. From our experience, this can be a great tool and reference, saving time, effort and money!

Remember, recession isn’t permanent, but can be long. And playing it smart now will help, and quite possibly make all the difference.

August 8th, 2008

Posted In: News

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A secure environment is absolutely crucial for a virtualization server connected to the Internet. If the host is compromised, all its virtual machines are at risk and their services will be affected.

eRacks virtualization experts have put together a useful list of security considerations for virtualization migration planners. TIP #1. Use an open source virtualizer if possible. Open source software vulnerabilities are documented clearly, are well-known, and fixed quickly.
Proprietary-software bugs usually take longer to get fixed, and are even sold on black markets for illicit hacking. In fact, there are documented cases of closed source software companies purchasing security hole information of their own applications. Open source software vulnerabilities have less value on the black market, because of their shorter shelf-life.
TIP #2. Use open source guests wherever possible. New drivers for open source applications improve security as well as performance. Open source guests are more cooperative with the host, leaving less room for attack. Windows is inherently less secure, since a – it is closed source and updated less frequently. b – widely used and thus a big target. c – statistically has more severe vulnerabilities than open source OSes which take longer to fix.
TIP #3. Minimize the host footprint, making less surface area available for hackers. A small target is harder to hit than a large one. eRacks typically recommends KVM because of its small footprint, simple design, and ease of use.
The virtualization host provides services in the form of ports and packages, which should only include those required by the VMs. An effective security plan should minimize the number of open ports, narrowing the possibilities of illicit entry.
TIP #5. Use an external physical firewall. It is also possible to use a virtualized firewall, running as a guest, but it can only protect the downstream systems, and not the host. A virtualized IP-less bridging firewall is also possible but it is more difficult to implement, and still doesn’t protect the host. The safest solution is an external firewall, such as the eRacks/TWINGUARD, a redundant 1U system, with failover, running a very secure OpenBSD.
TIP #6. Assess your security level, including regular port scans (Nmap), and OS fingerprinting, keeping track of any changes. A hardened system will not give out versions of running services, otherwise it would be too easy to know exactly where the vulnerabilities lie. eRacks can give you a head start by building, installing, and configuring your system for you. Your physical host server can be configured with your choice of a virtualization host, including the freely available version of VMWare or Linux-native KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), as well as a large number of possible virtual operating systems and applications, including web, DNS, email, proxy and other infrastructure services.
virtualizer description complexity level of open source
KVM built into the kernel, uses the standard Linux scheduler, memory management and other services simple, non-intrusive, very stable, easy to administrate –
KVM hypervisor about 10-12K lines of code (2007)
released under the GNU GPL
Xen external hypervisor, supports both paravirtualization and full virtualization, has its own scheduler, memory manager, timer handling, and machine initialization. specially modified kernel – has 10x more lines of code as KVM => raises the vulnerability level released under the GNU GPL
VMware fully virtualizes using software techniques only, very good performance, stability. very large and complex; more than 10x lines of code of Xen proprietary,
player open (teaser-ware),

July 9th, 2008

Posted In: News, security, virtualization

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