Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Support Portal Bar Graph Widgets Done

Just a quick update that I pushed live new code for our support portal which is polling a lot more servers now and displaying information in the UI.  We're tracking number of users, current load, memory consumption, disk consumption and print jobs.  Not having native chart widgets made this kind of tedious to build the charts, but once I figured it out I was able to dupe it and get it working pretty quickly.  I activated tooltips to display additional information.  For instance, hovering over the server name at the top now displays the CPU speed and number of cores.

You can hover over each chart element too and get detailed information about each time slice.

The little bit of time spent on this application is easily recouped by our IT department.  We're able to detect possible problems immediately and assist users before they even call.

Current projects:  Setting up the Zimbra demo for the Wifi so we can test with tablets; working through a few LibreOffice bugs and watching for patches (3.6 is working OK for the most part ); poking at the HP Ubuntu thin client upgrade and working out a plan for integration into our environment; Setting up a VNC pathway for a few tablets to begin logging into our GNOME servers using that protocol; reviewing NX alternatives (thank you for all of the suggestions and ideas); starting to think about the SuseCon/OpenSuseCon tour next month and best use of their time and transportation details.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

LibreOffice Upgrades & First Patch, NX Replacement and Zimbra

No pretty screenshots this time around, but lots of news on projects. 


I installed LibreOffice 3.6.0 on the server and it didn't go perfectly.  There were some issues it seems with the registration of extensions.  I was able to get things working well to move it into production.  Last night I installed 3.6.1 RC1 which fixed some thing, but not all of them.  Everyone on the IRC is wonderful in this regard and we are working on resolution. We are certainly running well enough that the users are not seeing any of the behind the scenes issues.  Seems like it will need another patch or so before it's working as expected.  If you are working in a business environment, it might be best to wait another point release or so.  The diversity of user settings is always a challenge; the fact that your session is working doesn't always mean it will for everyone else.

I'm now officially a LibreOffice hacker.  This is especially interesting since I don't know C++.  There were a few strings on the new file picker that were inconsistent and not perfectly clear to end users for EN-US.  I downloaded the source and changed them and uploaded a patch and it's already been merged.

NX Replacement Software?

We're getting a lot of grief over the long delayed NX client for iPad and some of the architecture changes in the NX 4 client.  If anyone knows of an 'enterprise' product to allow for connections to Linux multi-user servers, drop me a comment please.  Requirements are 1) support contract available 2) enterprise authentication 3) Works over low bandwidth including EVDO 4) Mac, Linux, Windows & iPad clients.  We already know about VNC (too slow),    Our Director has requested that I spend time looking at options.

Zimba/Email Update

The office administrators have all been given user accounts to look over Zimbra as a replacement for Groupwise/Evolution.  Feedback is positive and we are awaiting a few more users to spend the time to review the features and functionality.   Every few years we have reviewed the features in web based email and calendaring systems in comparison to Groupwise and so far they have come up short.  Zimbra 8 appears like a great product.  Continued testing continues.

Other projects:  Looking at why some printers are US-Letter and others A4 in LibreOffice when cups is configured correctly.  This is a longstanding OpenOffice issue as well.  Watching the hurricane track in the Gulf of Mexico; IT staff has been working to prepare in case it affects us.  Working with Federico and Byren to work out details for SuseCon and OpenSuseCon.  It will be fun to meet everyone in person.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back To Projects, Firefox 15

I'm back in the office after a one week vacation in the midwest US.  It always helps to recharge the batteries and already there are many projects and tasks for me to work.

LibreOffice 3.6 has been officially released.  We'll do an announcement to City employees and probably deploy next Tuesday in the PM.  It's super easy to do a tarball before upgrade and rollback if required; but beta testing did not indicate any problems.

I have been testing Firefox 15, and the biggest new feature is the ability to display PDF documents inline.  I have been keeping an open mind about this new plugin, but also mindful that with hundreds of users on our network there is no way I can pre-test all of their documents and techniques.  After testing on many sample documents, it looks like we won't be deploying this feature and will instead continue using Evince and Acrobat Reader for viewing content from the web.  The first thing that I always do when testing new software is to give it a big document and see how it performs.  I found this document.  It downloaded quickly, but in my testing I was frequently getting the spinning "busy" symbol as it formatted pages.  I also am seeing pages render as I move down, especially on the symbols below.  I control-middle-mouse technique to change zoom is slow, it sits for a while before the UI repaints leading the user to think that it's not working.  It's possible that this works faster on a local video card VS remote display to thin clients; but the spinning busy symbol seems to be an issue of CPU instead of rendering issues.  I also am detecting some kind of leaking, in the sense that as you open more and more documents rendering seems to get slower.

Very frequently I'm getting documents that while displaying correctly, alert the user that "This PDF document might not be displayed correctly".  This will cause users to question what they are seeing and if the document is complete and lead to more support calls.

There also doesn't seem to be a quick way to use alternative PDF viewers.  I like the button marked "Open With A Different Viewer" which should in my mind open the regularly installed PDF viewer; but instead just opens a file manager for the user to save the file.  They'll never be able to find the file they saved or open it with another viewer unless it's automated.  There is a "download" button right below this button, so it seems redundant to have two buttons that do the same thing.  

