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Linuxcare's Levanta

The next best thing to cloning a system administrator

Linuxcare recently announced the release of their Levanta 2.0 software, which configures and updates virtual Linux servers on the IBM eServer zSeries mainframe. I had the opportunity to speak with Linuxcare's president and CEO, Avery Lyford, about how they are moving forward with their systems management software and their goals as they establish themselves as a leader in the Linux on mainframe systems management.

Linuxcare prides itself on the ability to solve the toughest problems and provide value to the most demanding customers. Therefore their strategy has been to pilot their products in the financial and telecommunications sectors. After successful installations in customer sites in the industries with the highest demands, they expanded their target market to anyone running virtual Linux servers on the mainframe (IBM zSeries).

Levanta Value Proposition
Linuxcare is a software product company focused on reducing the time spent on repetitive tasks associated with change management on Linux servers, specifically those servers running on IBM's zSeries mainframe. In layman's terms, Linuxcare endeavors to accomplish three things:

  1. Make system administrators more productive by crystallizing the knowledge needed for repetitive tasks and automating these tasks through software.
  2. Reduce knowledge required for menial tasks and maximize skills reuse, allowing enterprise collaboration vertically but still maintaining overall control of Linux systems. Levanta enables the managed self-service virtual server environment because it can offer roles and permissions for server functions and it tracks changes for auditing purposes.
  3. Reduce planned maintenance windows, decreasing the number of unplanned outages through change management and rollback features. These features can make it possible to rebuild a server in minutes rather than hours or days.
Linuxcare has always been a high-value, rather than a low-cost, company tackling big problems and aiming to yield big savings. They have listened to what their customers expressed as their biggest pain points. Then they took that feedback and developed products that eased these annoyances and leveraged their staff to make them many times more productive.

Allowing System Administrators to Innovate
Systems administrators, a very highly skilled class of IT worker, have the ability to do a great number of things. Unfortunately, they often spend their time working on menial tasks like applying software patches, ensuring recoverability in the case of outages, and rebuilding servers after an unsuccessful upgrade. All of these functions are of critical importance but are seldom the best use of a system administrator's time. If system administrators could focus on enhancing IT infrastructure rather than maintaining it they would add to the company's overall bottom line. Levanta provides them with more time to improve and best utilize their skills rather than work on projects that least utilize their skills.

In a large enterprise it's often hard to complete projects due to centralized IT staff's ownership of the infrastructure needed by department or branch-level IT employees. IT staff often spend their time doing tasks on behalf of other departments, tasks that these departments would probably rather do themselves given the ability to enact their own changes. The Levanta framework allows delegation of individual systems based on permissions and roles. This allows smaller IT units to complete necessary tasks without being subjected to a central IT structure. It also allows the IT authority to have confidence that they have served their internal customer without shirking their ultimate responsibility for the systems they manage. Avery ultimately compares this to taking a cab ride in New York, in the sense that sometimes it's more difficult being a passenger than being the one driving the cab. Levanta allows the passenger (department-level IT personnel) to take action and "drive the cab" without the central IT authority worrying about the repercussions.

Rollbacks and Audit Trails
Levanta has the ability to provide rollback on servers. In an age when it has become necessary to constantly patch software and operating systems, the ability to roll back to the last working server version is important. By being able to restore a server to its last stable state quickly, administrators can reduce the length of unplanned outages. Levanta is a "safety net" in the sense that it can provide an emergency fix to servers and give administrators the confidence to make updates without grave repercussions. Not only is the ability to restore available, but also the speed to resolution is much greater due to the automation of data and state restoration.

The capacity to track historical changes is important for a number of reasons. With the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, largely a financial act, auditing of the systems that provide financial data has even greater importance. CIOs could be held liable if they aren't able to provide proof that they have taken due care to maintain these systems. Historical records on updates, patches, and integrity of systems are available through Levanta, which would be important to those IT executives concerned about accountability for their Linux systems. This data can also be handed off to an enterprise management console like Tivoli.

Summary
Levanta does more than just manage the OS; it manages the whole application stack, which means that it handles change management in not only the server OS but also in the services provided on the server.

Levanta isn't a tool that any IT department would deploy, but if you're running multiple Linux servers on IBM's zOS virtual server environment then it's definitely worth a look.

The Linuxcare team is led by a number of industry veterans with varied mainframe and virtualization experience. They have also forged partnerships with IBM, the vendor of their OS, which their software complements. Linuxcare has done a good job identifying a problem in many corporate data centers and developing tools to enhance the productivity of the system administrator.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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