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Wikimedia Simplifies By Moving To Ubuntu 215

David Gerard writes "Wikimedia, the organization that runs Wikipedia and associated sites, has moved its server infrastructure entirely to Ubuntu 8.04 from a hodge-podge of Ubuntu, Red Hat, and various Fedora versions. 400 servers were involved and the project has been going on for 2 years. (There's also a small amount of OpenSolaris on the backend. All open source!)"
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Wikimedia Simplifies By Moving To Ubuntu

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  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @11:59AM (#25328593) Homepage

    I did not know that ubuntu was a player in the server market.

    THIS is what makes it "news that matters".

  • by Aliencow ( 653119 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:00PM (#25328611) Homepage Journal

    With Gentoo, you have to be much more careful about what you update and when. They probably went to Ubuntu because it is based on Debian, and they can obtain support from Cannonical directly if needed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:06PM (#25328677)

    Ubuntu server is not the same as ubuntu desktop... do some research before you make claims like this. Ubuntu server is SERVER centric appealing to enterprise class deploys. They have a very good pricing and support model in place. RHEL and CentOS are great distros with good support as well... but they are not perfect. Look at RHEL's recent incident with their RPM servers. My point is, just because Ubuntu has a great desktop linux os, does not mean that their server OS is fruity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:07PM (#25328687)

    I think that it's good to standardize on the best OS for your needs, but to find out which one is best you should first try running a bunch of them.

  • by Kuj0317 ( 856656 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:18PM (#25328817)

    You are wrong there. A homogenous environment (up to a certain point) is MUCH better for scalability. Need more power? Get a new box, apply the standard customizations, throw it in the mix.

    I agree that a cookie cutter approach like this does not yeild the greatest performance per box, but it does allow for a better performance/administration ratio.

  • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:22PM (#25328877) Homepage Journal

    I think it likely that Wikipedia started out as a small pet project, and just happened to grow piecemeal as they needed more and more resources as they grew in popularity. They wouldn't have been sure to start with just how popular they were going to become, how could they? Also take into account that perhaps they had been using different OSes in a consistent way (though I don't expect that to be likely), like some were just for webserving, some held a quick database of current articles, some machines held compressed archives, some were for intended for virtualisation and testing out of new designs, that kind of thing?

    Anyone who has written a small well planned (or perhaps not so well planned) application but then been asked to make many, many, many changes over the years will be able to sympathise I expect. It's much easier to design a large coherent system than grow one out of a smaller system..

  • by JeepFanatic ( 993244 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:23PM (#25328883)
    I'll probably get modded Troll for this but whatever ...

    But as a server distro, I'm not so sure. I'm surprised that Wikimedia didn't go with a distribution that's more established for server needs.

    If you have an argument to make about the OS's merits as a server then make it based on facts. Tell us why you don't think it's a perfect fit on the server. Don't just say "I'm not so sure" and leave it hanging there. Support your position with something that can be argued.

  • I believe the devs (the sysadmins at Wikimedia are also called "devs") experimented with a wide range of OSes - various Fedoras, Red Hat, Ubuntu, FreeBSD, Solaris 10, OpenSolaris - in various situations to see what was best to work with. This is a rationalisation from that.

    Realistically, it's all Unix and it'll all do the job. So it then becomes a matter of picking one your team is comfortable with. With armchair sysadmins' distro wars, "perfect" is the enemy of "good" - there's nothing you can do with CentOS that you can't also do with Ubuntu, you eventually just have to pick a damn distro and stick with it.

  • Re:homogeneity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <(ku.oc.draregdivad) (ta) (todhsals)> on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:35PM (#25329037) Homepage

    Uh, whuh? You've obviously never had to herd a large number of machines. Most stuff running the same OS is the only way to live - jumpstart/kickstart, standard patch clusters, one local package repository server, that sorta thing.

    (I do in fact do this for a living. Standardised Solaris 10 servers with Blastwave for the open-source toys, CentOS 4 when we need Linux, local repository servers for both. A few Windows boxes with a locally-served copy of Cygwin on them. May I heartily recommend Cygwin on any Windows servers you may be stuck with - it makes life so much saner.)

