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posted by NCommander on Tuesday February 07 2017, @11:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the insert-systemd-rant-here dept.

So, in previous posts, I've talked about the fact that SoylentNews currently is powered on Ubuntu 14.04 + a single CentOS 6 box. Right now, the sysops have been somewhat deadlocked on what we should do going forward for our underlying operating system, and I am hoping to get community advice. Right now, the "obvious" choice of what to do is simply do-release-upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04. We've done in-place upgrades before without major issue, and I'm relatively certain we could upgrade without breaking the world. However, from my personal experience, 16.04 introduces systemd support into the stack and is not easily removable. Furthermore, at least in my personal experience, working with journalctl and such has caused me considerable headaches which I detailed in a comment awhile ago.

Discounting systemd itself, I've also found that Ubuntu 16.04 seems less "polished", for want of a better word. I've found I've had to do considerably more fiddling and tweaking to get it to work as a server distro than I had to do with previous releases, as well as had weird issues with LDAP. The same was also true when I worked with recent versions with Debian. As such, there's been a general feeling with the sysops that it's time to go somewhere else.

Below the fold are basically the options as we see them, and I hope if the community can provide some interesting insight or guidance.

Right now, we have about three years before security updates for 14.04 stop, and we are absolutely forced to migrate or upgrade. However, we're already hitting pain due to outdated software; I managed to briefly hose the DNS setup over the weekend trying to deploy CAA records for SN due to our version of BIND being outdated. When TLS 1.3 gets standardized, we're going to have a similar problem with our frontend load balancers. As such, I want to get a plan in place for migration so we can start upgrading over the next year instead of panicking and having to do something at the last moment

The SN Software Stack

As with any discussion for server operating system, knowing what our workloads and such is an important consideration. In short, this is what we use for SN, and the software we have to support

  • nginx - Loadbalancing/SSL Termination
  • Apache 2.2 + mod_perl - rehash (we run it with a separate instance of Apache and Perl, and not the system copy)
  • MySQL Cluster for production
  • MySQL standard for secondary services
  • Kerberos + Hesiod - single-signon/authetication
  • Postfix+Squirrelmail - ... mail

In addition, we use mandatory application controls (AppArmor) to limit the amount of stuff a given process can access for critical services to try and help harden security. We'd like to maintain support for this feature to whatever we migrate, either continuing with AppArmor, switching to SELinux, or using jails/zones if we switch operating systems entirely.

The Options

Right now, we've floated a few options, but we're willing to hear more.

A non-systemd Linux distro

The first choice is simply migrate over to a distribution where systemd is not present or completely optional. As of writing, Arch Linux, Gentoo, and Slackware are three such options. Our requirements for a Linux distribution is a good record of updates and security support as I don't wish to be upgrading the system once a week to a new release.

Release-based distributions

I'm aware of the Devuan project, and at first glance, it would seem like an obvious choice; Debian without systemd is the de-facto tagline. However, I've got concerns about the long-term suitability of the distribution, as well as an intentional choice to replace much of the time-tested Debian infrastructure such as the testing archive with a git-powered Jenkins instance in it's place. Another option would be slackware, but Slackware has made no indication that they won't adapt systemd, and is historically very weak with in-place upgrading and package management in general. Most of the other distributions on without-systemd.org are either LiveCDs, or are very small minority distros that I would be hesitant to bet the farm on with.

Rolling-release distributions

On the other side of the coin, and an option favored by at least some of the staff is to migrate to Gentoo or Arch, which are rolling-release. For those unaware, a rolling release distribution basically always has the latest version of everything. Security updates are handled simply by updating to the latest upstream package for the most part. I'm not a huge fan of this option, as we're dependent on self-built software, and it's not unheard of for "emerge world" to break things during upgrades due to feature changes and such. It would essentially require us to manually be checking release notes, and crossing our fingers every time we did a major upgrade. We could reduce some of this pain by simply migrating all our infrastructure to the form of ebuilds so that at least they would get rebuild as part of upgrading, but I'm very very hesitant about this option as a whole, especially for multiple machines.

