Snail install

Today I have been involved in a product upgrade on the Documentum platform.

It was a service pack install, usually not very complicated. Although this blog is about content management… i’ll not talk about this right now. In fact, i will talk about the upgrade experience.

Before the installation i wrote down a complete procedure to follow. The installation itslef would be done by a person which is not very familiar with Documentum so it was pretty explanatory.

The installation needed these kind of operations:

– a lot of file and folder copying
– various users to be used
– GUI as well as command line operations
– file contents comparison
– file edits
– folder contents comparison
– restore from backup archives

And now i come to the pain point: these needed to be done remotely on Unix machines.

On my “home” Unix environment the operations lasted about 2 hours, without rush.
In the today’s installation they lasted 7 hours.

Let’s say that the person performing the upgrade procedure was not very talented although he was quite knowledgeable at Unix (quite fluent in command line tricks).

I think the reason is the fact the Unix environment (Solaris based) did not offer enough support for such operations. This meant that the operations which needed to be done became very labour intensive for a “regular” admin.

I give some examples:

– compare 2 folder contents and synchronize them using *nix native commands
– compare 2 files using only less/cat and vi
– move files between complex folder structures named in a similar way using command line

On my “home” environment i have some nice tools to make this easier, but on a corporate, “bare” environment these tools do not exist and you need to rely on the trustful vi/grep/cp/less/cat commands. While these commands are excellent and definitely more powerful than the normal Windows counterparts, the effort needed from an average user (let’s not call it “admin”) is far bigger.

Since all of these operations needed to be done like this, it needed extensive attention (looking at each command some tens of seconds and making checks and double-checks to make sure the result is indeed what we needed).

My conclusion is that even though Unix is arguably better than Windows on server side, you need a highly skilled personnel to operate it and to make use of proper aditional tools (or scripts) to administer it efficiently.

I’m sure any *nix expert out there would jump up and bash me for saying this, and would be ready to prove to me he can do anything faster in *nix that on Windoze. I agree with this. But I’m talking about the average dude operating the corporate infrastructure. Keywords: “average”, “dude” and “corporate”.

Am I really wrong? Or *nix installs of software usually take longer than Redmond ones?

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4 thoughts on “Snail install

  1. You are absolutely correct. Here is a question I have though. Whose responsibility is it to make the user install experience better on non-Windoze better?

    From the vendor’s perspective – one line in release notes indicating that “installation is to be performed by a qualified system administrator” is all they believe is necessary.

    The IT shop bashes the product because its too hard to deal with. No one there is going to admit they are not a “qualified system administrator”

  2. Exactly. The vendor has little to do to help. Especially in enterprise level solutions which tend to be very complex and need special configuration to adapt in the specific environment.

    In the above case the issue was not even the “qualification”. That IT person was really knowledgeable of Unix. But it simply had so many narrow-minded ways of doing things that it took incredibly long.
    I think these were burned inside him due to its routine in working like that.

    Coming to the “qualified admin” requirement… I had another client once (major international company) which required us to write installation and administration manuals “for persons slightly better than monkeys” (eg. we had to detail with screenshots how to start and stop an Windows Service). qed.

  3. If the server environment is really restricted for the “corporate” environment, then you could run into issues on either OS. The (potentially) “friendly” vendor setup scripts may depend on tools which are neither available nor allowed in the corporate environment.

    For other products (former iPlanet Directory Server) I have used silent installs where all the input was taken from a previously saved config file and one command was all it took for a complex installation.

    In general, I think *nix is favored (where it is favored) for the stability, robustness, … (add some of your own features) in operation (after correct setup) rather than for ease of install or administration.

    Even though the extra 5×2 person hours may have been painful for the two of you to endure, someone up in the IT may look at it as a worthwhile investment.

  4. I fully agree, the issue I had is that the admin person operating the servers was not so efficient in running the necessary manual commands (I did myself all steps beforehand and I am no way close to be called a *nix admin).
    Thus the conclusion that in order to make *nix systems operation efficient (not better/scalable/robust) you need higher skilled persons than probably for other OS’s. Otherwise it can really turn into a nightmare (since IT will tell you: i need 2 days to install this vs. 0.5 days which would “normally” take).
    Friendly installs are usually not possible in Enterprise environments – that’s clear, regardless of the OS used.

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