  • by Tango42 ( 662363 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:37PM (#25329055)

    Your mistake is in thinking it's a large effort - they started with just volunteers and then had only one or two full time staff for a while with the technical stuff still being done by volunteers. The first technical person wasn't hired until August 2005, four and a half years after the launch of Wikipedia (which, by that point, was already a top 50 website according to Alexa), they only have around 5 technical staff now. It's a very small project from that point of view, it's just a hell of a lot of servers!

  • by norminator ( 784674 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:45PM (#25329145)
    I second your comments on Gentoo. I had originally thought it would be a good choice for my MythTV box on older hardware... and it was fine, at first. After about two years of occasional updates, the updates got really painful. Updating config files sucked, and often packages wouldn't compile, I spent hours googling various compiler messages. At one point the mythtv package got upgraded to version 0.22, then it wanted to backdate it to 0.20. Unfortunately the desktop system I was using as a frontend was running Ubuntu, and I had version 0.21 on there, so things were all screwed up. I finally went to Ubuntu server, and it's been smooth sailing ever since.

    If someone has the time to invest in understanding the whole portage system and knowing how to get exactly what they want out of it, and if they don't mind managing all of their config files after each update, then Gentoo is probably fine, and I'm sure it is ideal in soe situations. But it's definitely not for most people.

    [standard Gentoo complaint]
    Also, it takes a long time to compile stuff.
    [/standard Gentoo complaint]
  • by brion ( 1316 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @12:47PM (#25329177) Homepage

    Actually, the only difference between "Ubuntu Server Edition" and the "regular" Desktop version is which packages get installed by default.

    That's one of the things we like about Ubuntu -- the 'supported' version (should you want a support contract, or even just security updates for a longer period!) isn't a totally separate distro from what folks use at home.

    When Red Hat split "Red Hat Linux" into "Red Hat Enterprise Linux" (supported, but for $ only) and "Fedora" (free, fast-changing, no long-term security updates), they lost the benefit that techs would likely be running the same version of the software on their desktops and servers.

  • Re:homogeneity (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brion ( 1316 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @01:00PM (#25329409) Homepage
    Overall monoculture is bad; consistent setup and administration in a single buildout is good.
  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Friday October 10, 2008 @01:31PM (#25329817)

    8.04 is a long-term release. In the world of servers, that counts for something.

    According to their web site, it's only supported for five years. You must have some bizzaro-world definition of "long term."

  • by FishWithAHammer ( 957772 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @02:03PM (#25330227)

    Your drooling over Gentoo kind of ignores the fact that the Gentoo developers are a bunch of screaming morons and can't seem to get straight which one's their ass and which one's their elbow.

    As-is, I wouldn't even use Gentoo on a desktop. (How long has Nethack been masked because of their stupid-ass games policy?)

  • Re:And? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Friday October 10, 2008 @02:19PM (#25330477)

    Regarding software, 5 years is a *VERY* long term.

    For home computer users, yes. Not for businesses.

  • Re:And? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mweather ( 1089505 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @02:58PM (#25330991)
    It is when a new license costs $0.00. Other than deployment costs, there's no reason not to upgrade frequently.
  • Re:And? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Friday October 10, 2008 @05:59PM (#25333103)

    It is when a new license costs $0.00. Other than deployment costs, there's no reason not to upgrade frequently.

    There is always risk involved when upgrading or deploying systems. Businesses don't upgrade just for the sake of upgrading. They will weigh the risks against the benefits and proceed if there is a clear advantage to upgrading. Like the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it []. The cost of licenses can be minuscule compared to deployment costs, so much so that many licenses might as well be $0.00. Deployment costs can be some of your largest costs. How many people will it take to upgrade? What is their cost per hour to the business? Multiply that by the number of people involved. Have you deployed on an identical test system and tested your software to ensure that it will continue to function as required on the new production system? Do you have test scripts so that you can validate that it performs as required? Will you have to make changes to software or hardware to accommodate the upgrade? Will you need to update your documentation? What is your contingency plan should the upgrade fail? What will be the cost to the business if the system is unavailable outside of the deployment window?

