August 27, 2004

Migrating Windows to Linux -- and back -- and forth

Author: Tina Gasperson

In October 2003, Randy Lastinger, director of
network operations for National
Background Data
, made himself so valuable to the
company that it had to quit using Linux.

That's right. His bosses hired Lastinger, a seasoned open
source veteran, to rescue them from the typical
security woes associated with Microsoft products. They wanted
out of the closed source environment. Lastinger fixed
them up -- but then the company realized that if
Lastinger went away there was no one there who could
do anything with the Linux configuration.

No expertise, so back to Windows

So they said, "Whoa! Put us back on Windows, mate."
But only for a little while.

National Background Data, located in Ocala, Fla.,
sells criminal background information to affiliates
who run background checks for companies looking to
hire or bring on volunteers. Their clients log on to
the information database via the Web.

Web-based, centrally located software is
cost-efficient for consumers because they don't have
to install it locally. It can be accessed from
anywhere, and there are few technical support issues.
But Web-based software brings with it all the security risks
you'd imagine in an Internet Explorer-dominated
environment.

Forget Nimda and Code Red. Viruses are bad enough, but
when Lastinger came on board, National Background Data
was trying to recover from a Chinese hack job on the
server. "The only way to fix it was to rebuild it,"
said Lastinger. He got there just in time to save
them. "They hired me because they didn't know anything
about Linux. They wanted to get out of the Microsoft issues."

Valiantly, the previously Microsoft-only shop had
attempted to do some Unix stuff before Lastinger
appeared. Alas, "default install is not the best way
to build a Web site," he said.

Server rebuilt, then locked down

Lastinger rebuilt the server and locked it down using
ipchains and iptables. Ahhhh -- big sigh of relief.
But wait a minute! What if Lastinger gets hit by a bus
tomorrow and we're stuck here with this ... this
thing?

Dutifully, Lastinger put the Microsoft servers back up and
made them as secure as he could. Undeterred from his
mission, however, he gradually surrounded himself with
other "open source people," as he calls them. Last
November, National Background finally felt comfortable
enough with its IT staff to allow them to
re-migrate.

"The hardest part was for me to justify the move,"
Lastinger said. But a little prophecy he made sealed
the deal. "A lot of the things that were going on with
Microsoft viruses I saw coming, and told them.
Strangely enough, it all happened.

"So they asked me, what can we do to defend against
it? Go to Linux, I said. What can we do in Linux?
Well, it's open source, so we can take it and make it
look like Windows as much as possible." Except of course, that Windows viruses don't work on
Linux.

With a team of two other "Linux-savvy"
(Lastinger's words) guys, he finally got clearance to
turn National Background Data into an open source
shop, once and for all.

Mono and PostgresSQL fit right in place

"Our data normalization will be using Mono, and we'll
be using PostgreSQL instead of SQL Server or Oracle. The
mail system is already converted to Linux."

And Lastinger has moved from the custom ipchains
configuration to Astaro Security
Linux
. He loves it.

"If you ask our accounting department why it's good,
they'll tell you price. If you ask me, it's because of
the functionality. I think they were one of the first
all-in-one solutions," he said.

For Lastinger, the load-balancing support was a big
issue. Astaro eliminated the need for a separate
load-balancing switch, using a built-in round-robin
system instead.

Not only that, but it took him about five minutes to
get everything up and going. OK, but Lastinger, you're
a Linux genius. What about the rest of us? He assures
us that the interface is straightforward, and the
manual is so easy to read, that even someone who's not
as much an expert could do it. "It's kind of written
for dummies," he said. Right, thanks.

Lastinger says Astaro really helped when the company
didn't have a whole lot of good cash flow. "Within
three months after we installed it, we became
profitable, because we were able to get rid of a lot of
stuff in the datacenter," Lastinger said.

Category:

  • Linux
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