Interview with Alison Chaiken, Linux kernel and systems programmer at Mentor Graphics

Why systemd is a practical tool for sys admins

Posted 30 Oct 2015 by 

Rikki Endsley (Red Hat)
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Tools in a tool box
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Photo by Peter (CC BY-SA 2.0), modified by Rikki Endsley

I met Alison Chaiken at LinuxCon 2010 in Boston, not long after she joined Nokia as a Meego technical consultant. A few months later, I interviewed her about her role at Nokia and her predictions about where open source technology was headed in 2011. She predicted an increasing role for cameras and microphones in mobile. "Cameras and microphones are used deliberately to take photos and record voice commands, but in the future they will be always on, gathering ambient data about the environment of users on the go," she said.

These days Alison works on automotive Linux systems programming at Mentor Graphics' Embedded Software Division, and she spends a lot of time working with, contributing to, and speaking about systemd. She'll be leading a training session, systemd, the Next-Generation Linux System Manager, at LISA15 in Washington D.C. on November 9. In this interview, she makes another prediction—that sys admins will enjoy using systemd.

What are a couple of considerations for sys admins before they transition to systemd?

For all the FUD generated by the systemd transition, most users and sys admins will simply not notice as the change takes place. The systemd team has made some effort to preserve compatibility with SysVinit, allowing the transition to be gradual. On the other hand, sys admins who learn to use the new features of systemd, especially those regarding resource allocation and security, stand to gain a great deal of benefit. The systemd journal is another tool that requires some adjustment, but will be simpler to integrate into testing and monitoring in the long run.

How does systemd improve lives for Linux admins? Does it make anything harder?

The brevity and uniformity of the systemd units and configuration files will make life simpler in the long run. Some individual packages may provide new systemd unit files that are poorly designed or erroneous, and sys admins may end up having to fix them.

When you're not teaching the systemd session, which talks or sessions are you most looking forward to attending?

Since I'm an embedded developer working on automotive Linux, I look forward to learning more about profiling, tracing, and performance optimization.

What would you tell sys admins who've never attended a LISA conference about why it's a "must do" event.

Bill Bradley, as quoted by John McPhee in A Sense of Where You Are:

Whenever you're not practicing, somebody somewhere is, and when you meet, they'll beat you.

Just so. If you are paid more than colleagues in other countries who perform similar work, then you'd better try to be worth more.

Do you have any final thoughts?

I admire the cleverness of many of the systemd features. While there are legitimate grounds on which to criticize systemd, it is a clean, well-designed tool with lots of intuitive features and excellent documentation. Sys admins who gain some familiarity with systemd will soon begin to enjoy using it.

LISA15 Series

This article is part of the LISA15 Series for LISA15, which will be held November 8-13, 2015, in Washington, D.C. LISA is an annual event where systems engineering and operations professionals share real-world knowledge about designing, building, and maintaining the critical systems.

4 Comments

dmacleo

hmm..if RH wasn't fully onboard with systemd would they have also included opposing viewpoints here w/o referring to them as FUD?
I am in no way, shape, or form qualified to opine on systemd implications but there are many that are that have raised many valid concerns.
if the site admins here would run an article interviewing someone opposed to the systemd integration it would go a long way (IMO) to presenting a balanced discussion.
food for thought.

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Scott Dowdle

Unless there is a presenter at LISA giving an anti-systemd talk, I don't think there is a need to cover the anti-systemd side. That controversy is basically over and the world has moved on. If you want to avoid systemd there are a few ways to do so. Very few.

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Bruce Ferrell

Users may not notice, but systems admins DO notice the difference.

Systemd IS a hot mess. Someday, it may solve problems. right now it's a solution in search of a problem with a LOT of non-systems admin types doing PR for it

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Noman Ahmed

Nice them pic

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Rikki Endsley

Rikki Endsley is a community manager for Opensource.com. In the past, she worked as the community evangelist on the Open Source and Standards (OSAS) team at Red Hat; a freelance tech journalist; community manager for the USENIX Association; associate publisher of Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN, and Ubuntu User; and as the managing editor of Sys Admin magazine and UnixReview.com. Follow her on Twitter at: