Red Hat Inc. officials last week beat the drum about the need for better system administration tools for Linux. To meet that need, Red Hat announced at New Yorks LinuxWorld new provisioning capabilities for Red Hat Network, while also pointing the way toward virtualization and a number of other future management features.
Improved system management tools will let customers “cut the cost curve as flat as possible,” by keeping staffing budgets low, said Sean Witty, product marketing manager for Red Hat Network. Red Hat is taking an incremental approach, Witty said. Over time, the company will release an entire series of software modules for its Open Source Architecture, first unveiled in the fall.
The companys update module and a management module have already hit the streets. Provided with every Red Hat Network subscription, the update module includes a GUI, priority notification, errata information, Red Hat Package Module (RPM) dependency checking software, and auto update. The management module provides system grouping and role-based administration of policies, permissions, and scheduled actions.
The new provisioning module, the third in Red Hats series, will help “drive down the costs of [software] delivery,” Witty maintained.
Red Hat officials also mentioned a number of other future modules, which will add functionality such as virtualization, policy-based administration, and system “health and well-being.”
The upcoming virtualization module will integrate technology from Sistina, a storage software firm acquired by Red Hat in December for $31 million. Officials said the company also has its eye on virtualization monitoring.
Witty also said Red Hat at this time has no plans for additional acquisitions to fill in the gaps in its system management product line.
Analysts see provisioning as a logical step for a vendor to take before moving into policy-based administration and/or virtualization. “With provisioning, the customer is assigning a [software] workload to a particular server,” noted Tony Iams, vice president for systems software at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. of Port Chester, New York. “With virtualization, youre making the best use of available resources, from a performance and price perspective. Policy-based administration provides automation.”
Customers deploying the Red Hat Network tools include DreamWorks LLC, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Rackspace Managed Hosting.
Specific capabilities of the new provisioning module include operation system provisioning; Red Hat Package Module (RPM)-based application provisioning; configuration management; and multi-state rollback.
Dirk Elmendorf, Rackmounts chief technology evangelist and co-founder, said that San Antonio, Texas-based Rackmount is using the provisioning module to quickly provision software and distribute software patches for its hosted customers.
To accompany the new Red Hat Network tools, officials made mention of a new API access layer; an embedded database; and an application server, which is now in beta.
Red Hat Network Director Greg Peters said that the company also supports non-Red Hat distributions of Linux, but only when the customer creates custom channels. This capability is available under the Red Hat Network-proxy mode used by outside hosters, and under the satellite mode used by most enterprises. However, it is unavailable for companies whose applications are being hosted directly by Red Hat, Peters said.
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Red Hat considers systems administration to be an area where Linux vendors can quickly add value for customers, according to a Red Hat spokeswoman. In contrast, for example, the Linux desktop will reach its full potential only “as more drivers become available” over the next couple of years, she contended.
Still, Red Hat wasnt exactly alone in the systems management ring at LinuxWorld. Also at the show, Aduva Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., announced solutions for installing SuSE Linux. And in one of the LinuxWorld keynotes, Dave Dargo, vice president of Oracles Linux Program Office, said that Oracle will focus on configuration management in 2004.
By and large, analysts agreed that improved tools can cut the costs of Linux administration substantially. “Administrators with an appropriate skill set for Linux tend to have Unix backgrounds,” said Jean S. Bozman, research vice president for global enterprise server solutions with Ineternational Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass. “Theyre typically a little older [than Microsoft Windows administrators], and they usually make more money. Anything a vendor can do to reduce the time an administrator spends—or to reduce the total amount of administrators needed—can help add up to savings for the customer.”
When it comes to provisioning, though, it can sometimes take a while for savings to show up, according to D.H. Browns Iams. “If youre using provisioning simply for server consolidation, you can achieve savings right away. However, if you also want better server utilization, youre probably looking at virtualization, as well. There can be a lot of issues to work out before you get to virtualization,” he said.