By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2005-01-17 Print this article Print

Veritas Software Corp.s OpForce is a powerful server-provisioning platform that will simplify the management of large server infrastructures. Version 4.0, released last month, offers several important improvements, including the ability to discover software packages, and server comparison and snapshot capabilities.

Click here to read about Veritas merger with Symantec.
The core architecture of OpForce 4.0 is the same as in Version 3.0 of the product, which we found solid in our tests at the time of its release, 2003. The OpForce 4.0 server uses the same ActiveOS agents for operating system detection and imaging tasks, as well as the same ITAP (IT Abstraction Protocol) agent for communication with managed systems.

The OpForce 4.0 server can be installed on Microsoft Corp.s Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris 8, and Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server. OpForce 4.0 is priced starting at $7,500 per server license and $500 per CPU for managed servers.

OpForce can provision Solaris, AIX, Linux and Windows server platforms. In addition, OpForce can be used to manage network devices, but it supports only select switches from Cisco Systems Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc., as well as some load balancers from F5 Networks Inc. OpForce cant configure these devices, but it can detect and associate server resources to network topologies.

The network device support provides a simple way to quickly provision and allocate server resources, but we hope Veritas will add support for a wider variety of devices in future OpForce releases.

OpForce can personalize server assets with networking configurations including IP addresses and host, gateway and DNS server names. This allows IT managers to configure resource pools with available network topologies and enables quick deployment of infrastructure resources.

We found it very easy to manage OpForce 4.0 during tests, especially since all tasks—including operating system provisioning—can be performed remotely using a Web browser. OpForce uses a dedicated Tomcat Web server for centralized administration, so IT managers should avoid running other Web services on the OpForce server.

OpForce comes with a PostgreSQL database for inventory and configuration tracking for Windows and Linux servers and supports Oracle Corp.s Oracle databases for Solaris servers.

Software deployment is an important but often complex operation in large data centers or server infrastructures. OpForce 4.0 will be very useful in helping IT managers build and roll out software packages on discovered assets.

During tests, eWEEK Labs used OpForce 4.0 to deploy BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic software to a server and add the system to an existing WebLogic cluster. Once properly configured in OpForce, this capability is effective in allowing IT managers to provision resources on demand to meet application workloads.

The software discovery feature allows users to quickly see what software packages are installed on discovered server assets. Using this information, OpForce can create profiles of similar server groups for automated deployment of customized software packages.

OpForce competes with other server deployment products such as Altiris Inc.s Altiris SMS (System Management Suite) 6.0. At about $250 per managed system, Altiris SMS is less expensive than OpForce 4.0 for Windows shops. Altiris SMS 6.0 also supports HP-UX managed servers, while OpForce does not.

However, the Altiris suite does not offer the network device resource pooling and change management capabilities found in OpForce. OpForces resource pooling feature not only creates shareable server pools but also extends to VLAN (virtual LAN) topologies and network devices, increasing operational efficiency and allowing quicker responses to changes.

OpForce 4.0 also has a leg up on competitors in the area of server comparison: OpForces new server comparison capabilities will let IT managers quickly detect noncompliant systems and define customized comparison templates.

During tests, we used this tool to compare provisioned servers and detect changes in text, binary, directory and application files. When a difference is detected, OpForce can be configured to alert administrators or automatically run a script to perform a task.

Comparison templates allow systems to be compared based on file size, checksum or content. We found the comparison templates useful for running multiple comparison jobs and for speeding up the comparison process by filtering out file types.

However, we dont like the way OpForce separates the Server Comparison and Comparison Templates windows in different Web pages in the OpForce user interface—a minor quirk in an otherwise-useful centralized Web console.

OpForce 4.0 adds support for the Microsoft Windows System Preparation Tool (called sysprep) Version 1.1 or higher for Windows shops. Sysprep doesnt come with OpForce, but its a simple, free download from Microsofts Web site.

During tests, we used the same sysprep image to deploy Windows 2000 to both rack-mounted servers and blade servers.

Using sysprep coupled with OpForces deployment capabilities, IT managers have a flexible and robust tool in hand to quickly provide Windows images across their hardware platforms.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.


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