Open source systems management tools

If your IT shop has the right skills, open source systems management tools may be a fit for your data center and save money over proprietary solutions. This slides will show features some of the top tools.

Large IT organizations turn to open source systems management tools

Top areas where open source systems management tools used
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Usenix, a systems administration user group, and Zenoss, an open source systems management vendor, recently completed a survey on open source systems management software use between 2006 and 2009. Respondents were attendees of the organization’s Large Installation System Administrators conference. Nearly all respondents use or plan to use open source systems management tools, with many shops turning toNagios, Cacti, Zabbix, GroundWork and the OpenNMS project. When asked “What are the top areas where you plan to use open source systems management tools?” 90% answered monitoring, around 60% said configuration and around 50% said patch management.

The benefits of open source systems management

Top reason for using open source software
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When asked the question “Why did you or would you be likely to try open source software?” responding shops said that they have turned to open source systems management tools to reduce costs and increase flexibility. Easy deployment was also a top reason for trying open source. In 2006, only 26% of survey respondents indicated this as a reason for using open source; in 2009, however, 71% of all respondents indicated this as a reason for using open source. This finding may indicate that open source not only removes technical hurdles but also preempts some of the bureaucratic obstacles associated with the traditional technology procurement process.”Open source offerings are newer and often written to be easier to deploy than older systems,” said Michael Coté, an analyst at RedMonk, an industry analyst firm. “An admin can download and install it without asking for funding, agreeing to any terms for a trial or filling out registration forms. Being able to download a piece of software by right-clicking is going to be easier than most other acquisition paths.”

The drawbacks to open source systems management

Top reasons for not using open source
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So what are the primary reasons IT shops would not use open source tools? Lack of support was the main culprit, and users said proprietary tools had better support and product maturity as well as less risk.”You get the support you pay for,” Coté said. “If you don’t want to pay anything, just download Nagios, OpenNMS or Zenoss Core and go at it alone. You’ll be paying in your time: time to ask questions in forums and wait for answers, time to look through existing write-ups on the Web, and, if you’re of the right kind of mind, time to look through the code yourself. Closed-source offerings can seem to have more support available because you’re required to buy support.”

Ed Bailey, a Unix team lead at a major credit reporting agency, uses the proprietary version Hyperic HQ Enterprise to manage Web applications that drive his company’s revenue. Bailey said he doesn’t have the time to cobble together — let alone develop and maintain — the automation, security and reporting features that ship with the enterprise version. “You can make a reporting system for the open source version of Hyperic HQ. If you have the time, you can make anything. But our company is more focused on things that generate revenue rather than me spending time working on this,” Bailey said. “I used to work at a university and we had time to build something like that, whereas now we have millions of transactions that are making money.”

Special skills to use open source systems management tools?

What skill set do sys admins need to have to deploy systems management software successfully in an IT organization? “Any scripting experience in general is helpful,” said Ryan Matte, a data center admin at Nova Networks Inc. “Basic Python knowledge is very helpful when using Zenoss. I often use Bash scripting as well. A decent understanding of SNMP [Simple Network Management Protocol] is definitely required (since the open source products don’t tend to be as automated as the enterprise products). I often find myself developing custom SNMP monitoring templates for devices, [but] … you should have an understanding of whatever protocols you are working with. An understanding of Linux/BSD [Berkeley Software Distribution] is helpful as well since most of the open source monitoring products that I’ve seen only run on Linux/BSD.”

Virtualization driving proprietary management tool dominance

% of respondents who cite that product features have become the more important advantage of proprietary software
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Starting in 2009, a much larger percentage of data center managers indicated proprietary systems management software has an advantage over open source tools in advanced product features. In 2009, 33% of all respondents indicated that product features played a bigger part in defining the advantages of commercial tools, versus 10% in the previous year. Though not explicitly spelled out in the survey, you can translate product features to “virtualization management features.” Matte is using Zenoss’ open source offering, Zenoss Core, and said he has evaluated Zenoss’ proprietary enterprise ZenPacks, which have virtual machine management features. “I have taken a look at the enterprise ZenPacks, and there is nothing like the VMware [Management] Pack in the open source community,” Matte said.

Open source systems management profile: Spacewalk

Spacewalk

Spacewalk is an open source Linux systems management tool and the upstream community project from which the Red Hat Network Satellite product is derived. Spacewalk provides provisioning and monitoring capabilities as well as software content management.James Hogarth, a data center admin in the U.K., uses Spacewalk to manage 100 hosts in a CentOS-based environment for an entertainment website built on the Grails distribution. Hogarth said his company’s entire environment is focused on open source software — even migrating server virtualization from VMware to the Red Hat Kernel-based Virtual Machine (or KVM) hypervisor — and that open source focus was a major factor in the decision to use open source systems management tools.

Hogarth said he’s run into some gotchas and issues that needed a workaround, but overall Spacewalk has lightened his support workload. Most of the development is done by Red Hat personnel, and the developers are often available to answer questions and troubleshoot issues. “People are very responsive [on the support forum], and it’s relatively rare that you don’t get a response,” Hogarth said. “Over the last two years, the product has really matured.”

