Imagine you are at a piano recital. Expecting the choppy, hesitant performance of a scared youth, you suddenly learn that Van Cliburn is in town and has volunteered to step in so the poor boy can study for finals. What follows is the smooth, effortless performance of a master, an incredible bargain for the price of your tickets. So it is with Caldera's new Linux Administration class.
As Linux completes the transition from religious movement to corporate initiative, the need for serious, accredited training grows. The class composition in this, the second-ever Linux Administration course, hailed from all across the U.S. and reflected the broad appeal of the operating system. Joining me in the pilgrimage to Caldera's Utah offices were an Internet service provider, an IT administrator from a community college, a couple of CAD/imaging specialists, a medical records administrator, an officer from a medical supplies company, a VAR and a system administrator from an on-line catalog firm. Previous Linux experience ranged from extensive to nil.
I came because the Engineering Tools group I manage at MCIWorldcom develops web-enabled databases. I'd been using Linux off and on for several years, but recent testing of the new Linux releases of Sybase and Oracle had convinced me that a significant corporate hurdle to using Linux, the availability of major-league databases, was now gone. Could Linux replace our present NT-based web and database servers? I attempted to find out.
The Linux Administration class runs four days, with an installation class on day five. The course makes few assumptions: you begin by learning how to properly start and shut down the system, configure the boot loader, create partitions and file systems. From there you cover basic system commands, then user and group management. After learning how to customize the environment and set permissions, you move on to a very thorough treatment of networking. We set up a simple network, configured serial terminals, used NFS and Samba. We synchronized each machine to a time server, configured FTP and web servers and then set up full domain name services.
CGI programming, Sendmail, security and firewalls were covered briefly but thoroughly. After a session on printing and package management, we delved into the arcana of system initialization processes, loading and unloading modules on the fly, backing up the kernel, even rebuilding the kernel to customize it. After a discussion of log files and troubleshooting techniques, we spent the last day installing OpenLinux systems on our class PCs.
Throughout the course, I was impressed with the depth of knowledge the instructor (Wilson Mattos) displayed and the resources Caldera brought to bear on difficult questions. Eric Ratliff (working with Linux since release 0.11) and Allan Smart (a Caldera director) were always on hand to explore involved topics as deeply as we wished.
How does the class compare to other industry training courses? I've taken most of the classes Oracle offers and a good number from Sun. Unlike other industry courses, our instructors at Caldera stayed in the room during exercises to help the students. The instructors didn't read PowerPoint slides to us, and the exercises in the book were relevant, clear and useful. Even given the beta nature of the class and the occasional bobble in the documentation, I would rate the level of instruction and the professionalism as good or better than most industry short courses.
Also to Caldera's credit, the Linux instruction was as vendor-neutral as possible. The class used networked Caldera OpenLinux PCs, but Mr. Mattos always covered variations which might arise with distributions from Red Hat, Debian, Slackware, SuSE, etc. Class participation was invaluable; members contributed many useful tips about distribution idiosyncrasies and about Linux in general.
The little things you'd expect from a Linux vendor were also present—the “Designed for Windows95” sticker strategically placed on the copier waste basket, abundant refreshments, the vigorous debate that arose over future Linux certification tests. (Does complying with the GNU open-source license mean Caldera must include answers with the certification questions?)
The one-day installation class at the end of the week clarified the often obscure aspects of loading up Linux. In addition to giving everyone a boxed copy of their latest Linux release, Caldera instructors even helped class members get Linux up and running on their personal laptops.
I would have preferred more elementary coverage of certain basics (shell scripting, for example) at the expense of advanced networking instruction, but the class did a good job of distilling the core knowledge of Linux into a retainable, five-day package.
Will I now go back and lobby MCIWorldcom to put Linux on every desktop? Probably not. Even with the slick new KDE X interface in Caldera's latest distribution, I think it is still going to take further evolution before the corporate desktop line is breached. However, my company places a premium on finding the most cost-effective, efficient ways to run its telcom business, and ignoring opportunities has never been a winning strategy. I think Linux can find a secure home right now on machines used as corporate servers. No matter how you slice it, running Linux on network file, print, mail, database and web servers delivers potent bang for the buck. These systems scale quite well, are remarkably stable and are least restrictive in terms of development options. Major league databases are now running quite well on Linux (Sybase comes bundled with the latest OpenLinux release) and the remaining corporate concerns about support and formal training are being handled capably by companies like Caldera.
I'd like to thank the Caldera staff for good value on the education dollar and for their hospitality during the class. I'd also like to thank the Engineering Tools group at MCIWorldcom for tolerating my Linux evangelism.