Business Technology

Converting Xen Appliances for XenServer Import

It is no secret that we use many Novell technologies at Martin Luther College to enable our faculty, staff, and students to get their work done. I’ve blogged about such things many times and I’ll be continuing to do so in the future. I have plans to bring Filr and ZENworks on campus soon to alleviate some specific needs we have and I have already deployed the new iPrint here to serve as part of our printing solution.

All three of these solutions have one things in common: they are available as virtual appliances for ease of deployment.

However, one hitch is that Novell only provides appliances for three virtualization platforms: VMware, Hyper-V, and Xen. XenServer, our platform of choice, is the one that is missing. The bare Xen image won’t do, initially, because it provides nothing more than a raw disk image and a configuration file.

Initially I just used the VMware image provided as an OVF which imported into our XenServer infrastructure just fine but was incomplete. I could not easily get the XenServer Tools installed and I still wanted to get the paravirtualized kernel so that I get some optimizations within XenServer. I also cannot easily take advantage of the high availability features of XenServer without the tools installed.

Workable, but no ideal.

This is how we are currently running the latest iPrint appliance (currently version 1.1). It has been working extremely well, but if I can find a way to run things in a more optimized way, I’m all for it. So I spent a day in IRC asking how I might be able to convert a Xen image to something more amenable to XenServer import.

Enter A simple Python script “… to aid the migration of xend based Xen virtual machines to XenServer and Xen Cloud Platform.” That would do it! So I moved onto attempting the conversion of the Filr 1.1 appliance that was just released!

All of these steps are being done on Apple OS X but most steps should be transferable to any UNIX-like system. So let’s do this!

  1. Download the wanted Xen appliance from the Novell site. I chose Filr 1.1 as my test appliance because I want to test Filr.
  2. Unarchive the download. You should have a folder with a raw disk image and a xenconfig file. My Filr disk image is 21+ GB in size once it is expanded. The xenconfig file is only 179 bytes.
  3. Open your terminal application of choice and move into that newly created appliance folder.
  4. Grab and drop it into your appliance folder. I used curl > to just grab it directly from the site. I have also made a local copy so that I have it for the future.
  5. Now is the fun part. Make sure you have enough free disk space to handle making a copy of the disk image. Also, make sure that is within that appliance folder. It will just make things easier.
  6. Next I ran the following: python -c Filr.x86_64- -f Filr.x86_64- which will inspect the image and then output the whole thing as an XVA for import into XenServer. The xenconfig file contains the name of the disk image and other parameters needed, so you don’t need to include those.
  7. Now you wait.

When it is complete you will have a new XVA file that you can import through XenCenter into your XenServer infrastructure. Logging into the appliance later will allow you to install the XenServer Tools.

Business Technology

Micro Focus Purchasing The Attachmate Group

Reuters has Micro Focus to buy The Attachmate Group in all-share deal on their site this morning, and it will be interesting to see how the deal pans out. The hope right now is that it will close in early November 2014, which is when I will be in Salt Lake City for BrainShare 2014, so I am hoping that some more information about tentative plans for the future will be revealed then.

The Attachmate Group, Inc. is the privately held parent company for Novell, SUSE, Attachmate, and NetIQ. Three of the four of those companies currently have products in-use on campus at Martin Luther College. I’ll have more to say on this in the future as more information comes out.

Business Technology

Integrating iPrint and PaperCut

As we began our summer projects, it became clear that we were going to move ahead with Windows 8.1 in the student labs for the coming school year. This was going to bring about a whole host of changes we needed to make to the supporting servers and systems at Martin Luther College, but the one I have been working on the most has been our print and print accounting.

Moving away from our aging iPrint and Pcounter infrastructure was going to take some thinking on my part, but I didn’t have a clear path forward in the beginning. So I’m writing this blog post in the hopes that it can help someone else in the future who is working with the new Novell iPrint, Novell NetWare 6.5, and PaperCut for print accounting.

Here is an overview of how the system is setup now:

  • All printers are created on the new iPrint 1.1 appliance. The drivers are then loaded for each platform and then associated with the printer.
  • For those printers that need it, I create individual profiles so that we do not need to monkey around with settings for each individual printer. Granted, this affects a very small number of overall printers.
  • When a print job is submitted through iPrint, the accounting is handled entirely by PaperCut through their iPrint integration. This is the part I need to setup again in the future when we upgrade the appliance.
  • PaperCut handles making sure the proper account is debited by reading the username from the Novell Client login information sent through iPrint. It might sound complicated, but it works.
  • Users can check their current account amounts through the user portal built into PaperCut. The administrative backend is also where we handled refunds and adding money to accounts.

