The Linux Setup – Alan Orth, Systems Administrator

Systems administrators usually make for interesting interview subjects here, but I found Alan especially interesting because of the work he does (livestock research) and where he does it (Kenya). Alan’s setup is nice because it’s very much focused on accomplishing specific tasks and not tweaking stuff to death. There’s a lesson for me in that…

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I’m Alan Orth, and I’m a systems administrator for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya. ILRI is a non-governmental organization specializing in several areas of livestock research such as disease, breeding, animal health, genome sequencing, as well as related social issues like gender and market/economy. This kind of research generates a lot of data and requires lots of processing power, so we generally do all the heavy lifting on GNU/Linux-based clusters. On the side I document my experiences in kernel hacking and Android over at

  2. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    I run Ubuntu 11.04 on both my main desktop and laptop. I’ve done a good deal of distro hopping over the past decade, but these days I don’t have the time/bandwidth/energy to ‘emerge world’ (leave alone compiling packages and satisfying dependencies manually), so I run Ubuntu because it “just works,” and has a relatively-stable/sane set of default software.

  3. What software do you depend upon with this distribution?

    Most of my time (at work and home) is spent in a terminal (either gnome-terminal or rxvt-unicode), but I also rely heavily on Chrome, Firefox, Rhythmbox, and VirtualBox. At work I administrate a dozen or so GNU/Linux servers, so I’m usually quite busy adding users, checking cron jobs, reading log files, applying updates, and editing config files. Other than sed, awk, bash, perl, Apache, and a few other common utilities, most of the software used by our scientists isn’t in distro repositories, so I end up installing a lot of software manually. At home I use git, vim, and irssi a lot. It’s hard to do all that outside of the command line!

  4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

    My work desktop is an HP Z400 (I think) with a quad-core Nehalem-based Xeon and 8 gigs of RAM, and my laptop is a Lenovo ThinkPad T420 with dual-core Sandy Bridge-based Core i7 and 8 gigs of RAM.

  5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

    My ideal GNU/Linux setup would be more cores and faster disks. I don’t really need much RAM for MY work (other than for a few oddball virtual machines), but I spend a lot of time waiting for stuff to compile, so I’d like more processing power and possibly some solid-state disks. Also, I’d like it if all my future hardware had fully-supported, open-source drivers; wireless and graphics are generally a trouble area.

  6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Here’s a picture of my desktop, a relatively-default Ubuntu 11.04 Unity. I like to keep it clean!

Alan Orth's desktop

Interview conducted September 11, 2011

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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