What I'd Wish I'd Known When I First Installed SUSE Linux Enterprise Server

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competition-winners-iconEditor’s Note:  We recently held an essay contest to gather insights from the most experienced power users of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server in the world.  We wanted to know what they would tell people who were brand-new to SLES, and just in the process of evaluating it, to make their experience easier. 

This entry was one of the top three winners, selected by a panel of premium support engineers.  

By: Michael Messina

I’ve worked most of my career with various forms of Linux though primarily of the Debian or Red Hat varieties. I’ve had the ‘anecdotal’ experience with SUSE from time to time but nothing really noteworthy. This changed about three months ago, when I walked into a job position at a shop that literally has on the order of a hundred or so SLES boxes. I’d never really dealt with SLES before; as such, I decided I’d dig in deep and see how difficult it would be.

My first ‘job’ so to speak was getting acclimated. I did a few installs and it went smoothly enough. Things remained mostly similar to other variants with the minor exception of zypper instead of yum or apt.

This is of course, where the rabbit hole goes deeper. You see, they had an automated update system written by the person formerly doing my job; it was a complicated script which regularly performed updates against their SMT server. I didn’t even know what SMT was, or how it worked. I spent hours trying to unravel the script until finally I happened across the right documentation about SMT and it all began to click.

The pieces I wish I’d have known before spending many hours, days and weeks on SLES could easily be summarized as knowing yast was so powerful. I’m a command line guy; I live breathe, eat, and you know what command line. So asking me to go into a menu-style interface seemed heretical. However, once I opened it up it was… remarkably faster than finding the command and then putting it in with the right flags, etc. I then focused on getting updates cleaned up and expanded the functionality so I could add the proper repos for Salt – which is it’s own endeavor on 11sp4. Which of course, necessitated setting up 11sp4; that actually went a lot smoother once I learned about the joy of yast and SMT configuration. So yeah. If I had to do it again, I wish someone would have handed me a pile of bookmarks saying “Go right here, read this first – it’s something called SMT.”

Which brings me to my next ‘Wish I’d have known..’; I had no idea that OpenSUSE and SLES were so different. NONE. I walked into a trap thinking Salt would be easily installed on SLES as it is on OpenSUSE. Once I discovered the quagmire I’d gotten into I desperately plugged away until I found a method of getting pypi installed – that’s another useful tidbit. All of those lovely python repositories for accessing the components Salt requires are in the SDK pool. It took hours of poring over forum rants/scribbles/blogs until I located that very useful piece of information. So I loaded up SMT, mirrored the SDK repos and then reran the suse_register command to bring pypi within my grasp. Once I had that, it was a simple piece to just do zypper search until I had all the pieces required by salt – then installing salt and it’s minions became much, much simpler. SUSE, overall, has been a decent experience. SLES doesn’t seem that bad and at times it can be very intuitive – especially when you take the time to go into YAST and use that instead. In that respect, it takes some discipline and reordering of thought as a purely command line guy. You find yourself constantly hunting for commands only to realize “Hey, if I use YAST, it’ll probably be right there.” – and it is… most of the time.

There’s a lot of little differences, but they add up so that you feel you’re in a completely different world at times. Does that make it worse than Redhat or Debian – surprisingly (to me at least) – no. Just different. The only real difficulty I ran into once I learned to think in “SUSE mode” was the complete impossibility of installing a software such as theforeman. This, best as I can reckon, is a result of Novell’s desire to simply use their own management software – which is fine by me, though admittedly a little bit of a setback. Once you get pypi installed, you at least have some options for a web-based UI of Salt such as halite or saltpad (though admittedly neither of these is remarkably easy to setup and require a lot of hunting/fudging of dependencies).

Overall the best advise I think you can give a newbie to SLES is “get familiar with YAST, SMT, and make sure you RTFM – A LOT.”

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