Friday, June 30, 2006

Fedora in Israel פדורה בישראל

Slow rolling clouds exhale warm winds along the picture perfect Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The water glistens, as if unsullied from creation, and soaring palm trees dot the landscape. The remainder of the scenery, green all over with abundant fruit trees, would seem a bit embellished, as if to indicate you've stumbled upon paradise. For me, it's a pleasant departure from the usual gray, washed out, maneuver your way through the multitude, concrete streets of New York City. So where am I, and what am I doing here?

It is far from a pristine paradise undiscovered by humanity. In fact, just a few meters from the shoreline you will find the same hustle and bustle of New York City and one hell of a falafel, too. A short cab ride through the streets miraculously unveils some of the world's oldest standing structures juxtaposed against a flurry of billboards bearing its newest names: Oracle, Intel, IBM, HP and yes, even Novell has a couple. Quite an amazing and amusing site the first time you see it. In the middle of this desert oasis you will find tech's second coming.

I am on a quest to seek out Fedora community members half a world away. The community needs strengthening and one of our weakest links is in a country which is a tech powerhouse and yet often neglected by geekdom at large--Israel.

That is quite unfortunate though, because there is a tremendous amount of interest and involvement in technology around here--especially around Linux. Somewhere along the last 15 years, Linux became related to business. I'm sure many geeks are still scratching their heads, but the courting is being played out all over again on this side of the globe. Linux runs rampant throughout the university system, so students are introduced to it fairly early. The economy is experiencing a boom similar to the one the U.S. had, although it is more tempered and as a result, businesses are looking to modernize, extended their presences and improve processes. Additionally, startups, in every sector, are abundant and each must look for cost-effective means to break into their respective markets. Many have gravitated towards Linux due to previous exposure and for the obvious advantages it provides. While the people have struggled to build a country, their geeks certainly are not afraid of building a kernel.

Of course the big boys have set up shop as well. Anyone who owns an Intel Centrino laptop must thank Intel's Israel R&D, almost all of the latest microprocessors have been designed here (and named after rivers near the Intel HQ). IBM, whose outlandish, CRT shaped, spherical Petach Tikva HQ has become an icon in the country, has a massive presence here as well. Oracle must be making a killing here; it has bought up the ad space on literally every other billboard throughout the country. Google is coming too. It all stems from a government which is very pro-tech and has passed much legislation to subsidize high tech, in both education and industry. Now I hav come to find the geeks and rally them.

So I have come to seek out members of our Fedora community sporting an essentials-filled backpack, a water canteen, sunscreen and a 103 degree fever (39 degrees in Celsius) which I picked up somewhere along the way. I knew we had a Fedora Ambassador here, Moshe Roffe, whom I have now spoken to on several occasions, but judging by the otherwise initially lukewarm communication efforts with groups around here, I almost drew the conclusion that the Israeli Linux scene was either deep underground or dead, as in BSD. ;)(Come on, I just style="font-style:italic;">had to). I am glad to say I was easily proven wrong.

It is much easier to win a battle when you are on the ground and combat ready and I did what I have been trained to do, "find your friends." So I first emailed Moshe Bar whom I met a while back in New York City. I knew he often hung around these parts. Moshe is a true champion of Open Source, being the founder of some great projects such as OpenMosix and of course co-founding XenSource. Luckily enough, Moshe was in the country and we decided to meet up the next day. After some nice chit chat I got to take a tour of the offices of Moshe's new venture (it's super secret) and talk with some of the guys. The whole office runs on RHEL on the backend with Fedora on the frontend, which is a good sign! We had a nice site down with about 5-6 people from his staff who had many questions about Fedora. The whole RHL -> Fedora progeny, how to get things into extras, the QA process, what other projects we have up our sleeves. It was quite interesting conversation, with much learned on both ends.

Next, I got to stop by Intel and chat with some of the engineers in their Haifa center. The people over at Intel are very smart. I know this because all the engineers have standardized their desktop platform on Fedora. If you are running a Core Duo chip, odds are that it was designed on Fedora Core 2. It was kind of nice to see people who actually Get It(tm). There weren't too many questions. Some people asked me some RHEL5 and Xen questions, and I responded with what I knew and pointed them to where they could get more info. One of the managers there asked me something about Red Hat opening an office in Israel. I told him I will get right to work on it, that it was priority A1. He liked my response and laughed me all the way out the security gates. (Just Kidding).

A couple of days later, I finally coerced someone I know into setting up a visit for me at the IBM HQ here. IBM is all about their services division lately, which has netted them great growth. It was no surprise to learn that more than half the IBM employees here work outside of the office. The visit was real brief, but I got to see some nifty projects they are working on and then went out to eat with a few of the software engineers at the end of the day. IBM's role here has been has been pretty much the same as their role everywhere--design a custom software solution and then convince the customer to deploy it on IBM's hardware and software stack. The engineers work on projects ranging from websphere development, custom solutions development and one guy here even works on code for the cell processor which he is writing for the next version of the Blue Gene supercomputer. Overall, some really cool guys, they all run Linux at home and some do at work as well. Out of the 7 of them I was with, four ran Fedora, one was a die hard Debian fan and the other two ran Ubuntu.

After all of the above, madly racing around I finally got to spend time working on the Fedora Event Kit. See my email to fedora-ambassadors-list for more info, this post it too long as it is. (We finally got Fedora stationary, too, thanks again to Diana for the awesome work). Also, our local Ambassador, Moshe Roffe, finally stopped by and we got to talk about a few things. We discussed the event we are planning on having here, the general state of Linux affairs here and of course the World Cup. Moshe happens to work for Matrix IT, the official Red Hat reseller in the country, so he has a pretty good sense of the Linux uptake and what really needs to be done in order to gain more widespread Linux adoption. Truth is, no one around here is too fond of Microsoft and most companies would rather not trust their whole infrastructure to them. At least that's the feeling you get when talking to people around here. Hilti, for example, a power tool and construction equipment manufacturer, is constantly dealing with problems with their Windows Server deployment and they recently decided to switch off of Windows and are currently looking at SuSe and Solaris.

A lot of my interaction with the greater Linux community here came when visiting the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Open University. There are a large number of students in the Computer Science and Engineering programs of which a large majority love Linux. There are so many projects being worked on at HUJI and the students were telling me how much of it would not have been possible without Linux. I did the standard Fedora talk twice to two very different groups of people and everyone loved it. Many people came out feeling very energized and enthusiastic, and hopefully we will have some new community members soon.

And so the story continues. I have 10 days left here and plan on making the most of them. We still have to go pick up Fedora DVDs and T-shirts, an event to run and hopefully lots of more meetings. More as it happens. Right now though, I just got word that there is a large rally of Fedora fanatics at the beach. Yeah, I should go check that out. ;)