With Vista looming on the horizon, some have compared the wait for this latest Microsoft offering to the dread experienced by the captain of the Titanic as he watched the iceberg come into view. This feeling is no stranger to desktop administrators that don't look forward to the costs of purchasing expensive upgrade licenses as well as the higher priced hardware they'll need to replace the desktops they'll have to ditch that don't meet Vista's higher performance requirements. If you're in this same boat, while you contemplate undertaking a massive desktop migration, it might be the perfect time to consider a low-cost desktop alternative.
Heralded as the only enterprise-quality Linux desktop on the market, Novell designed SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop to address the needs of the typical business worker. Its new intuitive interface sports a 3D desktop that is sure to not only elicit a chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" from your users, but promises to increase their productivity as well, simplifying their ability to find and switch between open applications on the desktop. (See Figure 1.)
While the "ooh factor" might be cool, it's the cost, usability, productivity, security and system interoperability factors that convince organizations to make the move to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. One of the most effective ways to determine how these factors can come to play in your environment is to conduct a proof-of-concept exercise, followed by a controlled pilot program.
A typical proof of concept can be conducted in a laboratory environment with four to six typical user machines, access to the corporate directory and resources, such as Web sites, share file servers and network printers. The steps you take to prepare for a proof of concept closely mirror the same preparatory steps you would take for a pilot or larger scale deployment. So, not only does a proof of concept help you determine the right fit for SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop in your organization, but it also can give you real-world experience in preparing for an eventual migration.
Borrowing a page from Novell Consulting's book of best practices, the following represent some of the key areas that need to be examined as you prepare for a SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop proof of concept or pilot program. (see Fast Track to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.)
- user readiness
- application usage and functional continuity
- technical infrastructure
- hardware readiness
- accessibility needs
> Which Users are Ready?
You need to identify and prioritize the most appropriate target users that will be represented in your proof of concept or pilot program. In the past, desktop users of Linux have typically fallen into the class of either fixed-function users that rely on a single line-of-business application, such as a cash register, or transactional users that primarily use a single line-of-business application, but occasionally might need access to e-mail or word processing applications. Technical workers that use industry-specialized applications, such as CAD/CAM programs, also have traditional ties to the Linux desktop; however, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop has been specifically designed to also meet the needs of general knowledge workers, including power users that require tight integration between their office suite, specialized productivity applications, and their collaboration environment.
Each of these types of users that you're considering for migration need to be represented in your proof of concept and pilot program. As a result, you need to conduct a thorough review of their existing desktop environments, including hardware requirements, software requirements, preferred desktop configurations, and any other standard operating environment requirements. This type of review enables you to properly prepare for their needs and expectations, as well as determine whether they are actually realistic candidates for your pilot and subsequent migration.
> Map Your Apps
One of the biggest concerns users, or organizations in general, have when considering using Linux on the desktop is whether they'll have the applications they need to perform their jobs. To address this concern, identify the applications most commonly used in your target user groups and then map those applications to their functional equivalents in the Linux world. Identify any gaps that might exist and evaluate potential options for bridging those gaps. To facilitate this, it helps to classify the identified applications into the following Application categories:
- has a Linux version available
- requires Windows emulation
- requires remote desktop protocol
- requires conversion
- needs to be replaced with cross-platform alternative
- no longer needed
For the applications that the typical Windows business worker uses, functional equivalents typically exist on Linux. In fact, most of these applications are bundled at no additional cost with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and automatically install when you deploy the desktop environment. (See Table 1.)
Even though functional equivalents exist for most of the applications, if not all, some users might not be convinced that these Linux equivalents can fill their needs until they've had a chance to test-drive them. Proof-of-concept labs and pilot programs provide an excellent way to give users the hands-on experience they need to squash any doubts they might have about these applications.
While you contemplate undertaking a massive desktop migration, it might be the perfect time to consider a low-cost desktop alternative.
