Managing the Windows-Linux enterprise

Due to IT budget cuts, many Windows administrators are adding Linux Administrator to their job descriptions. A Linux management expert offers advice on how to make the warring operating systems co-exist in peace.

As IT budgets contract, many Windows administrators are being asked to manage mixed-mode environments. Often, they have to make antagonistic operating systems, such as Linux and Windows, play well together. In search of tips that would help administrators avoid common heterogeneous infrastructure and standards administration blunders, searchWindowsManageability recently interviewed Mike Wilkinson, director of product management for Orem, UT-based Caldera's Volution management software suite.

sWM: What are some of the major challenges of working in a heterogeneous Windows/Linux environment?
Wilkinson:

In larger organizations, administrators used to be specialized - they dealt with one OS or server type, like the company's Linux servers or Windows desktops. But as IT budgets shrink, administrators are being forced into multiple roles. So for them, the challenge is having to deal with numerous formats and implementations across different platforms.

From a management perspective, the challenge is trying to manage the cost-effectiveness of the heterogeneous environment. Analyst surveys say that the initial purchase of hardware and software is just a small percentage of the ongoing cost and maintenance for a system. Thirty percent would be the initial hardware and software. The remaining seventy percent would be maintaining, updating and troubleshooting that system and keeping it going for three years. Having a solution that reduces that 70% is really what it's all about.

sWM: Which is harder to manage, Linux or Windows? Why?
Wilkinson:

For the most part, Linux and Windows both have similar challenges. The only reason I would say that Linux is harder to manage today is that there are fewer trained Linux administrators. When you compare the small base of Linux-trained administrators to the phenomenally growing installed based of Linux servers, there's a huge mismatch. So Windows administrators, with little experience in dealing with Linux technology issues, are being forced into managing these Linux servers. Trying to get up to speed in that situation is causing a problem.

sWM: What are common mistakes that IT managers make when setting up management infrastructures for heterogeneous environments?
Wilkinson:

IT managers need to choose scalable technologies that are based on open standards, and select products that are extensible. If an enterprise-level customer is trying to incorporate a new standard into its environment, but doesn't have a feasible approach to doing so, it hasn't planned for extensibility. That customer would then be forced into a sticky situation of having to either rewrite its current products or forego the implementation of the new standard because it isn't able to extend its current products to accommodate it.

sWM: Could you offer an example that illustrates the disadvantages of using proprietary standards?
Wilkinson:

Let's say I have a Windows desktop. On my Windows desktop, I am running a print driver for an HP printer. This printer was installed eight years ago and works over Novell IPX protocol. Now I want to implement a new management feature that has been introduced to HP printers, but it requires the use of TCP/IP protocol instead of Novell IPX. Because my network only runs over IPX, I am limited. I can't take advantage of the new feature until Novell comes out with a TCP/IP-based network solution. My original product wasn't extensible, meaning it was locked in and I couldn't change it at all. So the only way I would be able to take advantage of the new feature would be to rip out the first product and put a new one in from scratch.

sWM: How can IT managers begin to migrate to products based on open standards?
Wilkinson:

The Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) (http://www.dmtf.org) is an organization that defines how data should be interchanged and what format that data should be in. If you choose a product that doesn't follow these standards, then the extensibility of that product is zero.

IT managers need to choose products based on open standards like those outlined by the DMTF, products with developer components and API write capabilities that allow partners to extend their products. If they don't, then they pretty much niche their product in. People may buy it to solve one problem, but they wont' be able to extend it or interoperate it with other management products or technologies.

sWM: How can management products like Caldera Volution and HP OpenView help companies solve the challenges we've just discussed?
Wilkinson:

Volution is a comprehensive management solution for Linux. It's a browser-based management product that focuses on hardware and software inventory, configuration management and change management for all versions of Linux. It remotely distributes software or scripts in a one-to-many relationship, meaning it can distribute out to 50 or 5000 depending how many machines are set up. It also monitors what's going on in the Linux OS, like how much memory and disk space is being used.

OpenView, an enterprise framework management product, handles the Windows side of a heterogeneous environment. It focuses on everything from performance monitoring and storage management, to very low level alert capabilities -- meaning it can get down to a lot of the nitty-gritties on specific hardware. It can also be customized to do very granular types of alert capabilities, such as notification when system hardware is going to fail.

sWM: Is it difficult to make Volution and OpenView work together?
Wilkinson:

Volution and OpenView are actually very complementary products. One manages Windows quite well, while the other takes on Linux. Their loose integration allows them to work together. Everything done in Volution is SNMP enabled. If an administrator distributes a software package, Volution will generate a status alert that can then be forwarded through the system to the HP OpenView console.

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