Monthly Archives: September 2006

Open Source Routing

I’ve written about competition to Cisco products in the past, most recently about a college in Texas switching from Call Manager to the (fantastic) open source Asterisk PBX. It seems there’s more trouble in paradise. The networking market has been moving towards commoditization for some time but remains stratified, for example when Linksys got too close for comfort Cisco bought them out and made it clear such products were not suitable for the enterprise customer.

Another threat should be on the radar at Cisco. A company called Vyatta has released an open source product set to compete directly with Cisco routers called Open Flexible Router (OFR). The software runs on standard x86 PC hardware and is based on Linux but boots up and runs in much the same way a Cisco router does, right down to the command line interface that closely paralells Cisco’s. It seems the marketing is currently targeted and small and medium sized businesses but there’s no real reason that such a company couldn’t convice some educational and enterprise users to switch if they were convinced the support was good enough.

The two main things Cisco has going for it are the dedicated hardware which allows for (theoretically) more stability and optimized processing and the history of customer satisfaction and excellent support that Cisco has built into its brand. Of course with an open source program such as OFR another company could come up with a customized hardware solution that would erode at least one of the Cisco advantages, the other one will just take time if Vyatta can build a name for quality and stability.

Back up that data!

I’ve looked at online data backup solutions in the past and have found them slow and overly expensive. I recently uncovered which looks to change all that, at least for those users confortable with the Linux command line.

The great thing about (other than the $1.80/gb price and unlimited transfer) is that you can use the rsync protocol. For those not familiar, rsync is a protocol which transfers only the portions of a file which have chnaged instead of the entire file. Essentially it makes the tramsfer process much more efficient. As an added benefit you can use other open protocols such as sftp, Unison, rdiff-backup, WebDAV and duplicity. If that sounds like alphabet soup to you is probably not the right solution, this is not a one touch backup solution. On the other hand if you are comfortable getting your feet wet might be a great and inexpensive solution for automated offsite backup.

Collecting weather with one wire

I thought I’d written about this in the past, but it appears I have not so I’ll have to take a bit more time to explain this than I thought. To make a long story shorter my interest in weather and computers indicates that at some point I would like to have a computerized weather station at the house. In looking into this, and with my strong preference for inexpensive and open source solutions, I came across the Dallas Semiconductor 1-Wire protocol. As it turns out there are a lot of things you can do with the 1-wire protocol, including using their iButtons and readers as the basis for an access control system (another fun project). One of the early ways they popularized the 1-wire system was by developing an inexpensive weather station.

The station is now sold by Automatizacion Aplicada a Gasolineras (AAG) on their website. The sourceforge One Wire Weather (OWW) project is an open source solution to logging and displaying the data from just such a station. As an added benefit the OWW project has a page listing hardware suppliers, projects and scripting resources. If you’re interested in this sort of thing I encourage you to look at the 1-Wire products and the OWW project as a fun activity.

News for campus computing

I don’t know that I can add another publication or website to my list of reading material becasue I’m already so far behind but I found out that there’s an enterprise IT trade paper just for college and university settings. CampusTechnology is a monthly publication with roots going back to 1988 and published by 1105 Media, which is nice to see since the majority of the trade journals are controlled by CMP and IDG.

Shorten that URL

Several times in the past I’ve considered building an open source program similar to TinyURL (with some improvements) for my own use. I think it would be especially handy as a way for me to link to other sites from my blog while keeping strict anti-spam measures in place (which sometimes whine about my own off-site links).

I can’t believe this hasn’t been done before as the code shouldn’t be that difficult. I did spend some time recently looking for starter code but didn’t quite come up with what I was looking for. Instead I found lists of simialr sites which don’t appear to use open source code either the notlong service has links to some of their competitors and the Perl Shorten library gives another list of such services. The closest I have come is this short url php script but I haven’t looked at the code yet and I’m tempted not too because I’m not thrilled with the way the short urls appear to be handled and there is no information about how the code is licensed. The last thing I want is to get caught up in a licensing battle like the SCO/IBM case.

If you know of any open source PHP/mySQL URL shortening projects please add a coment and share the wealth.

Ajax comes to your server

I recently heard about the nifty Ajaxterm project. The idea is to provide terminal access to Linux servers without the need for a Java client which has been the way this has been accomplished in the past. Obviously the connection is insecure unless you use SSH and relies on the local webserver staying up so their are some limitiations. Nonetheless, this is a cool project and one that could prove useful in a number of system management scenarios.

Organizing Books

I have a lot of books, probably far too many and certainly far too many for me to remember what all I have. I often think it would be helpful if I could search a database of my books when I’m checking to see if I have something. There are some sites online where you can do this with a small collection for free or pay to catalog a larger collection but I have two problems with that. First, I don’t like trusting comapnies with my data which could be sut off at any time. Second, I have this thing about doing it myself and using open source software. I keep meaning to write a simple PHP/mySQL program to handle this but just have too many similar PHP/mySQL projects that I need to work on first.

I recently came across some open source software that would provide a good atarting point for such a system. Home Library seems to be just what I’m looking for, though it may be a bit immature. I’m going to be keeping my eye on this as I could use somthing to catalog all my DVDs and videotapes as well. I was also pointed towards the bibliophile project at sourceforge. While not a final product itself they have a number of links to catalog like programs on the projects page. While these are more geared towards organizing references for papers they are useful in their own right and apparently might be useful as catalogging software too.

Recovering from an ext3 hard drive crash

If you run a Linux system and have had the misfortune of having your hard drive crash without a recent backup or RAID configuration you’re in for a world of hurt. Thankfully, there are some free utilities that might make things go a bit easier for you.

My favorite utility is a gem called dd_rescue. This program will work quite hard (and efficiently) to recover as much of your data as possible onto another hard drive or a disk image. It does this by reading smaller and smaller block sizes, isolating as much of the good data as possible before copying it off. Of course this program can’t bring back data that is in the bad area itself, but it does salvage everything it can. I’ve used it a couple of times and one time it worked pretty well, recovering all the important data and the other time I got almost nothing usable. If you need a quick and dirty attempt to get things going again as quickly as possible this is your ticket.

SHSU switches from Cisco Call Manager to Asterisk

According to NetworkWorld Sam Houston State Univeristy in Texas is moving from Cisco Call Manager to Asterisk for the backend of their VoIP system. The story is being discussed on Slashdot as well.

Score one for open source! As someone who has worked on both the Asterisk and Call Manager platforms I have to say that I much prefer working with Asterisk.

Ultra cheap VoIP Phones

If you’re in the market for a very inexpensive VoIP phone you might want to take a look at something based on the PA1688 chipset. You can find a list of manufacturers who sell these phones (for as little as $50 I’m told) on the VoIP-wiki though the page is labeled as PA168 for some legacy reason.

After looking at a few of these phones I would never use one in a commercial installation where my preference would be for a Cisco or Polycom (two of the best) but they would be suitable as something to play around with on Asterisk at home or in a lab.

In related news I also heard about the OpenPBX fork of Asterisk. There is a little bad blood between the Digium and OpenPBX developers, essentially because the forked the Asterisk code because they didn’t want to give up the copyleft portion of the GPL license when contributing code to Asterisk (essentially prohibiting Digium from reselling or relicensing their changes). Something to keep an eye on if you’re interested in Asterisk or open source VoIP.