The Horror of Microsoft Teams

Also published on Medium – from where this story was posted to Hacker News and has achieved as at 28 September 2019:

On Hacker News:

544 points (for a third party’s link to my Medium article)
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On Medium:

140k views
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I wrote this mostly whilst finishing a period of employment where I was obliged to use Microsoft Teams. For those who have not had the pleasure, it’s Microsoft’s counter to Slack, the instant-messaging client beloved in tech. Microsoft first introduced Teams in March 2017 and recently announced that they have ‘overtaken’ Slack, claiming more than 13 million daily active users, or 19 million weekly active users. In March 2019 Microsoft advised that 500,000 organisations were using the service. Previously I worked, and now again am presently working, in an organisation using Slack. I’m not in love with it but it does the job reasonably well. In each case I have been working as an engineer in a fair-size organisation with a mix of channels and chats. I have been a messaging system user, not an administrator. Over the 15 months I used it Teams was horrendous — here are some of the reasons why: read more

How not to do alerting

This article has also been published on Medium

There has been much written about the right way to handle alarms and alerts for Sysadmins, Ops and Reliability Engineers. I take the approach that you can learn as much from looking at how not to do it. Here are some examples. I’m sure readers can think of many more. This is one small part of a big field and doesn’t begin to cover all the other areas that system monitoring and feedback etc. touch on. Neither am I attempting to cover the greater field of Ops, systems administration, Site Reliability Engineering etc in any detail. Lastly, I am talking pretty much about the politics of alerts rather than the technical aspects. The below are principally about out-of-hours ‘on-call’ type alerts but the principles are general: read more

The Bastion Server That Isn’t There

Deploying ssh Bastion as a stateless service on AWS with Docker and Terraform

I also have a presentation and live demonstration on the below, so far given at DevSecOps – London Gathering June 13 2018.

This article has also been published on Medium

The mantras of software as a service, stateless, cattle vs. pets, etc, are often and loudly repeated, but in many environments you often don’t have to look too far before you find some big fat pet box sprawling somewhere. Maybe it is the in-house file server, maybe something else, but if your infrastructure is in the cloud then it is most likely going to be your Bastion server (or ‘jump box’). Here I look at the problem, look at a couple of options and present a solution that I implemented providing Bastion ssh as a stateless service on AWS – the code is available on GitHub and also published on the Terraform Module Registry. Whilst the principles are applicable universally, this specific solution employs a Terraform plan to deploy to AWS. If you are not using AWS then you might find concentrating on the cloud-config user data stuff more useful as the rest would need to be ported, e.g. for DigitalOcean etc. If you’re using GCP then to be honest you probably don’t need this at all. read more

Implementing the ELK stack with microservice containers on AWS with Terraform

25 Minute reading time  (but article is composed of short, numbered sections!)

1 – why is this article different to every other blog post on the ELK stack?

There’s a lot of articles on ElasticStack/ELK components out there, I found a LOT that were extremely basic, essentially school project level reiterations of official elastic.co documentation and also a few that were very high level, essentially assuming that you already know everything and are wanting to ‘talk shop’. I really struggled to find anything that covered a full use case in any detail without hand-waving over the fiddly bits. Whilst I do give some basic info here, I don’t intend to re-iterate official documentation and I cover a full use case including some of the blind alleys and pitfalls. This article concentrates on the technical challenges and solutions. It is not intended to be an introduction or comprehensive guide to the Elastic Stack. Bear in mind that I was starting more or less from scratch without previous production experience with AWS, negligible previous exposure to Docker and no prior experience with Terraform or with Elastic Stack. read more

Setting a Proprietary Server Process to Run at Boot Using Systemd

One of the big differences between being a good hobbyist with Linux and working commercially with it is dealing with proprietary software. You can use and configure all sorts of systems indefinitely on your own account and never come up against dealing with awkward proprietary software that is supposedly officially supported for your platform that you really need to make work. Recently I had this experience. Not only was I able to get it working but I was able to extend it beyond the manufacturer’s original provision to make it more user friendly and less work to administer. read more

Ansible on the Desktop

Configuration management tools are a big deal these days.  Just as with Puppet, Chef and Salt, a lot of material written about Ansible presumes either a lab environment or one focussed on servers, or both. Virtualisation is also considered ‘a given’- Docker and Vagrant are both popular- and the guides expect that you are implementing on green-field estate. I thought it would be useful to write about real-world experience and use in the opposite scenario: desktop more than server, physical rather than virtual machines and a ‘mature’ environment. Oh, and learning as we go along. read more

Ebooks for documentation- it’s easy and you should

Documentation. Not something to get excited about is it? Who wants to read a manual? Or a policy document? A reference guide even? How about if we could make it easier? More accessible? More relevant? I think we can, using ebooks, and in this paper I will expand on this. In case it isn’t obvious, this paper is intended for people with a technical interest. I give a description of the real world challenges and then 2 real-life examples illustrating where ebook solutions answer them. The majority of the software referred to is free and/or open source. None of it is meant to constitute a commercial endorsement. read more

The Strengths and Weaknesses of selinux

If you use or administer Red Hat Linux or a derivative of it, such as CEntOS then you have likely heard of or come across SELinux. SELinux is not universally loved and has a reputation for being something that admins learn just enough about to turn off lest it break their system at some inopportune moment. Is this reputation fair? Should we be making the effort to learn to use it properly or is it best left on the shelf? The following is based on my own experience learning to administer selinux in preparation for the Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) exam for RHEL7 and conversations with system administrators (and in some cases Red Hat staff) about that experience. I am not attempting to give a technical overview of SELinux here. This paper is an evaluation of the implementation of selinux as used by Red Hat and the principles they advise for its use. read more

Review of Xubuntu on Dell XPS13 Developer edition (2015)

This is an older post that was originally published elsewhere in August 2015

So I decided to post a review of my own Dell XPS13 developer edition, supplied running Ubuntu three weeks ago. I’m not going into great detail on the hardware, apart from where it has specific relevance to a Linux install as this has been covered by many reviewers save to say that the screen and its small bezel is a key selling point, as is the ‘Precision’ touchpad. Hardware reviews by other sites include Tech Radar review (Windows version with same hardware) and iFixit Teardown. There are many others. read more