Monday, August 01, 2011

Project Updates

It's been a while since my last blog, but as always projects continue to evolve and mature.

Sandboxed/Jailed Firefox Sessions

My last few blogs were concerning us creating sandboxed/jailed Firefox sessions to run certain City applications and that has been fully deployed and working well. I was able to get Firefox 5 pushed live with no problems. Flash 11 was also released and that too has been deployed. I am currently testing Firefox 6 with Java 1.7 on the web and with our internal applications. As is the norm lately with upgrades, 1.7 fails to work with some of our web based software. Wasn't the point of a browser to make it easier to deploy software? :)

Networking Problem, GNOME Desktop

I have been fighting a networking problem on OpenSuse 11.4 where after a certain amount of people log into the server it starts to get odd lags and we see RX errors on the NIC.

RX packets:45731224 errors:0 dropped:307554 overruns:0 frame:0

When you issue a command such as "vi /etc/hosts" it sits and blinks for about 3 seconds before it displays. However, as users log off at night it suddenly begins working again. I'm going to update the kernel tonight and the next step will be to install another type of network card and see if the problem goes away. This unfortunately has prohibited us from adding more beta testers. Very odd.

Portal UI And FOG Thin Client Updates

My coworker Brian has been doing a great job in getting our FOG server (running in VM) configured and working. He has been testing various techniques to push out updates to our thin clients. Many combinations are being tested in terms of performance. He is looking for the sweet spot in how many current thin clients to update at the same time. Sometimes there are circumstances where doing 5 thin clients at a time twice is faster than doing 10 all at once. I should have more information on our final analysis in the coming weeks.

While he has been improving pushing updates to the thin clients, I have been spending time as it's available working on our "Support Portal". Having all of your user sessions on a server is usually pretty wonderful to support, but in many cases it relies on command line tools and tinkering by hand. The tools that come with the distros are more designed for configuration versus server monitoring. I have been trying to think of ways to have the servers do most of the work, all of the information is right there; but it shouldn't take a System Admin to review it and know how to process.

I know those of you that build screens all the time will want to post HIG and UI comments. Please, these are back burner ideas that are still being developed. Our support staff already seems pleased with the features and capabilities and it's barely even started. If we have to do more with less (tm), this is certainly one way to obtain that goal.

The server monitoring screen is giving us graphs that show total number of users, load and total print jobs. The later is probably our most support intensive. I hate having to go into child screens to get information, so the designs are trying to make use of tooltips as much as possible.

Here is live data coming from the servers, user loads are displayed. Hovering your mouse over the load graphs (blue) gives you a tooltip that shows you the user accounts names running that particular software/server.

The lower graph (cyan) turns read when print jobs appear to be stuck. Hovering your mouse over the graph shows you the user and printer that appears to be having problems.

If you do click on a print job graph, it brings up a UI that shows the details of the print jobs on that particular server. The blue area is a toggle button and let's you pick multiple at once. The print jobs will then be capable of being cancelled or moved to another printer. The red area is the name of the printer and when clicked initiates a Firefox session and goes to the IP of the printer. Those of you with HP printers know that they provide an administration console on port 80. The magenta area is the name of the user. Clicking on this area will being up a user detail screen; which is not yet written.

When print jobs are stuck, we now get notify-send popups alerting us of this fact. A similar popup appears when the server seems to be 10% busy after several samples.

The companion piece to the FOG thin client updates was to create a screen to find and maintain files which contain server side settings for the thin clients. Once they get an update, they attempt to download a flat file which contains their settings and then reboot into the right mode. From the thin clients tab you can enter 3 or 4 octets of the IP address and the results will appear. A wrench symbol appears on thin clients that have server side configuration files completed. If you hover your mouse over the thin client entry, it gives you detailed specs on the device. You don't have to open a child screen to view the data.

You can filter and look for thin clients running in many different modes. If someone asks us how many thin clients are still in 1024x768, for the first time we can easily obtain that information. We can also easily query and find out how many thin clients are using two monitors.

We can search for the "function" (purpose) of the thin clients. We are using the same hardware for different purposes around some the city. Some are full featured workstations and others are set into Kiosk modes. Others are configured for low bandwidth sites and use NX.

If you click on a thin client pushbutton, a child screen appears and returns all of the information about the device. We can see who is using it, how many monitors it has and whether it's using HDMI/VGA/DVI cables. We can reset it back to factory defaults, reboot it, we can request a remote control, and we can do a wake on lan and power it on remotely.

At this point enough is working in this code for us to finish configuring the 650+ thin clients around our sites. We hope to have that complete by September. The UI will progress and advance, and I promise will even start looking nicer. :)

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