Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lots Of Updates

I just noticed again that it's been a while since my last blog.  Things have been busy at always, some of my projects lately were not so conductive to screenshots and technical thoughts. But a few things might be of interest.

SuseCon 2013

First up I got permission and funding to attend SuseCon in Orlando this fall.  It's always nice to meet people and have hallway conversations.  Find me and say Hi if you'd like to converse.  The conference last year was very productive!

Alfresco Testing & Analysis

I have been working with the IT Director on testing and exploring ways to deploy Alfresco, and content management in general.  Historically we have always had silos of data that were not highly shared, and it's our hope that we can move in another direction with this software.  We have been exploring ideas on the best way to build the top level Sites and then how content should be stored.  If several departments are working on a City project, our information should be shared without duplication of effort and documents.  We're making some headway on ideas and believe that we have built the best possible top level structure.  We are also considering the staffing requirements of this type of deployment and impact to other City departments.  Lots of testing and R&D ahead on this project.  The software itself and mobile devices are working great.

Support Portal, Additional Logging

We have not been able to add additional staff for a while, so I have been trying to get more and more data that is logged to flat files on our servers into the hands of our support staff.  This allows all of IT to see issues that normally would have meant checking the various files manually and understanding how to scan through logs.   The screens are rough, but working and are allowing us to be very proactive on seeing problems.  The blue area shows users logging in and out of the servers.  The purple area is showing us users that have logged in the most often in the last few days.  Usually they are not having problems, but sometimes this indicates someone that is struggling with errant hardware or network connections.  Remember, that very often end users will never call for help and will continue to struggle.  Seeing this information allows us to call them and offer help.  The dark green section is showing users that logged in multiple times without first logging off.  This sometimes means they have simply powered off their workstations, or are losing power and have a bad UPS.  The red section shows users logging into NX from the Internet.  The light green section shows users that had authentication failures with Zimbra.  The black section will show users that entered the wrong passwords into the server and those users that entered the wrong passwords into their screensavers.

Support Portal, Creating Issues

The portal is aware of a lot of issues and sees problems on the network.  So it was a very simple step to just create a basic issue tracking module.  In the various tabs of monitoring, there is a button marked [ Create Issue ] that takes the highlighted item and automatically generates an issue and allows us to add notes.  These screens are so simple to create with Glade and python, that even as it stands now it's increasing our ability to assist users.  This development is not a fulltime project, so I'm sure the UI will not be scrutinized.  :)

The shot below shows issues that were generated automatically from the various log files.  The portal knows who, where and what -- We just needed a way to track status and add notes.  The red section shows a summary of the open issues. The black section is a very simple plugin system that allows for summary of the data.

And the issue detail screen allows for very basic tracking and note taking.

Looking For Monitor Problems

We have been seeing a few issues a day where users are having problems with monitor resolutions and some issues where software seems to put the Xserver out of sync with the monitor.  The first step was to write a little ksh script that fires at login, and basically compares their Xorg file against what xrandr -q reports.  In many cases X just kind of fixes itself and works, but in some cases the users will have problems.  So we're slowly cleaning up these issues and getting everything configured correctly.  Each little 1% improvement that you get counts and reduces user frustration.  In the issue detail above, the portal detected that a user had dual monitors that were not configured in the right way; one supported 1920x1200/1920x1080 and the other only supported 1920x1080.  Without this centralized software and a server based solution, this would be very time consuming to troubleshoot.

Other projects:   Testing NX 4 preview, prepping for Zimbra patches and upgrades, testing LibreOffice 4.1 and prepping for deployment, continued patches and testing for Firefox, Flash and Java,.


Bob said...

Just came across your blog and have enjoyed reading about your experiences with open source software. I was wondering if you use Zimbra and Alfresco community edition or are you using enterprise edition?

Dave Richards said...

We purchased licenses for Zimbra and have a support contract. Right now we are using the community version of Alfresco and if the project is approved we'll get a support contract as well.

Bob said...

Thanks for the reply. I work for another city in Florida who is starting to look into open source solutions. Alfresco and Zimbra have caught our eye as a possible replacement for a file and exchange server. I was wondering how do you currently handle public records request for email and documents?

Dave Richards said...

Bob, we have a lot running on open source. Do you want to come for a visit sometime? How close are you to the Tampa area?

Zimbra is working well. We do not use Zimbra for archiving and records requests. We have an email appliance that holds all of our email messages. What you can do is add an auto BCC to all messages in Zimbra that are bounced to the archiver and kept for later use.

As for records requests on documents, right now all documents are just stored in folders on a drive. We keep a few years of backup tapes and can get things back in that manner.

Bob said...

Thanks for the invite however I am on the eastern part of the state and we have no more money for travel :( It sounds like you still use some Microsoft Office products? If you do, do you ever have compatibility issues sharing files between Lifreoffice and Microsoft? Or have an issue receiving doc, xls, etc files from other organizations?

Dave Richards said...

We only run a few Microsoft Office pieces. They are only used in cases where vendor software has been hard coded in some way to open them directly. Out of 800 employees, maybe a around a dozen have limited access to MS Office and in many cases it's just occasional.

Internally we always use open document format, so sharing here with other employees is not a problem. Everyone has the same fonts and printer metrics. All instances are on the same server, so when I install an upgrade it's done for the whole City immediately.

MS Office 2007 SP2 and higher supports open document. So when our employees send out these files, they mostly open on the other side. If not,the other person is on a very old version of Office.

Documents received from people on the outside mostly open. In cases where they don't, City employees just contact support and they have a copy of MS Office here and convert it to open document or PDF as needed. I'd say we get maybe 2-5 a week that have to be converted. Not a big amount.

DOCX format seems to have given us the most problems, but the filters in LO 4.1 for this type of document is greatly improved.

Bob said...

Dave I was wondering how you are handling comments, post, and workflow in alfresco in accordance with Florida's Sunshine Law? My legal department has told me that every comment and workflow related to a document or an idea needs to be backup and available for public record. So far I haven't found a way to handle this request easily other than telling people not do it, which kind of defeats the purpose of Alfresco Share.

Dave Richards said...

@Bob, we are looking at sunshine laws and content management this very second. The comments might be considered 'transitional', similar to writing notes on the top of a draft copy of a document with a pen. I'll post more information when decisions are made about the law.

Bob said...


Bob said...

Dave I was wondering if you ever found out anything about the sunshine law and "comments" feature in Aflresco?