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How Do I Manage My Linux Infrastructure or How Do I 'Herd Cats'?

How Do I Manage My Linux Infrastructure or How Do I 'Herd Cats'?

Once you have Linux in your enterprise you obviously are aware of the value that it brings in terms of stability, security, and total cost of ownership, but you may be left with one final obstacle: the management of your Linux infrastructure.

Sometimes, in the course of conversation, I hear from people who are generally happy with their Linux installations but are living with the problems associated with managing them. They have become familiar with how to make their Linux infrastructure work, but the next step is how to keep it working. Sometimes this is like "herding cats" - keeping Web servers and file servers up-to-date as well as secure or pushing out configuration changes to servers without duplicating efforts on similar machines over and over again. Maybe it's a matter of finding the right management software or understanding the tools available within your Linux distribution to manage the processes. Update services like Red Hat Network (http://rhn.redhat.com) are good and so are services supplied by other Linux distributions, but some just keep things up-to-date (no pun intended, up2date is the Red Hat update agent), and don't offer total management such as configuration, and the duplication of systems and configurations.

Management is the holy grail of IT. A Google search for the terms "IT management software" recently yielded 36,600,000 results. A look at the enterprise software management products yields the likes of HP OpenView (www.managementsoftware.hp.com/), IBM's Tivoli (www.tivoli.com), and Computer Associates Unicenter (www3.ca.com/Solutions/Solution.asp?id=315). What about the small and medium businesses? Are there solutions that equally or at least adequately solve their management problems? How about the small business that wants to manage file and print servers, a Web server, and a messaging server along with other common IT services like firewalls? Is there a solution? Are there any that are open source? Yes and no. There are plenty of tools out there that serve at least a small subset of those needs that the enterprise players address. OpenNMS (www.opennms.org) provides network management, and Webmin (www.webmin.com) does an excellent job of providing a management console for services on one machine. However, is there a solution for the small and medium enterprise that puts control and change management in one single place?

Levanta (www.levanta.com), which some of us might know as the company that was once called Linuxcare, focuses on the idea of "transactional system administration," i.e., taking those scripts that system administrators whip up to automate tasks and provide an accounting of the changes and interface that allow for updates and changes as well as rollback or "undo" capabilities. The Levanta products have gotten a foothold as a way to accomplish this provisioning under IBM's zOS and are attempting to take this expertise to other platforms. Aduva's On Stage (www.aduva.com) touts the ability to deploy and manage Linux-based systems as well. Novell is working on making ZENWorks (www.novell.com/products/zenworks/) the cross-platform way to manage Netware, Linux, Windows, and a few others, as well as integrating with Microsoft Active Directory. OpenCountry (www.opencountry.com) seems to be working on some of the same but for the desktop. New companies like Emu Software (www.emusoftware.com) are focusing on configuration management for large numbers of Linux deployments. Emu's chief marketing officer, Greg Wallace, shares his thoughts on the subject in this month's guest editorial.

Products from companies and the open source community alike are not the only solution. In the land of the free and home of the tech savvy there are systems administrators using their own recipes of scripts and other tools to administer their enterprises. Maybe this isn't a pain point for the small and medium business.

Is there a market for this? I really want to know. Intuitively I believe that if you could take the workload from four system administrators down to two, you might be able to save anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 annually, considering systems administrators are compensated between 50K and 100K in salary and benefits combined. It's an interesting question and I encourage people to let us know their experiences, both good and bad, on how they are solving these problems. Also, what's your experience like in comparison to what you do or did to administer an equivalent Windows infrastructure or at least the non-Linux enterprise? Is it better or is it worse? Is the problem nonplatform dependent and if so what are your thoughts on how to go about solving the problems of management? Are there more elegant ways to accomplish this task or do many people just follow the brute force approach of adding more bodies to resolve the problem?

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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