Article

Eliminate recurring problems in distributed computing settings

Meredith B. Derby, assistant news editor
The image of dollars washing down the drain has haunted any administrator dealing with server crashes in distributed computing environments. There are ways, however to plug that drain, according to Ian MacKay, vice president of the SiteAssure business unit, and Rodney Jones, director of advanced customer engineering, for Ontario, Canada-based Platform Computing. MacKay and Jones offer tips for efficient management of distributed computing systems and describe Platform Computing's management technologies in this interview with searchWindowsManageability.

sWM: What are some effective ways to ensure that a distributed computing environment runs smoothly?
MacKay:

Regularly check your machines and investigate them for attacks and basic system integrity. Check them to make sure there's a consistency, that the applications match the versions of the operating systems and the libraries so that everything is in the right place at the right time. Ensure that all the appropriate security patches and availability and performance patches are installed on all of the machines in a timely fashion. Capture your IT expertise in a centralized place, even if it's just in a document.

Jones:

Have a security policy in place within the organization. Have management

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policies in place, even if they're manual processes.

sWM: What are some regular blunders committed by administrators in distributed computing environments?
Jones:

They grow too fast without investigating in tools to assist in their jobs.

MacKay:

They roll processes into production without testing. Test, test and then test again.

sWM: What would you say to an organization that is contemplating moving to a distributed environment?
MacKay:

You better do it because your competition is. If your environment depends on solving big computing problems, it can only be done either through the acquisition of extremely expensive centralized computing servers, which can take quite a long time to get and to grow. Eventually they hit a ceiling, and then you have to spend more money replacing them. Distributed computing grows every time you add more resources. It gets bigger, faster and stronger.

Jones:

It's a lot easier to buy and set up 100 Windows servers than it is to buy one IBM supercomputer and hire a staff dedicated to that.

sWM: How does Platform Computing's event automation product, SiteAssure 2.0, help administrators who work for companies that run distributed computing environments?
MacKay:

It's aspirin for administrators.

Jones:

It eliminates repetitive tasks by automating and detecting anomalies, not necessarily just failures, but those that are outside of policy and bring those systems back into line. There's a direct labor saving.

MacKay:

It's letting administrators apply their expertise to the creation of policies and planning, as opposed to spending 90 percent of their time putting out fires. The system is really designed to evolve and become smarter and smarter. Every time they encounter a new fire, they enter a new policy to manage that. The next time it happens, it's automated.

sWM: Why do these problems exist?
MacKay:

Distributed computing is complex. It requires the interconnect and the actual interrelationship of a number of classes of resources including systems, operating systems, applications, file systems, storage devices, network devices. Many times it just doesn't work. That has to be dealt with. It's like a car with so many different components, without regular maintenance, it will just stop working. We deal with both the regular maintenance and the when it stops working, let's fix it.

sWM: What do administrators do if they don't use a tool like SiteAssure?
Jones:

Administrators can develop scripts to provide some automation of IT tasks and rudimentary notification.

sWM: Why aren't existing tools solving this?
Jones:

There's no central repository of this IT intelligence accruing over time that's managed in a way that if that administrator moves on, then somebody else can come in and take over.

MacKay:

To an IT executive, the value is centralized in the knowledge repository. They can use the expertise to automate and also train the next generation of administrators and IT staff. Because the policies are all XML-based, it makes the learning curve extremely short.


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