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In what ways would people recommend a programmer communicate the need for newer, more up to date libraries to system administrators. At our organization the programmers often do many system administration tasks such as system updates, installation of software, management of software, recovery of specific systems after failures, etc. Programmers are currently limited by the age of some of the systems available and would like newer OSes and subsequently libraries available to them. What is a good way to communicate these desires to the SAs who are, in the end, in charge of deciding what OSes to install.

Edited to simplify the whole question.

Thanks.

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I suggest a rewrite of this question - remove some of the loaded language and reduce the backstory some. I got some funny looks when I laughed out loud after reading "To make a long story short" and realized I was going to have to scroll to read it all. Rewriting in that manner will also be good practice for when make your request to the Admins again (or make the request to someone over their head) –  DKnight Apr 21 '11 at 19:45
    
In the first place, this is excessively long and opinionated. If you can't communicate better than this, no wonder you're having problems with the sysadmins. In the second place somebody who claims to know that "the differences in maintenance really are minimal" between CentOS and Ubuntu is not going to be taken seriously by the sysadmins. –  David Thornley Apr 21 '11 at 20:01
    
tldr based on DKnight/David Thornleys comments; However I did read the first paragraph. Instead of ubuntu to replace Centos, let Fedora replace Centos. We run into these types of problems all the time and Fedora, CentOS, RHEL all support the same products its a matter of where in the stable/bleeding edge you want to sit. Or recompile newer PHP and leave centos alone! Lastly they are the sys admins so what is wrong with them administering their systems? –  Chris Apr 21 '11 at 20:09
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+1 Kudos for taking constructive advice and a thoughtful rewrite –  DKnight Apr 22 '11 at 5:13
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@DKnight: Thanks. First write was coming right off a discussion on the subject and I admit I was probably not thinking the question through as best I could. –  wilbbe01 Apr 22 '11 at 14:25

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The final product is bigger than you or the SA's or QA or security or users or any one group.

Sometimes you have to compromise to get things done.

The absolute latest and greatest may be unacceptable to everyone else but you. So, you live with it.

You write your code down to whatever you're getting in the production installation.

You document any concerns and put the upgrades into the product backlog. Move on.

Sometimes the production configuration is something you're never going to be allowed to control. (Banks, for example, tend to adopt this policy.)

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We're really a smallish shop. SAs countable on one hand and Programmers on two. All of us supporting a single organization. (Don't sell any of our services or anything...just in support to our organization). Lines between SA/programmer are often blurry in both directions. We all could be considered SAs in many places as most things are code changes to 1 or 2 main systems delivered by a vendor. A few of us are trying to show the glories of things like version control and some modern frameworks. I would love it if we had capabilities to do as you suggest. –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 20:28
    
@wilbbe01: You do have the capabilities. Document the problems and move on. You can't get the upgrades you want. So you code for the release you actually have. I've had to switch from Fedora to Red Hat to Open SuSE had numerous upgrades and downgrades along the way. The code simply has to work around the platform issues. It's simply a cost that you simply document. And move on. –  S.Lott Apr 21 '11 at 20:42
    
@SLott: Ok sure. I agree with moving on. I'll say this too. It is not all just about how we want to use one OS over the other. The fact that Red Hat costs a lot more matters to all of us. We're a non profit organization and requests have been made to cut spending, not increase it. Thanks for the advice. –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 20:52
    
@wilbbe01: The most important this is to document your concerns and present them to management. You don't really control the budgets, or the hiring or the overall plans. All you can do is clarify this for someone else to resolve. –  S.Lott Apr 21 '11 at 20:57
    
@SLott: Thanks. Understood and agreed. I need to stop caring so much about things I don't have any control over and accept them. After all it's the coding that is the most fun anyway :). Thanks again. –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 21:00

As a sysadmin manager, the need to run a supported O/S might stem from business or compliance requirement. Our rules say all software must be supported by the vendor. That does't eliminate open source tools, but suggests we need vendor support. Also, while relying on forums and IRC for support works most of the time, having someone to call gives a business much peace of mind.

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When framing your response (either to the SAs or to your senior management), eliminate the "Us Versus Them" mindset. Remember that your SysAdmins are the ones who get pulled out of bed at 3am when things break and they are the front line for the political heat when things are down. The overall stability and supportability is a prime concern for them. If you can address those concerns then they are much more likely to come around to your point of view. Hard data, case studies and such will go a long way towards this as well.

If you are really going out on a limb, offer to take over full First Level support for that system. This is not recommended for the long-term but it would give you a chance to prove how stable it really is.

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I like this answer. Not really an us vs them thing. I asked more as a "what could we say from a programming perspective that would help show why newer libraries is important to us and why they matter" We all really are more closely working than our titles might show, as system updates, as well as bringing downed systems back up is usually the duties of the person who is in charge of that server....which may or may not be a sys admin. They do get paged before calling us though....so that is worth something :). –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 20:19
    
I wrote half of this before I saw Dave's post. While in one sense you all want the business to grow, day-to-day there exists a tension between what you need to accomplish to be successful and what SysAdmins need. Work on helping them succeed. –  uSlackr Apr 21 '11 at 20:25

Discuss the issue with your SAs, rather than with us. Make less value statements ("our sys admins here are scared") and more statements of fact and intent.

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Scared really is what the issue is. They have expressed worry in having to know how to update different distributions. As I said above we have talked to them. The issue keeps coming up every few months and it never gets anywhere productive. It always ends with the head SA saying he doesn't have any big reasons against it but he doesn't want to have to manage multiple distros. Like I said above, I really am looking for advice on what to tell them as telling them why we want something different hasn't seemed to work. –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 19:20
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Whether scared is or is not the issue is irrelevant. The point is that making value statements is counterproductive, so you should not do it. –  Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 19:21
    
Why don't you try telling us what you've already told them and how well that did or didn't work? –  Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 19:22
    
Sorry if I wasn't clear enough above. All discussions have really been around what I said above. Our requests for Ubuntu because of its more up to date repositories and included libraries. –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 19:27
    
I suspect that the real issue here is poor communication, on your or their part. Try to work on that. –  Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 19:29

Run VirtualBox on the machine the administrators are willing to support. Install whatever OS and software you want in a box within your box.

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@ddyer: I like your idea, but seems like unnecessary overhead. Also, the backups that are set up would be backing up the host system, and not the virtual machine. (so yeah the vm would be backed up itself....but that buries the actual things needed). –  wilbbe01 Apr 21 '11 at 19:14
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Don't try to solve a people problem with a technical solution. It doesn't work. Besides, virtualization overhead probably makes this rather untenable. –  Rein Henrichs Apr 21 '11 at 19:22

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