This setup affords us some benefits I was not aware of at first.

  • We no longer have to worry about popups for print jobs and amounts. We have email notifications setup to be sent off when accounts get low and people are pushed to the user portal for questions about how much print credit they have left.
  • The iPrint appliance is currently not syncing with our primary eDirectory infrastructure. This has afforded us some time to move ahead with our migration to OES 11.2 at a slower pace instead of trying to push through the migration this summer (big win in my opinion). All user account syncing is handled by PaperCut.
  • We’ve eliminated the old Pcounter application, so our help desk can eliminate a Windows XP VM we were using specifically for that application.
  • Moving to the appliance allows us to easily move to newer versions in the future so we can keep in front of the technology curve. Until this summer we did not have the ability to move to Windows 8.1.
  • Student printing from the residential network is being considered once again since the account and printing infrastructure is up-to-date and should allow us the flexibility needed to only open up iPrint for printing to institution-owned printers.

However, here are a list of things to watch out for:

  • Make sure you open up port 9191 on your iPrint appliance by logging in as root through SSH and using YaST.
  • Speaking of YaST, always check the Advanced options of an area. I spun my wheels for hours as I was troubleshooting the creating of printers between iPrint and PaperCut, only to find that my firewall settings were bad. I should have known, but I didn’t.
  • Think through your directory structure. You will gain the most flexibility by using groups to differentiate user types, not their location within the directory tree. I am now planning our migration to do just that so we can move all of our printing through iPrint and PaperCut so that we are able to have better reporting.
  • We are not using the mobile printing capabilities of iPrint at all right now, but we will probably need to consider it in the future. When the time comes, I will need to be on OES 11.2 to get away from some LDAP attributes missing from our eDirectory 8.7 installations on NetWare.

Overall, in the short time I have worked with it, I have been very happy with how iPrint and PaperCut are working for MLC. If you want more specifics about our installation and what we are doing (I’m really working hard to keep things as simple as possible), please let me know.

Business Technology

BrainShare: The Next Generation

I just stole the title from this article over on Novell’s Cool Solutions titled, obviously, BrainShare: The Next Generation … which you should go and read.

While it speaks generally about BrainShare and Novell, the overall message is a useful one for any information technology company of department:

How do you spread the word about technology choices to the next generation of IT professionals?

That’s my quote up above, feel free to steal it. It has probably been said 1000 times in the past, so I don’t claim any real ownership of it.

However, the question still stands. Many decisions are bore out due to context that is long gone, or long perverted in our minds, and so new decisions are often made without the benefit of understanding why the old decisions were made in the first place! What a waste of time, effort, and resources!

One of my favorite things to do is to listen to the stories about why certain technology decisions were made. Who was there. What were the options. What was tried in the past. Ultimately, why the decision to go with one technology in one way over others. They all provide valuable insight into not just the technology, but into the organization as a whole. You learn about internal politics, decision-making structures outside of the organizational tree, and tons of other important cultural information.

I mean culture as in what is there, not what some people in the organization are trying to push.

For me, BrainShare 2014 is going to be another part of that. Novell has been the backbone of our IT infrastructure since 1995, and it looks like it is going to stay a major part going forward. In order to adequately serve the campus, I’ll need to also get to know Novell better and Novell, me.

Going to conferences, talking with other users, trying out the new (AND THE OLD) technology is all part of the same goal of retaining knowledge from the past while also looking to the future so that we can make better decisions with more information to provide the best services we possibly can.

So I look forward to attending BrainShare 2014 and many conferences to come in the future as I navigate providing the best systems and services I can for today and the future.


Novell Continues Investing

While I haven’t seen anything on the site yet, a PR release titled Novell Increases Investment in ZENworks Portfolio was linked to from the ZENworks Twitter account, so I’m considering it legitimate.

fdeBasically, Novell has purchased the underlying source for their ZENworks Full Disc Encryption offering. Along with having the source they are increasing their investment in the development of that product, which also means the development of the ZENworks product line.

That all sounds like good stuff to me. We are looking at rolling out portions of ZENworks right now and ZENworks Full Disc Encryption is a part of those plans. Seeing Novell invest heavily only makes me more confident that we are making a good decision.