VMware Left Me

Was it me? I dont know, I was loyal, but they left me anyway – well thats how it feels

Long Time Fan
Ive been a long time (read 2000/2001) fan of VMware – they were the first and, you could argue, still are the best in their space. Im a Linux fan, have been for a while and one of the reasons that I liked VMware was because the software I bought from them (yes I paid for Workstation and upgrades) was available for my OS of choice. Whats more they took the time to make sure that the windows worked with GTK2 looks. This to me meant that they liked their Linux users, they gave a crap about us.

I was so disappointed when I moved my home server from VMware Server 1 to VMware server 2 as the Linux client had gone. At least its been replaced with a web interface, that seems like a good idea – then all operating systems can manage the server. The interface came in for some criticism but it did everything I needed it to for the most part and I could manage my home VM server while out and about.

Times change and VMWare came out with their free version of ESX – namely ESXi. Now while ESX also had a decent web interface, ESXi did not. Your only choice of a graphical interface now meant you had to run Windows. So I stayed with Server 2.0

Recently I became aware of “VMWare Go” which was a “new web interface of ESXi users”. Yay I thought, good times! Alas no, when I went to log in I was prompted with a message that said “Your broswer must be at least Firefox 3 or higher, or IE v7 or v8 to use this site”. Thats odd I thought as I am running 3.5.5. What I very quickly realised is that this wasn’t to do with browser, it was to do with OS. I tried the site from my dual boot laptop (the only place I have Windows left these days) and I was able to get in with Firefox 3.5.5 on Windows but running the wizard prompts you to download components like the .net framework and other such single platform technology. How utterly disappointing

End of the Road
What did we do VMware? Why did you abandon us? Well anyway, I guess its the end of the road then old friend. Be happy.

Im off to migrate my stuff to Xen or KVM. Im not sure which yet, Xen has Amazon using it and Citrix seem committed to open source. In fact Ian Pratt was on FLOSS Weekly earlier in the year, so they seem to have the right mindset. On the other hand the Redhat road map points to KVM.

Anyway, watch this space. Im going to take my time to decide which to chose – i am on the rebound after all 🙂


Open Source Music on Hold

I have been working on a new project for work that I thought I would share with you. At work our Music on Hold devices (the things that provide music when you are put on hold) have been going faulty regularly. The device we currently use is a Fortune 2000 MOH from Rocom. It retails for about £260 If you are considering one of these devices, please read on.

Faulty by Design
The Rocom devices seem to last about 12-18 months before going faulty. I suspect that its the flash cartridge but being a proprietary design means its not easily replaceable.

Ideally the device will have no moving parts; we did away with the original devices (which were literally CD players) because they were unreliable and not remotley manageable.

All we really need it to do is

  • play music on a loop
  • automatically start after power interuption
  • be remotely managable

Open source
The continued failure of device after device (we have about 70 of them accross EMEA) got me thinking, there must be a better way. I looked at Shuttle PCs but they failed the moving parts criteria (well there are ways but it didnt seem a good fit). Then my mind we to a very small fanless PC that i bought a couple of years back from Aleutia. So I took a look at the website to see if it was viable. The original device has now become the Aleutia T1

While the original device ran Puppy Linux but all the current ones run Ubuntu. Great, so the device is small, fanless and runs a very good, open source, operating system, and has a network port. So far so good.

Next I needed to work out if it would automatically start after a power outage. I dropped a quick email to the guys at Aleutia to see if this was possible and they very quickly responded to confirm that there was a BIOS setting for exactly this requirement. The final part was playing music on a loop. I was expecting it to be quite easy to acheive and I wasnt wrong.

The method of music playback I have gone for is called MPD (Music Playback Daemon), which is easily installable (its in the Ubuntu repos). I quickly installed MPD an uploaded an MP3 to the folder. Finally I added the MP3 to the playlist and set it to repeat and I was in business. Within 30 mins of unpacking the T1 I had it playing back music.

I shutdown the T1 and removed the power adaptor to test its ability to power on automatically. No sooner than I applied the power the device booted up, once the device had booted, MPD started playing the music – WIN

Final Steps
Now that I had a working device up and running, I need to think about how its supported within our company. I guess other people wouldnt be happy with SSHing into it to control it (which is really very simple actually). What I needed was a front end. Needless to say there are many front ends written for MPD. I went with a very simple web front end called MPDPlayer – its one of the many open source front ends listed on the wiki.

Ive done a little customisation of this and added a file upload button so that the whole process can be managed from the web interface.

Test Test Test
Im now in the process of testing and I do seem to have come accross a bug where playback stops after a number of days. I could just schedule a reboot of the device every night but I would prefer this to be a last resort. The MPD forums have given me some into on how to debug MPD, so I shall persue that.

So whats the catch? Well there doesnt seem to be one, plus this solution comes in nearly £100 cheaper than a Rocom and comes with a three year warranty rather than Rocoms 12 month one. Finally, as it uses a standard compact flash card, if it does go faulty, we can very easily replace it.

Overall Im really pleased with how easy its has been to “scracth my own itch” using existing open source projects. I intend to contribute my file upload button back to the MPDPlayer guys in the true Open Source fashion. Im also hoping that this experience will open my companies mind to using more open source solutions in future.

As ever I welcome your comments