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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 However, we're already hitting pain due to outdated software; I managed to briefly hose the DNS setup over the weekend trying to deploy CAA records for SN due to our version of BIND being outdated.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 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 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 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

posted by NCommander on Friday January 20 2017, @04:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the hot-upgrading-database-servers-ftw dept.

Earlier today, we ran an article detailing that Oracle released 270 critical security updates for many of its products, including MySQL cluster which we use here to provide high uptime and reliability for SoylentNews. Needless to say, it was time to upgrade both NDB backends, and the four MySQLd frontends. While the upgrade did not go completely smoothly due to the fact that MySQL strict mode got enabled, and broke the site briefly, our total downtime was less than five minutes or so. Right now, we had to do a full flush and purge of all caches, which means the site is running a bit larky until they can repopulate but I'm pleased to announce we're up to date and secure!

ndb_mgm> show
Cluster Configuration
[ndbd(NDB)]	2 node(s)
id=2	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5, Nodegroup: 0)
id=3	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5, Nodegroup: 0, *)

[ndb_mgmd(MGM)]	2 node(s)
id=101	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)
id=102	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)

[mysqld(API)]	4 node(s)
id=11	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)
id=12	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)
id=13	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)
id=14	@redacted (mysql-5.7.17 ndb-7.5.5)

If you notice any unusual breakages or slowdowns, please let me know in the comments. Otherwise, keep calm and carry on!

~ NCommander

posted by martyb on Friday January 20 2017, @07:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the making-a-legacy dept.

A couple months ago we ran a story asking the SoylentNews community for volunteers to help with editing and the community did not let us down; we received a full dozen inquiries! You've probably noticed a few new names art the top of the stories and quite frankly, their contributions made it possible for the staff to survive the holiday season — many, many thanks!

If, for whatever reason, you did not want to be an Editor, but still wish to contribute, there are many other areas:

Submit stories
Click the Submit Story link in the "Navigation" slashbox on the left-hand side of the main page. It is not necessary to write perfect prose (though we sure appreciate it when we see it!) If you find a story that you find interesting and think that others might also enjoy it, too, send it in! We publish, on average, about 450 stories a month. If 1% of the community submitted a story or two each month, it would make a huge difference!
Post comments
You don't need to be a subject-matter expert to comment on a story! (Though we sure do appreciate when such people chime in!) Sometimes the best discussions come about simply because someone asked a question.
Perform Moderation
Moderation is like Olympic Scoring. Everything from a "-1" (not worth the electrons used to store it) to a "5" (one of the best on the site). Each registered user gets 5 mod points per day. Concentrate on promoting the good rather than hiding the bad... we want to make sure the most insightful, interesting, and informative comments are visible.
Help site development and operation
Something bugging you about site behavior? Have experience in running a web site? Know how to run an IRC server? Know your way around a Wiki? Can code Perl in your sleep? Have experience doing QA and/or test? Don't have this knowledge but would like to learn? Join our development and/or operations team.
Support the site
Your financial contributions are critical to our continued operation. Subscribe to SoylentNews or buy SoylentNews swag.
See something else where you'd like to help out? Let us know — the more the merrier! There's a lot of fun and camaraderie in our team... in large part it's why I continue to contribute to the site. Join in on the fun!

There are many rewards for contributing. Just to be a part of such a diverse and knowledgeable team is indescribable. I have learned so much from some amazingly helpful people. So join up as an editor, submit stories and comments, moderate, or help the site to keep running.

Lastly, spread the word. Share a link to the main page, to a particular story, or even to a single comment.


posted by cmn32480 on Friday December 23 2016, @02:38PM   Printer-friendly
from the we-appreciate-the-help! dept.

Hi Guys, Soylent's Editors do a lot behind the scenes to keep the community going. As a gift idea for them this year, please consider submitting lots of stories over the next two days to get the queue nice and full. Then they'll be able to schedule in their appearance on the home page ahead of time and take Christmas (or Hanukkah) off to spend time with their friends and families.

If you've never submitted a story before, here are guidelines for composing a story submission. You submit it here.

My own method is to find tech/science articles from SN's RSS-bot or a dozen other sources like the BBC or, grab the title, and a couple of paragraphs that communicate the gist. Often I'll add a quip, question, or note of my own, but that's up to your personal taste. It's easy and takes under 5 minutes per story.

Thanks for reading, and have a happy holiday!

[Ed Note: The week between Christmas and New Years is always slow for submissions and time is a precious commodity for all of us. The more subs in the queue, the further out we can get the story queue, and the more time we have to spend with our loved ones. Any help you can give would be appreciated!]

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Wednesday November 30 2016, @04:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the fresh-blood dept.

Hopefully you will have noticed a number of new editors that have appeared to help keep this site running. They have been active for over a week but you might not have noticed them if you have been enjoying the Thanksgiving Day holiday, or just spending money during Black Friday (which seems to last longer each year!)

Snow, Charon, FatPhil, Fnord666, and GreatOutdoors have completed their training and are busy making their contributions to the team, and there are several more volunteers who will begin training in the near future. I hope that you will welcome them and keep them busy by providing more and varied submissions for them to battle with. They have already significantly reduced the strain on the editorial team and we are all breathing a collective sigh of relief back here. Thank you for volunteering guys!

posted by cmn32480 on Tuesday November 15 2016, @02:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the editorial-staff-is-getting-TIRED dept.

I will put this to you, the community, in a very straight, simple (hopefully understandable) way.

The editorial staff is a small, hardworking group. There are currently about 5 of us that are actively pushing stories out on a regular basis, and we need help.

We humbly come to you, the community, to solicit for a volunteer or two. We will provide all the necessary training, at a cost of just 3 easy payments of $999.99US, or entirely free if you apply before 1 Apr 2099.

For that pittance, you can expect to learn:

  • The editing process
  • How to get onto the bouncer for IRC
  • The best ways to abuse The Mighty Buzzard
  • The secret staff handshake
  • How to be abused, and learn to like it
  • How to deal with having your name in lights
  • and much much more!

In all seriousness, we all are busy and have lives. So do you, and we get that, but for this community to continue to thrive, we need a little fresh blood on the editorial staff. Some of us have been at this since the site went live almost 3 years ago (janrinok and martyb have posted over 3000 articles EACH). To put it in perspective, the site has only run about 14,500. Some of us came on almost a year later, but like any organization, there has been attrition, and we need to replenish.

We are starting to see some of the tell-tale signs of burnout, and to avoid that, we need your help.

If you are interested, please feel free to reach out in the comments below, via email ([nick] at soylentnews dot org), or hit us on IRC. If we aren't there (we all LOOK like we are logged in all the time due to the bouncer, but we may not actually be there), /join #editorial and leave a message — we will get back to you.

Remember, it isn't all doom and gloom! Working on staff, you will be on a team with a fantastic group of REALLY smart (myself excluded) people. I can honestly say I have made some really good friends from this experience, and I've even gotten to meet one of the guys in meat space. It is something that I am truly glad I took advantage of when the opportunity came around.

Thanks for listening, and with a little luck, we will see one or two of you pretty soon.

Live Long and Prosper,


[TMB Note: Seriously. You really don't want me having to pick stories.]

[Update: see this comment below if you've expressed interest in volunteering.