In addition to controlled proof of concepts and pilot programs, your users can increase their comfort levels with Linux desktop applications in other ways. The easiest method allows them to evaluate a subset of these Linux applications by simply installing the Windows version of the OpenOffice.org productivity suite onto their existing Windows desktops. While the OpenOffice.org suite obviously doesn't take into account all the applications your users will need, for many business users it represents the tool set where they will spend most of their time.
A second method that gives your users a taste for all of the Linux applications they might use is to install SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop on a separate partition on their existing Windows desktop, providing them a dual-boot environment. This gives your users the choice to boot either to Windows or to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop whenever they want, allowing them to test-drive Linux at their leisure.
> Creating Dual-Boot Environments
The YaST installation utility can automatically create a dual-boot environment on an existing Windows desktop for you using the following steps:
- Verify that the desktop hard drive has at least 1GB or more of available disk space. This space will be used to create a partition for the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop environment.
- Run a Windows CHKDSK and DEFRAG on the hard drive. The CHKDSK ensures the integrity of the drive and the DEFRAG will move all the data to the front of the drive to create room for the Linux partition.
- Boot the machine with the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop installation CDs or DVD.
- A screen presents options that include booting from hard disk or installation. Choose installation.
- The YaST installation tool loads. Select your language preference and agree to the licensing terms. Then select New Installation and click Next.
- After you configure the clock and time zone, it displays a list of proposed installation settings that the installation program created based on its analysis of the desktop computer. Part of these settings will include how it proposes to partition your hard drive to accommodate Linux. If you have an existing unallocated partition, it will suggest using that to create the Linux partition. If the only existing partition on your machine is the Windows partition, YaST will recommend shrinking the Windows partition to a particular size and creating a new partition for Linux using the remaining space. You can accept these proposed settings or customize them as you see fit. (See Figure 2.)
- Before you accept the installation settings and move on with the installation, select the Expert tab to view or modify the proposed boot loader settings. You can choose from either the default GRUB boot loader or the LILO boot loader. You can choose whether the desktop will boot to Windows or Linux by default, what order it lists the boot options in your boot menu, and how many seconds it gives you to choose a boot option before booting. You can also choose where on your hard drive to install the boot loader. Once again, you can either accept the proposed settings or customize them.
- After you select Accept Installation Settings, the installation process will proceed. It will do the following without further intervention:
- partition your drive
- create the dual boot capability
- install the SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop operating environment
- install the included software packages
- load the necessary kernel drivers for all the devices on the computer that it detects
- allow you to perform user customization on the machine, such as hostname, username and password.
- After the installation completes and you reboot, you have the option to now boot to either Windows or Linux.
For the applications that the typical Windows business worker uses, functional equivalents typically exist on Linux.
While a dual-boot provides a nice way to evaluate the Linux environment before leaving Windows behind completely, it does have some technical limitations. Primarily, sharing data between the two environments can be difficult since Windows cannot see Linux partitions and Linux can only read, but not write to NTFS partitions.
To get around this obstacle, during the installation process you can elect to create a third partition to be used for data sharing between the two environments. This partition would be a FAT32 partition since both Windows and Linux can read and write to FAT32 partitions.
> Assess your Technical Infrastructure
To determine the best way to integrate Linux into your existing desktop environment, examine your existing desktop infrastructure for compatibility with Linux as it relates to your security policies, protocol environment and your overall IT environment. If your infrastructure is Microsoft Active Directory based, a new enhancement to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop significantly facilitates this integration. With the solution's full Active Directory support as part of the standard desktop operating environment, you can easily configure your Active Directory integration using the YaST Domain Membership module.
To successfully set up your SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop as an Active Directory client, make the following client-side configurations:
- DNS: Configure the Linux desktop to use a DNS server that can forward DNS requests to the Active Directory DNS server. Alternatively, configure the client to use the Active Directory DNS server as the name service data source.
