QCD Weaves Linux Admin Into Windows

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-03-06
 
 
 

QCD Weaves Linux Admin Into Windows


QCD Microsystems InterStructures aims to ease integration of Linux servers into a Windows environment by allowing administrators to manage Linux-hosted network services through the Microsoft Management Consoles of their Windows machines.



Click here to read the full review of QCD Microsystems InterStructures.

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QCD Microsystems InterStructures aims to ease integration of Linux servers into a Windows environment by allowing administrators to manage Linux-hosted network services through the Microsoft Management Consoles of their Windows machines.

In eWEEK Labs tests, we found that the InterStructures modules worked as advertised, enabling us to carry out common management tasks for Samba, Apache and other Linux services without having to delve too deeply into what many Windows-focused administrators regard as Linux command-line arcana.

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However, it isnt possible to install and configure the InterStructures products without touching Linux at all, and while the modules interfaces should appear friendly to MMC devotees, we found them a bit rougher around the edges than the native Windows Server management snap-ins.

In addition, companies interested in committing to Linux at their sites would do well to devote time to training administrators in native Linux administration techniques or hire administrators with some Linux savvy. (A good place to start is the book "Windows and Linux Integration: Hands-on Solutions for a Mixed Environment"; see Pings & Packets for more.)

With that said, the InterStructures modules we tested do offer Windows-focused administrators an opportunity to hand off some of the network services load to low-cost Linux servers without requiring them to first learn new management techniques.

The InterStructures line includes modules for administering Samba as an Active Directory member server, as a Windows NT 4.0-style primary domain controller or as a member server in a Samba-led PDC (primary domain controller). QCD also offers modules for DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), Squid Proxy and Apache Web servers.

InterStructures can be used with Red Hat Enterprise Linux versions 3 and 4, Novells SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, and Fedora Core 3 and 4. We tested with Fedora Core 4, since Fedora is freely available—if a company is looking to save money on training by using something like InterStructures, it seems to make sense to opt for a Linux distribution sans license costs. For this reason, wed like to see QCD add support for the similarly free-of-charge Debian GNU/Linux.

The InterStructures modules are sold in a $1,149 suite that covers the Samba configurations mentioned, along with the DHCP, Squid and Apache modules. The suite includes 10 server licenses and 60 days of e-mail-based installation support. The complete suite also is available for $249 with a single server license. Either way, the pricing is not bad if it means avoiding license costs on a few departmental servers.

All the modules we tested are available in evaluation versions from the InterStructures site (www.interstructures.com).

Linux through Windows

We set up a test network in VMware Workstation with one Windows Server 2003 domain controller, one Windows XP Service Pack 2 workstation and one Fedora Core 4 server with a minimal set of packages installed. We had to create a host entry for our Fedora system in our Windows server to make it locatable on our network.

We installed the InterStructures Samba Domain module on our Fedora and XP machines. On the Windows side, this meant installing an InterStructures core package thats common to all the available modules and a package specific to the Samba Domain module. On the Fedora side, we installed two similar packages (available in Fedora-native rpm form), along with the latest Samba 3 package from the Fedora repositories.

Next Page: Snags and shortcomings.

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After running a provided setup script on our Fedora server, we switched back to Windows, where, from our test workstations MMC, we used an InterStructures snap-in to join the Fedora system to our domain.

We hit the first snag in testing while creating a share on our Linux box. It turns out that SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux), the mandatory access control system thats enabled by default on Fedora 4, was the source of our conflict, and we had to disable SELinux enforcement (a pitfall that the InterStructures product documentation neglected to mention).

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After all this, however, we sailed fairly smoothly through installing, configuring and managing from Windows a handful of other services running on our Fedora system. For instance, we transferred the DHCP-serving duties on our small network from Windows Server to Fedora without a hitch—and without leaving the point-and-click niceties of the MMC.

The InterStructures DHCP module offered us most of the same configuration options and features as Windows Server 2003s built-in DHCP service, and these options were organized in more or less the same way. Although our configuration was a very simple one (our Fedora DHCP config file was only 10 lines long), we appreciated not having to brush up on our config file syntax to produce it.

To test InterStructures Apache management tool, we installed Apache and MediaWiki on our Fedora box. From our Windows XP MMC outpost, we were able to switch our Web servers default directory from the standard "html" to "mediawiki," where the files for the Web application are served.

All connections between InterStructures-enabled Linux servers and the Windows machines that manage them are carried out over SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encrypted connections. This is good, but, in future versions of the product, wed like to see a tighter authentication scheme.

For example, certain operations required the usual sorts of authentication credentials, such as a domain admin password for joining a Linux box to the domain. In other cases, though, such as when we set out to manage our Apache Web server, we were prompted for the Linux machines root password. Particularly when Active Directory is around to organize things, wed like to see a more unified setup for authentication.

Wed also like to see an InterStructures module for administering system updates on the Linux boxes managed by the product. Network-facing components like the ones that QCDs wares are meant to manage frequently undergo security updates, and it stands to reason that the same Windows administrators whom these modules mean to shelter from direct interaction with Linux should have a similarly MMC-based means of managing updates.

Along similar lines, wed like to see QCD provide software repositories that work with the update tools native to supported distributions, such as Fedoras yum, SUSEs YOU (Yast OnlineUpdate) and Red Hats up2date. For the version of Fedora that we tested, the default distribution packages for Samba, Squid, et al. worked just fine with the InterStructures modules.

However, for some module/component combinations, the documentation noted that different versions of these components would be required. We could download these packages directly from QCDs site, but distro-native repositories would have made things friendlier—particularly for uninitiated admins.

Whats more, while we were able to update managed packages—Samba, specifically—during our tests without fouling our management setup, QCD could find that future distribution updates might interfere with the operation of its services. In such a case, ensuring that packages from QCDs own repository take precedence could help prevent service outages for users.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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Native Linux distribution tools Each of the Linux distributions that InterStructures supports ships with its own administrative tools, many of which arent too tough to learn; terminal access over SSH (Secure Shell) or GUI remote control with VNC (virtual network computing) offers good remote administration options, at least in moderately sized networks

Webmin Web-based Linux system administration tool, developed in large part by Jamie Cameron, that works with most Linux distributions and covers a broad range of server components (www.webmin.com)

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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