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Stand Alone Sysadmin

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I have a client who I first met 20 years ago. At that time I was part of the technical staff at BSDI. My duties at BSDI were a mix of email and phone support for our customers, development work, QC of our OS releases. At some point as the internet boom started to ramp up we started getting customers asking for professional services. Since I had a consulting background I became the guy who ran consulting services for BSDI. This is how I met Vince.

At the time BSDI had just folded services for netware into BSD/OS and was selling a netware to internet gateway product. With my consulting background and my time spent on the netware project when we got a call asking if we would send someone to Long Island to install our internet server and netware gateway product the answer was of course we would. Heck I was only 60 miles away.

Vince eventually migrated his companies network from netware to tcp/ip and BSDI had failed, but he was so impressed with BSD that he asked me to update his gateway/mailserver/dns-server/webserver box to the then current FreeBSD and to help migrate the company over to tcp/ip. I was happy to do this.

At some point Vince started his own little company and again asked me to setup a FreeBSD box to take care of his firewall, mail, DNS and webserver needs. In short order I had him up and running on some vanilla x86 box he handed me and all his essential services were operational. This also gave me an off site DNS slave for my zones.

To my surprise one day zone transfers for his zones to my dns server stopped and his DNS server was not responding to queries or ssh attempts. I rang Vince up and said he needed to take a look at the machine and see what the console said and we needed to get his box back up. It was at that time he told me he replaced it with Microsoft Server 2008 and MS-Exchange. His stated reason, so he could manage it himself. It sounded odd as his only management ever consisted of making new user accounts or deleting old accounts, all of which was handled via the WEBMIN gui. But I wished him well with his new setup and changed my own DNS zones to no longer reference his now less functional name server (he could not figure out how to be a Slave for me).

Much to my surprise last week Vince called me and asked if FreeBSD would run on a PowerPC Macintosh. When I asked why he quickly told me he wanted to go back to his setup of a few years ago with a BSD box doing his email, web, and DNS service. It seems that the Microsoft option did not work out for him, then he moved to hosted services, only to come to the realization that he already had an internet connection at his office and he could just go back to what had worked for many years.

Vince was surprised when I said no need to put the Mac G5 on FreeBSD. He had no idea that his Mac was already running what amounts to FreeBSD user-land on top of a Mach kernel. Needless to say I set about sshing into his G5 and building/installing what was needed to get him operational.

The first step was finding the OS-X devtools for Mac OS X 10.5. Lucky for me they were still on the Apple Developers Site, so a short time later I had them installed and had started to install Macports to handle most of my third party software needs. Macports comes to us from Jordan K. Hubbard (a big contributor to FreeBSD) and a small team of like minded folks who saw the need for OS X to have something like ports or pkgsrc. My thought on Macports after using it for years is that it is even better than either ports or pkgsrc.

So it looks some small companies can learn from their mistakes and return to using good solid Free Software. What advocates of Free Software have to do is keep lines of communication open with their clients, or company management so when the opportunity presents the moment may be seized and good solid standards based Free Software Solutions can replace the expensive and often times insecure commercial offerings.

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