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The FSF tech team: Doing more for free software

Item posted by Wensheng XIE <wxie> on Sun 08 Dec 2019 02:20:28 AM UTC.

Dear CTT translators:

At the Free Software Foundation, we like to set big goals for ourselves, and cover a lot of ground in a short time. The FSF tech team, for example, has just four members -- two senior systems administrators, one Web developer, and a part-time chief technology officer -- yet we manage to run over 120 virtual servers. These run on about a dozen machines hosted at four different data centers. These include many public-facing Web sites and community services, as well as every single IT requirement for the staff: workstations, data storage and backup, networking, printing, accounting, telephony, email, you name it.

We don't outsource any of our daily software needs because we need to be sure that they are done using only free software. Remember, there is no "cloud," just other people's computers. For example: we don't outsource our email, so every day we send over half a million messages to thousands of free software hackers through the community mailing lists we host. We also don't outsource our Web storage or networking, so we serve tens of thousands of free software downloads -- over 1.5 terabytes of data -- a day. And our popularity, and the critical nature of the resources we make available, make us a target for denial of service attacks (one is ongoing as we write this), requiring constant monitoring by the tech team, whose members take turns being ready for emergency work so that the resources our supporters depend on stay available.

As hard as we work, we still want to do more, like increasing our already strict standards on hardware compliance, so in 2020, we will finish replacing the few remaining servers that require a nonfree BIOS. To be compliant to our own high standards, we need to be working with devices that are available through Respects Your Freedom retailers. We plan to add new machines to our farm, so that we can host more community servers like the ones we already host for KDE, SugarLabs, GNU Guix, Replicant, gNewSense, GNU Linux-Libre, and FSFLA. We provide completely virtual machines that these projects use for their daily operations, whether that's Web hosting, mailing lists, software repositories, or compiling and testing software packages.

We know that many software projects and individual hackers are looking for more options on code hosting services that focus on freedom and privacy, so we are working to set up a public site that anybody can use to publish, collaborate, or document their progress on free software projects. We will follow strict criteria to ensure that this code repository hosts only fully free software, and that it follows the very best practices towards freedom and privacy.

Another project that we are very excited about for this year is a long-awaited refresh of https://www.fsf.org. Not only will it be restyled, but also easier to browse on mobile devices. As our campaigns and licensing teams are eager to create and publish more resources in different formats, we will also work to improve the support for publishing audio and video files on the site. And to enable you to do more, too, we are also developing a site to organize petitions and collect signatures, so that together we can run more effective grassroots campaigns and fight for the freedom of all computer users.

All of these efforts require countless hours of hard work, and the use of high quality hardware. These come to us at a significant cost, not just to purchase, but to keep running and to host at specialized data centers (if you have rack space in the Boston area, we are always looking for donors). For all this work, we depend on the continuous commitment of individual contributors to keep providing the technical foundation to fight for software freedom.

In solidarity,

Ruben Rodriguez Perez
Chief Technology Officer

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