Open source data center automation and configuration tools

Puppet is one option

In the open source space, Cfengine and Puppet are leading data center automation and configuration tools. In 1993, Mark Burgess at Oslo University College wrote Cfengine, which can be used to build, deploy, manage and audit all the major operating systems. Cfengine boasts somelarge customers, including companies such as eBay and Google. Cfengine offers a proprietary commercial version called Cfengine Nova. As an open source-only product, Puppet takes a different approach, and its creators, Puppet Labs, make money through training and support.Puppet founder Andrew Schafer, for example, wrote a column on Puppet and how it works. Also, James Turnbull recently wrote a book on using Puppet in the data center. Turnbull has also written tips on Puppet, including the recent article on using the Puppet dashboard. The Oregon State University Open Source Laboratory uses Cfengine for systems management but planned to move to Puppet. “From a technical point of view, Puppet offers more flexibility and an ability to actually use real code to deal with tasks. Cfengine has its own syntax language, but it’s not really suited for complex tasks,” said OSUOSL administrator Lance Albertson in an interview earlier this year.

Open core versus open source software

Some companies offer what’s considered “open core” systems management software. At the base level is a functional, free open source tool (like Zenoss Core or Hyperic HQ), and there is a separate proprietary enterprise version with special add-ons and features. This business model rankles some open source advocates, but it offers companies the chance to use a tool risk free, and oftentimes organizations can make the free version work.Ryan Matte, a data center admin at Ottawa, Ontario-based Nova Networks Inc., uses Zenoss Core to manage more than 1,000 devices, monitoring Windows, Linux, Solaris and network devices. Matte considered Nagios, Zabbix, and OpenNMS. “In terms of ease of use and setup and having all the monitoring capabilities in the product, Zenoss was the best choice,” he said. “There’s an IRC channel chat room — I’m in there quite a bit. There are always people in there. The [community] support is pretty good, but you have to come in during business hours.”

Using Webmin for data center server management

Webmin

Webmin offers a browser-based interface to Unix and Linux operating systems. It can configure users, disk quotas, services or configuration files as well as modify and control open source apps. Here are some tips on using Webmin:

Using Nagios in the data center to manage servers

Nagios

In many data center environments, Nagios has become the de facto standard for companies in need of an open source, fault-tolerant solution to monitor single points of failure, service-level agreement shortcomings, servers, redundant communication connections or environmental factors. But is this one-size-fits-all open source tool best suited to your data center? Here are some SearchDataCenter.com tips on Nagios:

The Limitations of SharePoint as a Knowledge Management System

Posted by Inmagic at Thursday, July 18, 2013

By Phillip Green, Lucidea COO

SharePoint seems to be everywhere these days. Many customers have been told by their IT departments that their knowledge management repositories should or will be converted to SharePoint by IT. Many customers are resisting this request, but often find it difficult to make IT understand that SharePoint is not capable of performing some of the functions that are important for managing and organizing content.
This lack of understanding by IT is often due to their “forest”-level view. They sometimes assume that because SharePoint is a text database with integrated search, conversion will be easy. But, as information professionals know, the devil is in the details.

So how should you respond?
The following are examples of the kinds of items that SharePoint implementations often lack and cannot do. This is the “tree”-level view of managing content. The list is not all-inclusive, but covers just a few of the many items that SharePoint lacks and that IT will find very hard or impossible to provide when they “convert” your database out of its legacy home.

  1. SharePoint does not provide the alpha numeric sorting you need.
Correct alpha numeric sort Incorrect SharePoint alpha numeric sort
HA.1 HA.1
HA.2 HA.21
HA.11 HA.100
HA.21 HA.1000
HA.100 HA.11
HA.1000 HA.2
  1. SharePoint will not properly sort items with leading articles.

 

Item Location of correctly sorted item Location of incorrectly sorted SharePoint item
The Personal MBA Under P Under T
A Scientific Method Under S Under A
  1. SharePoint does not know how to deal with “fuzzy dates.”

SharePoint is not able to properly sort or search for “fuzzy dates” such as:

  • June 2010
  • Spring 2011
  • 2012

SharePoint can handle dates in a DD-MM-YYYY format, or “Spring 2011” as text. However, it cannot sort “Spring 2011” so it falls between January 2011 and June 2011.

  1. SharePoint’s multi-value fields (repeating fields) are very primitive.

In SharePoint, multi-value fields are a “single string, in which the values are separated by special characters.” The field is not sortable.

Information professionals need multi-value fields where:

  • The field can be sorted.
  • Each entry (value) is treated as if it was not in a repeating field. For example, if you have a book database with a multi-value author field, you need to be able to:
  • Create “see also” links for each individual author (e.g., find other books by each author).
  • Use “linked records” that allow each entry to function as a lookup within another database, so that users can see details about each author easily and quickly.
  • Each entry can be an individual filter within faceted search results.
  • The display of the entries can be carefully controlled. The field should not be treated as a “blob,” for example:
  • Mark, Twain
  • Clemens, Samuel

OR:

  • Mark, Twain; Clemens, Samuel
  1. SharePoint does not support authority control (via a thesaurus) during data entry.SharePoint is good at many things, but our clients want more precision out of their information management systems. They want a system that understands that some periodicals come with the date of “Spring 2013” and books are often written by multiple authors. Sorting needs to be intelligent; otherwise, users will not find what they seek and the system you have built will not serve its intended purpose.

If you have any horror stories about your experience with SharePoint, please share them with me. I can be reached via e-mail at pgreen@lucidea.com.

source: http://inmagicinc.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-limitations-of-sharepoint-as.html