BLUG: Linux in Belfast

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Belfast has a Linux User Group, but do we actually have any users? Is Linux used in the Belfast workplace, and much as we'd like?

Of course, like most other places in the world, Belfast is well saturated with Windows machines, Bill has been very busy around here. However, it always suprises me how well used Linux actually is.

One of Belfast's most outstanding success stories is that of the video distributor Blackstar. To quote thier web page:

"...whole focus here at BlackStar is on total customer delight! We want to make shopping with us as convenient and as enjoyable as possible."

Through this ethos they have grown into a world-wide, highly successful business. Therefore, are we surprised that Linux is used extensively for their Servers? A few words from Wesley, their network wizard:

" has been using linux since the beginning. Other operating systems have been tried, but nothing has come close to Linux for versatility, reliability, flexibility and plain old ability!"

Northern Ireland's most prestigious University is the Queens University. Many of the QUB departments rely on Linux systems for ensuring the security and reliability of thier networks. QUB has a reputation as a university of Excellence known throughout the world, so it is of the upmost importance that their systems remain as secure as is possible. Andrew Gallagher of the Dept. of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics:

"In the Dept. of Applied Maths, Linux is used for four main purposes:

1) Central resources servers. These live in a locked machine room and are connected to from the machines on people's desks via various protocols (telnet, ssh, xdm, etc.). These machines variously provide file storage, computational power and well-known applications at a common location for all users. Currently we have six such machines of various ages, three Intel boxes which run Linux and three others which use commercial Unices (HP, Digital). These machines also act as the web, ftp and email servers for our department.

2) Personal workstations. These tend to live on people's desks and are dedicated to particular projects. These are all-round machines providing computational power, applications and file storage for an individual or a small group. Most of these machines are straight Linux boxes, but some are dual-boot with Windows and some use a commercial Unix.

3) X terminals. We have relied for many years on X terminals for connecting people at their desks to the central servers via xdm. We still find that this is an efficient way of allocating resources, but while in the past we have bought dedicated (and expensive!) units we now use entry-level PCs running Linux to do the same job in software.

4) Giblets. These are the vital organs that noone sees and even less know about, such as DNS servers, backup moderators and security loggers.I wouldn't dream of using anything other than Linux for these critical systems, which are usually old PCs getting a second chance at life. Most exist for only one purpose so that if any hardware fails the disruption is limited. Each runs only a select set of services and is tightly TCP-wrapped.

We have no NT servers, and have no intention of getting any. There are plenty of PCs around, but any necessary networking stuff (e.g. printing) is handled through Samba running on one of the giblet machines."

Another respected authority in Northern Ireland is found at the Armagh Obervatory. Martin Murphy, their StarLink manager had this to say:

"We first looked at Linux in about 93 or 94 when a colleague downloaded the Slackware distribution onto a multitude of floppy disks and installed it onto a spare 386 PC. At the time we were changing from VAX/VMS systems accessed from graphics terminals and Atari ST's running terminal emulation software, to Sun servers and workstations plus IBM compatible PC's. Accessing the Unix systems from DOS/Windows was a real pain so Linux was attractive. We soon started installing Slackware on working systems and then moved to the RedHat distribution.

"We currently have approximately 30 Linux systems. These are largely used by astronomers and research students for astronomical data reduction and also to access our Unix servers (now running Tru64 unix). The systems run software such as IRAF (, Starlink ( and IDL (

We also have 6 Linux systems which are on PC's using the Compaq 64-bit Alpha chip. Three of these run simulations of the formation of planetary systems and the other three are used to model the atmospheres of stars."

These reports are only a fraction of where linux is used in and around Belfast. If you know of any more that really deserve a mention, let us know!

By Danny Walker
Created: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 00:00:00 +0000