Switch to FreeBSD/illumos/Other

Another way we could handle the problem is simply jump off the Linux ship entirely. From a personal perspective, I'm not exactly thrilled on the way Linux as a collective whole has gone for several years, and I see the situation only getting worse with time. As an additional benefit, switching off Linux gives us the possiblity of using real containers and ZFS, which would allow us to further isolate components of the stack, and give us the option to do rollbacks if ever necessary on a blocked upgrade; something that is difficult to impossible with most Linux distributions. As such, I've been favoring this option personally, though I'm not sold enough to make the jump. Two major options attract me of these two:

FreeBSD

FreeBSD has been around a long time, and has both considerable developer support, and support for a lot of features we'd like such as ZFS, jails, and a sane upstream. FreeBSD is split into two components, the core stack which is what constitutes a release, and the ports collection which is add-on software. Both can be upgraded (somewhat) independently of each other, so we won't have as much pain with outdated server components. We'd also have the ability to easy create jails for things like rehash, MySQL, and such and easily isolate these components from each other in a way that's more iron-clad than AppArmor or SELinux.

illumos

illumos is descended from OpenSolaris, and forked after Oracle closed up the source code for Solaris 11. Development has continued on it (at a, granted, slower place). Being the originator of ZFS, it has class A support for it, as well as zones which are functionally equivalent to FreeBSD jails. illumos also has support for SMF, which is essentially advanced service management and tracking without all the baggage systemd creates and tendrils throughout the stack. Zones can also be branded to run Linux binaries to some extent so we can handle migrating the core system over by simply installing illumos, restoring a backup into a branded zone, and then piecemeal decommissioning of said zone. As such, as an upgrade choice, this is fairly attractive. If we migrate to illumos, we'll either use the SmartOS distribution, or OpenIndiana.

Final Notes

Right now, we're basically on the fence with all options, so hopefully the community can provide their own input, or suggest other options we're not aware of. I look forward to your comments below!

~ NCommander

 
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07 2017, @04:20PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07 2017, @04:20PM (#464125)

    The most rational solution is probably to do like most people : cope with this damn systemd. Sure it is a pain, sure it an annoying change after years of stability on a rock stable linux distro like a Debian, but it is here to stay whether you like it or not.

    AFAIK, Slackware is probably the only rock stable distro with a non systemd option. Unless you have a proper pre-production server with pre-production testing, I would not ever touch the idea of using a less tested, rolling release OS like Arch. These are for people who have automated pre-production tests (not CI, you know).

    FreeBSD, while neat and all, is not always as reliable as people think. I had awful issues with regressions on an high end network card drivers years ago, and it was a huge pain in the butt. Found no workaround, had to remove FreeBSD and install OpenBSD instead.
    Man, how can one let such a regression happen on a such an important piece of code?

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by NCommander on Tuesday February 07 2017, @05:02PM

    by NCommander (2) Subscriber Badge <michael@casadevall.pro> on Tuesday February 07 2017, @05:02PM (#464143) Homepage Journal

    Go try using Ubuntu 16.04, then get back to me. My experience has shown me Debian 8 more or less fell into the same quality tarpit due to systemd.

    --
    Still always moving
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07 2017, @06:40PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07 2017, @06:40PM (#464199)

    I use antix and mx linux and I use sparingly voidlinux and knoppix. Among these, mx linux has a lot of systemd components but PID 1 is clean.
    So, if I can use a desktop without systemd, people can use servers without it.
    I guess Lennart and RH must try harder to trap us.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by mechanicjay on Tuesday February 07 2017, @11:14PM

    by mechanicjay (7) <reversethis-{gro ... a} {yajcinahcem}> on Tuesday February 07 2017, @11:14PM (#464359) Homepage Journal

    At the day job we're currently running a couple hundred CentOS 7 boxes, with ZFS for Linux and we have very few issues.

    Systemd is craptastic, but CentOS 7 seems to have made a good go of it -- We've not had any major systemd related issues, only annoyances.

    OpenSuse was an early adopter of systemd and it resulted in a few releases that were almost completely broken from a system management standpoint. Honestly, it's been really solid for me on OpenSuse in the 13.x and 42.x releases.

    --
    My VMS box beat up your Windows box.
  • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Friday February 10 2017, @03:40AM

    by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 10 2017, @03:40AM (#465395) Homepage Journal

    Devuan is an easy crossgrade and avoids having to tangle with systemd. And you can still spend time surveying the landscape to decide if you want something else. It could give you some more time to make any decisions you think you still need to make.

  • (Score: 2) by The Mighty Buzzard on Saturday February 11 2017, @01:50AM

    by The Mighty Buzzard (18) Subscriber Badge <themightybuzzard@proton.me> on Saturday February 11 2017, @01:50AM (#465658) Homepage Journal

    It's a beta init system. You do not use a beta init system on a production server. Ever.

    --
    My rights don't end where your fear begins.
    • (Score: 2) by canopic jug on Saturday February 11 2017, @11:38AM

      by canopic jug (3949) Subscriber Badge on Saturday February 11 2017, @11:38AM (#465744) Journal

      Actually, systemd is in pre-alpha given not only the instability but inescapable fact that they are still deciding on and adding to the feature list. Alpha is after you've decided on the functionality and have it in place and working as at least proof-of-concept. Beta comes much later when you get those functions to work in the way they were planned to.

      --
      Money is not free speech. Elections should not be auctions.