Watching over Linux

By Tom Henderson, Network World |  Networking

The growth of Linux in the corporate world has been hobbled by a lack of enterprise-quality network monitoring, management and software distribution tools. Enter Caldera System's Volution 1.0, which is designed to make a Linux systems administrator's life much easier. While point products that handle tasks such as remote health monitoring, hardware inventory and software distribution have been available for years, network administrators had to graft different tool kits together to get a full set of utilities. Volution offers these tools and the user interface that ties them together in one package.

Released last month, Volution is a Web-based network management system. Its strength lies in its ability to monitor many Linux systems -- clients and servers -- for system troubles such as full disks, overloaded applications and system failures. Another strong suit is its ability to push out scheduled software distributions, the kind that can rapidly update client and server systems in the event of a critical security patch, for example. Our only complaint -- as is the case with the initial release of many products -- is its rough edges in terms of its setup, interface and documentation that will likely be fixed with the first upgrade.

Volution, like other network management packages, revolves around software distribution, network printer management, system inventory and system/device monitoring. Linux software distribution has traditionally been simpler than distribution on Windows platforms because Linux software applications are generally well documented and their dependencies understood. Volution extends one of the main distribution methodologies, Red Hat Package Manager (RPM), to allow rapid and methodical desktop software management.

Although the package is still a bit raw in terms of its ease of use, we could rapidly build working policies for distributing base application packages and incremental updates based on system-specific features. We were initially worried that the console daemon became inaccessible to a browser, but that didn't seem to affect the scheduled operations. After a daemon restart, accessibility of the console to a browser access returned.

Volution performs queries of its constituent clients and servers for hardware and software information. It then tucks this information into a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) Version 3 database that has schema extensions to support the product. The LDAP foundation must be built from Novell's eDirectory (easily linked), OpenLDAP (included) or AOL/TimeWarner-Netscape iPlanet prior to installation.

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