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OSU Open Source Lab

Reciprocity and Gentoo

by OSUOSL Admin on Thu, Feb 05 2009

It's not an overstatement to say that Gentoo was integral to the Open Source Lab’s foundation. The Linux-based operating system was one of the OSL's first projects - it even preceded the existence of the lab - and was instrumental in building the buzz that put open source at OSU on the map.

It started when Gentoo reached out to the open source community for help - it needed more infrastructure, and OSU provided it. "Web services donated an old Dell server, and from there Gentoo just grew and grew," says Lance Albertson, lead Unix systems administrator at the OSL.

Gentoo, which was already popular with the open source community at OSU, is an ideal system for many developers because it allows them to install their own meta-distribution. Everyone who uses Gentoo can compile his or her own code, making it extremely flexible and customizable. "The community thought, 'if OSU is using Gentoo, it must be good,'" says Albertson.

Word-of-mouth brought OSU enough attention to be covered in Slashdot.org, the site that bills itself as "News for Nerds." As more people learned about OSU's hosting capabilities, more people reached out to its open source community - and the Lab's reputation was born.

"The OSL is unique," says Donnie Berkholz, an OSU graduate student in biochemistry and biophysics, and a member of Gentoo's leadership. "They help out these nonprofit projects when there's no one else who would provide these services without charging a lot of money we don’t have."

Without the OSL's hosting capabilities, projects like Gentoo would have to scale back to the point that service to developers would disappear, or degrade to the point where it’s too hard for developers to work with.

"Most universities will host a couple of boxes for you, but trying to coordinate among them is difficult," says Albertson. "At the OSL hosting these machines is a top priority."