Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How I set up Gutsy Gibbon with KDE/Compiz on Nvidia

I was psyched for the new Ubuntu 7.10 release, Gutsy Gibbon, but I'm a KDE user and I had a lot of problems upgrading Feisty/Kubuntu to Gutsy. I followed the instructions using AdeptI had some minor successes, but I was unable to get the upgrade, and KDE and Compiz to work in combination. In the end, here's a rough overview of what I wound up doing:

1. Clean install of Gutsy Ubuntu (Gnome)

2. Go into restricted driver manager and enable restricted drivers for nVidia (Compiz worked right off!)

3. Using Synaptic package manager, add the Advanced Desktop Effects Manager (CompizConfig Settings Manager)

4. Now there is a new button "Custom" when you configure your desktop settings

5. Stop to play around with adding desktop effects. Remember to turn your vertical desktop size to 1 and horizontal to 4. Otherwise you will have a plane instead of a cube.

6. Back to Synaptic. Add "kubuntu-desktop". Wait a long time for lots of packages to download/install

7. Select KDE as the default environment

8. Wait some more. Reboot the machine when everything is finished.

9. The machine will come up in KDM. Go over to the little picture of a drop down, click, and select Session Type->"KDE", instead of "Default (previous)"

10. Log in and wait for desktop to come up

11. Compiz will be disabled. Don't panic: go to the KDE menu and select Settings->GL Desktop

12. Enable GL Desktop

13. Configure Compiz as desired using Settings->Advance Desktop Effets Settings

I won't bother going into any more details for now. Feel free to post comments if you have any questions

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

6 tips on keeping your e-mail server space usage under control.

I was inspired to write this post when listening to this week's Casting From the Server Room Podcast.

There are lots of hidden costs that make megabytes matter - RAID disk space, backup space, backup transfer time.... and not to mention (as every sysadmin knows) the fact that an e-mail server running low on disk space can be a sustainable source of stress. Here's a few preventative tips that might help you keep your head on straight.

1. Invest in a good anti-spam solution
The battle against bloat starts at the source. Every message that comes into your system has a chance of taking up space. Use a combination of anti-spam measures and hit it from all angles. An edge MTA and DNS black listing are very effective measures because messages are stopped even before they enter your mail store - and occupy inboxes and junk folders.

2. Teach your users the do's and don'ts of e-mail
Education is always a good defense- remember, even if your efforts fall on deaf ears, there are always some users that want to do the Right Thing(tm), and are just waiting for you to tell them what that is. Make a simple list of do's and don'ts and distribute it to your users once a year.

3. Give users adequate network space
Network drive space is cheaper for you to manage than e-mail server space. Don't give users an excuse to keep those big attachments in their e-mail account. They should save them and delete the message.

4. Set conservative mailbox quotas, early
...Even if you have extra space. Users will be more likely to adopt good mail management habits if quotas are on. They need to see the size of their inbox grow against a limit, or it will be perceived as bottomless. If you're implementing a new quota policy, a good rule of thumb is to take the average mailbox size, double it, and use that for the quota.

5. Police inactive accounts
This may seem obvious, but don't leave dead accounts open for business. When students or employees leave, be sure to stick to a firm and consistent account removal policy. The fewer accounts you have, the less the chances of both spammers - and spam - finding your system.

6. Set your system to expire trashed items after a reasonable amount of time.
Some users just don't empty the trash. You don't need to be a star and set a super short expiry time, just assign some kind of a time period.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Choosing a Small Business Telephone System

Recently a friend of mine asked me to recommend a business telephone system for his (starting out) small business. He needs to be able to connect someone somewhere else as though they are in the same office. This is becoming more and more of a basic need for all businesses- the modern office is really made up of several people's home offices, scattered geographically and connected via broadband, with no real "center". Nonetheless, I took a moment to highlight my experiences regarding traditional PBX systems as well.


We have a Samsung Officeserv iDCS 500. I personally don't find it to be easy to manage at all. I have received many requests that would be very straightforward to resolve on other systems, which have fallen dead due to lack of clear documentation and poorly implemented management software. At $6,000, I don't even think it was that cheap. To its credit, however, it does make the process of provisioning off-site VOIP extensions a fairly no-nonsense operation, as we have found.

If you are going to purchase a phone system for your office, and you
expect it to scale, I would stick with the tried and true "gold standards" of phone systems. Buy something made by Avaya (partner) or AT&T (merlin). There's tons of support, hardware vendor choices, and documentation available. Seek a second hand phone system on ebay or websites like usedphones.com that have put together nice packages. Make sure that you choose one that allows VOIP extensions and voicemail. Be prepared to spend around $2000 to start, and $100-$200 per phone. In my experience, this is a better alternative to buying a cheap phone system that has idiosyncrasies, and that you are stuck with for a long time.

If you are really strapped and aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, you can put together an Asterisk box. You would need an older PC that has several full size PCI slots available (free-$300), a PCI FXO card (for your telephone line) ($200-$300), and several inexpensive IP phones, such as the Grandstream Budgetone ($100/ea). Again, this system is not for the faint of heart, and there are known difficulties with getting these systems to work from behind a firewall. A commercial approach that is similar to this, but doesn't have the headaches of setup is http://www.fonality.com. Their entry-level server product is $995.

Ok, the last one. If you are not set on having a traditional dedicated, owned piece of hardware, you could save a lot of the cost of entry by trying out a hosted PBX service, such as Ringcentral or
pbxes.org. I have no experience with this, but it may be right for a small company, with no "central office" per se. One disadvantage I can think of is that you are depended entirely on your ISP, and someone else's phone system, to maintain your business' communications. Should they have a company-wide failure, or "spontaneously" go out of business and pull the plug one day (like SunRocket recently did to their residential customers), you are down for the count. Nonetheless, they claim to have service starting at $9.95. If you check this out, please let me know how goes.

Good luck