So my final thoughts on this new plugin are that it's a great start and it certainly would be wonderful to have inline PDFs; but right now it's a bit too slow and there are some clunky issues with the UI that I believe will confuse our users.  I'll monitor this feature in later versions and deploy if it works better.

We are starting to get requests for Adobe Reader X on our Linux server -- which is not released.   Come on Adobe, it's been a good while since the reader has been upgraded.  64bit versions please too!

Other projects:  There were a few stray thin clients here and there that were not updated to the latest OS updates, so we have been pushing updates as needed.  Our support portal is now monitoring disk and memory usage and I have been tuning the servers to flush disk activity out of memory and to disk.  Most of this cache is generated in the wee hours of the morning during backups and is not because of user activity.  I'm prepping for a meeting with our Office Administrators tomorrow to discuss future email needs.  I'm teaching a class on Friday about using digital cameras and photos with City software (Evolution, GIMP, LibreOffice) and prepping slides and handouts.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Thin Clients Updated, Support Portal New Features

The new thin client update has now been deployed to nearly all of our 500-ish devices and I'm happy to report that we had no major problems.  In the past when moving code out to a larger group of users, someone would find something that was missed during the beta testing.  But so far we've basically had no calls at all about the workstations.  All types of connections (X11, RDP, Citrix) are working as expected and are incrementally better than the previous build.  Very happy to have this project finished and the improvements in the hands of the users.

Our in-house support portal UI was hitting some limitations as I mentioned previously, and I had some time to go in and change the bar graphs from being an image to actually being individual widgets that I can control in the software.  This allows direct control of individual elements and also unique tooltips on each bar tick.  Previously we were monitoring CPU, user counts and printer jobs.  Once the code was updated, it was super easy to add memory usage and disk usage.  The shot below is the current UI, still work to be done with positioning and cleanups but it's working.  At a quick glance, all of us in IT can see the exact status of many of our Linux servers.  Next up will be adding the rest of the Linux servers, and then I'll add the code to do the same polling to our Windows servers.  The little bits of time used to improve this software is easily recouped in staff time after the new features are deployed.  The end user experience is improving too because now we know about issues before they are even noticed.

Current projects: The new hardware has arrived which will run our email upgrades; starting to get the OS installed and testing.  Awaiting LibreOffice 3.6.  Looking at scaling issues related to more Firefox sessions if we move to web based email. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thin Client Updates Are Live, Other Projects

We're about halfway through updating all City workstations to the new release mentioned in previous blogs.  Some changes were merged into this build which made self configuration work in some cases where it previously had some problems and now the entire process can be handled remotely.  In cases where the device was still powered on during the update period, we can remotely reboot them and force them to pick up the changes.  This build allows us to see the users USB connected devices and exact monitor make and monitor remotely which will be a big help.

Our Police Department is the last area of the City not using RDP and is still using Citrix.  Previously the ICA client was running on the GNOME server and then using X11 to the workstations.  This worked fine, but we wanted to reap the benefit of the client running on the local thin client which then eliminated one hop in the middle.  The workstations then use RDP to talk directly to Windows.  As anticipated, this eliminated all of the Citrix canvas processes from the server; they were chewing CPU during repaints.  Post change, here is a screenshot of around 220 users logged into GNOME.  It wasn't slow previously, but it's definitely better now.

We met with the IT Governance committee last week and spent a good amount of the meeting talking about email issues.  We showed them Groupwise 2012, and then mentioned that other options are available and showed them Zimbra 8.  They were excited at the feature set of Zimbra in comparison of Groupwise and agreed that we should explore moving off Groupwise in favor of other email vendors.  While no final decision has been made, we are researching options and will be meeting with the Office Administrators in a few weeks to get their feedback.  We have been on Groupwise since 1994, and it's looking like we might be moving in a new direction.

I have been looking at the Ubuntu based thin client release from HP with an eye to the future.  Our custom modifications would need to be installed and tested, but they are highly modular and should install pretty cleanly.  The modifications are mostly just Glade/Python screens which have proven to be portable.  I would expect this to be ready by the fall and put into production around October or November.  I'll blog about this process as it starts.

Our in house support portal is running like a champ, and as time allows I have been reworking one of the clunky parts of the original deployment.  I mentioned in the past that I tend to feel it important to get technology deployed and not over-engineer things so that it takes too long to actually gets software in the hands of users.  Every five minutes a daemon polls the server farm and gathers information about CPU load, user counts and stuck print jobs. It was then using this data and kicking off a perl routine to build bar chart images which are then just loaded into the portal.  GTK really should have native, supported bar and pie charts readily available in Glade.  Since that isn't the case, I built a proof of concept using just regular label and image widgets and am happy with the results.  The "LibreOffice" column below is the test area and will soon have code to load all of the widgets correctly and create a functional pie chart.  Note the hover tooltip that will be available over the individual slices.  Once the code is written, I'll replicate it quickly in all places that have bar charts and it should work much better.

Other Updates: We're all ready for LibreOffice 3.6 when it's released; all of the testing looks good and the information dialogs are finished.  Some internal software was being upgraded and one of our server needs some disks added and the bigmem kernel loaded; have been working with others on that plan.  Testing continues on Firefox 15 and the new PDF native renderer; checking to see if that is working well enough to deploy.