It’s been awhile since I last wrote any updates about Fleet Commander, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been any progress since 0.8. In many senses we (Oliver and I) feel like we should present Fleet Commander as a shiny new project now as many changes have gone through and this is the first release we feel is robust enough to call it production ready.
What is Fleet Commander?
For those missing some background, let me introduce Fleet Commander for you, Fleet Commander is an integrated solution for large Linux desktop deployments that provides a configuration management interface that is controlled centrally and that covers desktop, applications and network configuration. For people familiar with Group Policy Objects in Active Directory in Windows, it is very similar.
Many people ask why not use other popular Linux configuration management tools like Ansible or Puppet, the answer is simple, those are designed for servers that run in a controlled environment like a data center or the cloud, it follows a push model where the configuration changes happen as a series of commands run in the server. If something goes wrong it is easy to audit and rollback if you have access to that server. However desktop machines in large corporate environments can run many times behind a NAT on a public WiFi, think a laptop owned by an on-site support engineer that roams from site to site. Fleet Commander pulls a bunch of configuration data and makes it available to apps without running intrusive shell scripts or walking in into users’ $HOME directory. Ansible and puppet did not solve the core problems of desktop session configuration management so we had to create something new.
At Red Hat we talk to many enterprise desktop customers with a mixed environment of Windows, Macs and Linux desktops and our interaction with them has helped us identify this gap in the GNOME ecosystem and motivated us to roll up our sleeves and try to come up with an answer.
How to build a profile
The way Fleet Commander works when building profiles is somewhat interesting compared to its competitors. We’ve inspired our solution on the good old Sabayon tool. On our admin web UI you get a VM desktop session where you run and configure your apps, Fleet Commander will record those changes and list them. The user will select them and the final selection will get bound together as part of the profile.
You can then apply the profile to individual users, groups, hosts or host groups.
Right now we support anything dconf based (GSettings), GNOME Online Accounts, LibreOffice and NetworkManager. In the near future we plan to tackle our main problem which is giving support to browsers, we’re probably going to start just with bookmarks as it is the most demanded use case.
A desktop configuration management solution has to be tightly tied to an identity management solution, (like in Active Directory), FreeIPA is the best Free Software corporate identity management project out there and integrating with it allowed us to remove quite a bit of complexity from our code base while improving security. FreeIPA now stores the profile data and the assignments to users, groups and hosts.
SSSD is the client daemon that enrolls and authenticates a Linux machine in a FreeIPA or Active Directory domain, having fleet commander hooking into it was a perfect fit for us and also allowed us to remove a bunch of code from previous versions while having a much more robust implementation. SSSD now retrieves and stores the profile data from FreeIPA.
Our new website is live! We have updated introduction materials and documentation and jimmac has put together a great design and layout. Check it out!
I’d like to thank Alexander Bokovoy and Fabiano Fidencio for their invaluable help extending FreeIPA and SSSD to integrate with Fleet Commander and Jakub for his help on the website design. If you want to know more, join us on our IRC channel (#fleet-commander @ freenode) and our GitHub project page.
It is currently available in Fedora 26 and we are in the process of releasing EPEL packages for CentOS/RHEL.