- NTP: In order to successfully authenticate using Kerberos, the time setting on the Linux desktop must be accurate. The recommended way to do this is to use the NTP timeserver on your Active Directory domain controller. This ensures that the clock skew between your Linux desktop and the domain controller won't exceed the maximum limit that would lead to Kerberos authentication failing and requiring the client to log in instead using the weaker NTLM authentication.
- DHCP: If your client uses dynamic network configuration with DHCP, you should configure DHCP to provide the same IP and hostname to the desktop. The best way to do this is by using static IP addresses.
- Firewall: To browse your network neighborhood, mark the interface used for browsing as part of the internal zone. You can change the firewall settings on your desktop using the YaST firewall module.
- Active Directory Account: To join an Active Directory domain from your Linux desktop you must provide a valid Active Directory username and password either during installation of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop or after the installation by activating SMB user authentication from within YaST. (See Figure 3.)
If your infrastructure is Microsoft Active Directory based, a new enhancement to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop significantly facilitates this integration.
> Hardware Readiness
Perform a review of the desktop hardware in your target pilot or migration group to properly address minimum hardware requirements and compatibility issues. For a standard installation of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop that includes the graphical desktop environment and bundled application set, the following minimum hardware configuration is recommended:
- Intel Pentium IV, 2.4 GHz or higher or any AMD64 or Intel EM64T processor
- 1 or 2 physical CPUs
- 512 MB physical RAM or higher
- 1024 x 768 display resolution or higher
> Recognize Client Dependencies
As you prepare for your proof of concept, pilot and migration, identify any client dependencies, such as printing requirements and other network resource requirements. Whether it's printers, scanners, network cards, portable MP3 players or digital cameras, a lot of work has been done in this latest distribution of SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop to automatically detect and mount these peripherals to satisfy these client dependencies. (see From iPods to Core Duos.)
Implementing a proof of concept and pilot program can enable you to find out how SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop can take your enterprise on a course that leads to lower desktop costs, while improving usability, productivity.
> Choose Your Deployment Options
Whether it's for your proof of concept, pilot or a wide-scale migration, when it comes time to actually deploy SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop you have a variety of choices to simplify the overall process. If you're just deploying to a few machines, you can do a standard install from CD or DVD. Even though the install process is fast and intuitive, if you're deploying to more than a few machines you'll want to install from a network source and automate the task using AutoYaST.
AutoYaST is an XML control file that lets you perform unattended installations on multiple machines in parallel. The power of AutoYaST comes from its ability to let you create a baseline configuration that can be used in a wide variety of hardware configurations. Creating an AutoYaST file is as simple as marking a box at the end of the installation process that says, "Clone This System for AutoYaST." The YaST installation will then create the AutoYaST file in the desktop's root directory as autoinst.xml. This file can be edited later from the YaST administrator tool. AutoYaST control files can be created from scratch with the administrator tool as well.
The First Quarter 2006 issue of Novell Connection has an excellent article by Chander Ganesan on how to create and edit AutoYaST files to address your specific deployment needs. A follow up article by Ganesan in the April 2006 issue explains how to perform unattended installations with AutoYaST over the network on remote desktops using PXE, DHCP and a TFTP server. While the articles focus on installing SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, the same principles covered apply to SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop.
Although AutoYaST greatly simplifies the installation process, as the number of your deployments grows, at some point you might want to consider adding an enterprise management tool into the mix. ZENworks Linux Management can manage multiple AutoYaST profiles and engage policy-based automation to streamline your deployments even further. It also gives you the option to create images of standard Linux desktop environments that can be used to easily deploy clients with identical hardware configurations. With support for multicasting image deployment, you can deliver those images to multiple clients while using only a limited amount of bandwidth.
> Don't Go Down with the Ship
If your current desktop migration plans are leading you on a direct path for iceberg-infested waters, it might be time to consider alternative routes. Implementing a proof of concept and pilot program can enable you to find out how SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop can take your enterprise on a course that leads to lower desktop costs, while improving usability, productivity and security.