Fit-ting In

Here at TAF, we currently run a mix of generic Linux PCs and thin client netstations as X terminals for our AIX production box. The netstations have long been unsupported, but we’re also interested in something more robust and less power-hungry than the PCs we’re currently running. One of my tasks recently was evaluating a Fit-PC2 for use as a replacement.

Out of the box, the Fit comes with Linux Mint installed. For those not familiar with it, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. In this case, we’re talking Linux Mint 9, “Isadora”, which corresponds to Ubuntu’s 10.04, or “Lucid Lynx” release. This isn’t a bad thing as it’s a long-term support release, but Ubuntu and friends are problematic for the use we have intended for these machines.

In order to connect to AIX, we rely on XDMCP. We also rely on xfs to provide certain fonts for use by the programs running in AIX. The Ubuntu distributions have removed this support by default, and made it an extreme challenge to put it back in. I spent a day or two fighting the Fit to re-enable this support before giving up.

My next step was to take the brain-dead approach of installing Red Hat Linux using the same install CD and kickstart script we’ve used for our other Linux installations. This actually worked, although disk and video performance weren’t outstanding.

The Fit is based on Intel’s Poulsbo chipset, which isn’t natively supported in our version of Red Hat. Some research in the Fit-PC2 forums yielded a kernel module that provided a working driver, but given the somewhat informal source and the fact that it was for a different distribution, I was reluctant to recommend it for production. However, I did try it on our little box, and was pleasantly surprised. Everything seems to be working as expected, and we will be throwing the box into a production test sometime in the near future.

As a longer term solution, we need to upgrade to a more modern version of Linux along with a configuration tool such as Puppet. RHEL 6 seems to be headed in the same direction as Ubuntu in terms of XDMCP support, so we have some work in store for us.

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