By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2005-05-16 Print this article Print

Levanta Inc.s Levanta 3.3 system management software provides a powerful platform that can effectively reduce complexity, speed application deployments and reduce operating costs in large-scale Linux-based x86 server environments.

eWEEK Labs tests show the Levanta software, which shipped last month, can complement or replace in-house Linux management processes, thus increasing scalability and reducing complexity and maintenance costs. We also recommend that shops running Linux clusters and server farms consider Levanta as a life-cycle management platform to provide system management and provisioning, as well as configuration and change management.

Levanta 3.3 starts at $600 per managed server, which is expensive compared with other multiplatform management products. However, for Linux-focused shops, Levanta 3.3 is worth considering because it can help corral distributed server infrastructures and provide more streamlined system management than in-house scripting can.

Levanta captures each systems hardware information when it boots up and manages system states using a proprietary shared-file system called MapFS. The MapFS system keeps track of servers states at any given time, saving changes to the base-line system state as "overlay files." Records of system states are kept in the repository, and multiple versions of a servers system states, called "checkpoints," can be saved.

The Levanta software is installed on an x86 server running Linux, creating a Levanta Manager system. Levanta Manager is charged with managing the entire Linux server environment. Levanta 3.3 can be installed on Fedora Core 3, Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux versions 3 and 4, and Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 and 9 and SuSE Professional 9. Support for Solaris is planned for next year.

Target servers must be configured for network boot to download the agent software stack.

IT managers must be sure their systems have adequate shared-storage capacity—be it a server with large internal storage, a NAS (network-attached storage) device or a SAN (storage area network). Hefty storage capacity is needed because all configuration information and software files for the managed servers operating systems and applications reside in shared storage.

Companies can use installed storage hardware with Levanta but should make sure their storage resources are robust enough to handle Levantas demands.

Levanta 3.3 supports most NFS (Network File System) file servers and networked file storage systems. Most NAS hardware will integrate easily with Levanta: Integration is a simple process of sending the storage devices connectivity information to Levanta Manager. For DAS (direct-attached storage) and SANs, however, IT managers will have to ensure that hardware drivers are compatible. Levanta currently supports host bus adapters from QLogic Corp. and Emulex Corp.

We were impressed with Levanta 3.3s change control capabilities, which simplify system migration, application rollback and change propagation. Levanta captures the known system state of a server and then creates a blueprint, or overlay file, on the shared-storage medium.

The shared storage also houses the software repository, where application servers share data and boot from specific software repositories. The shared-software pool provides rapid system provisioning because, unlike imaging solutions, the management system doesnt have to push application data to every server.

Hundreds of servers can share a single Red Hat Linux or Apache software repository, and these same servers can be rapidly reprovisioned to run other applications by pointing the server-specific overlay to the corresponding software repository. These capabilities worked as advertised in our tests.

Because Levanta 3.3 supports only Linux, companies with mixed environments should look elsewhere for a multiplatform solution. However, we can see IT managers at enterprises with sizable Linux environments using Levanta as a specialized tool for running in-house applications or a Web front end.

Levantas migration functionality is impressive, enabling IT managers to quickly reprovision their production system to meet workload demands and dynamically redeploy hardware resources on demand. In tests, we rapidly moved a server operating system image from one physical server to another.

Levanta cannot change the servers state while the server is running, so sites running mission-critical applications or large databases will need to incorporate clustering or mirrored systems to perform application hot swapping. However, provisioning a server with a different application image can be done much faster with Levanta than with imaging solutions because Levanta does not need to copy the operating system image to each machine—only the state information required to make the change. In tests, we shut down a Linux server, changed its state using Levanta and brought the system back up without a hitch.

Levantas checkpoint capabilities allow IT managers to take snapshots of server states and roll back or propagate changes as they see fit. In the event that servers are compromised by viruses or if application files get hacked, administrators can easily run a script or use the Web user interface to roll back the servers to a safe state. We altered a test applications Web page and even crippled a server by deleting its startup script and configuration files, then easily rolled back the servers using checkpoints.

However, the Web UI didnt perform well in tests. The screen often refreshed slowly, and software operations were sluggish. In addition, the UI provided only the time stamp of the checkpoints we created. A field where we could add a description would make rollback or managing many checkpoints much easier.

Levanta plans to revamp the Web UI in the next release, slated for this summer, company officials said.

The software can also be managed using the command-line interface via SSH (Secure Shell).

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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