    Some systems, like SAP, may take years to be deployed throughout an organization. Your favorite distro might reach the end of support before deployment even completes. For other systems, your time line for product upgrades and support may not be entirely within your control. What if your system is part of a product that needs approval from the FDA []? With five years of support you may have eaten up three years of that during product development and FDA approval, leaving only two years of support for the OS on your products. That could leave you with a short product lifecycle or mean that you have to perform significant upgrades in the field.

    Other operating systems, such as Solaris, Windows, AIX, and HP-UX are supported for 10 and sometimes 12 years. The only saving grace for these enterprise Linux distros is that the source is available. But when the five years are up, then what? Will you still be able to pay Red Hat or Canonical to support your end-of-life Linux distro? What if they have made a business decision not to support end-of-life distros no matter what? If they will support it, it's safe to assume that your support contract will cost more than it did during the previous five years. And if you go somewhere else and hire some linux experts to support your distro, they won't have access to the information that the distro creators have. They won't have the documentation about why certain patches were applied, or specific changes were made, or other internal decisions. You better hope that your new support company is very careful and thorough.

    So then, would it have been a better investment to pay for Solaris and 10 years of support, pay for 10 years of Linux support, or pay to upgrade your systems every three to five years? I don't know. It depends on your goals. Clearly Wikipedia likes to move faster than the average business. They seem to be continually upgrading their wiki software and like staying on the leading edge. From reading about their server setup, they appear to have a lot of redundancy and can reduce their risk when upgrading. Three to five years of support for their operating systems is probably sufficient for their needs. But don't let that lull you into thinking that five years is long term.

  • by mnslinky ( 1105103 ) * on Friday October 10, 2008 @06:00PM (#25333125) Homepage

    A lot of folks seem to fail to realize that Linux has distributions. The kernel is the core of every linux system. From there, various organizations, Canonical being one of them, package the userland, a package manger, and an update service together, and call it their own. It's how Linux has worked for many years.

    That being said, what you're really shopping for when seeking a Linux distribution is all the stuff around the Linux kernel. That is where Wikimedia found the benefit. Regardless the timeline, Canonical offered them a pro-bono support contract, there is evidence of long-term update availability, and an overall 'good' package set.

    Also, for the record, Canonical does offer a server-edition of Ubuntu. See their website for more information.

  • Re:And? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by squidinkcalligraphy ( 558677 ) on Friday October 10, 2008 @08:07PM (#25334471)

    Regarding software, 5 years is a *VERY* long term.

    For home computer users, yes. Not for businesses.

    Compared to microsoft? Server 2003: EOL 2010.

    Besides which, you're forgetting this is linux we're talking about. Support runs out? You can open the hood and support it yourself (or pay someone else to do so). It's not like ubuntu would turn down paid support beyond the 5 year lifecycle of an LTS release.

  • by onefriedrice ( 1171917 ) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @01:49AM (#25336937)
    His drooling over Gentoo? It's abundantly clear from his post and yours that he is many times more insightful and rational than you. His post says something meaningful as he describes the uses of various operating systems and concluding that Gentoo is not a good choice for servers, while you're just bashing Gentoo's policies and crying about Nethack.

    Of course, this is slashdot, so you get the 'insightful' moderation. Congratulations.
  • by onefriedrice ( 1171917 ) on Saturday October 11, 2008 @02:00AM (#25336991)
    Interesting. You've played with Gentoo on the desktop, and you think you have a clue about its potential for use on a system for "actual work" online. Right. Sorry if I'm not entirely convinced, especially considering that many others of us are completely up to the task of administering Gentoo to do real work.

    Congrats on your choice to run Ubuntu servers. I'm sure it will prove to be a solid platform for your needs. But don't presume to tell us which distros are or are not fit for "actual work" unless you have a clue.
  • by David Gerard ( 12369 ) <(ku.oc.draregdivad) (ta) (todhsals)> on Saturday October 11, 2008 @07:52AM (#25338405) Homepage

    It's not apt vs yum or rpm vs deb - it's how well the repository's maintained. apt has a good reputation because Debian's repository is superbly well maintained. But Fedora's yum repos are much better maintained than Fink's apt repos.

    It's not the software, it's the repository quality. Actual humans making sure everything plays nicely.

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