Friday, January 25, 2008

Open Source SysAdmin Tools: Mind the Gap

In talking with some other people in the open source systems administration / data center automation space recently, I made a surprisingly astute observation while describing where NetDirector fits into the mix. For the set up and administration of a single local server or node, you've got tried-and-true tools like YaST and Webmin, and the newer ebox. These are great for helping SysAdmins who may be newer to Linux/UNIX and for old hands that just don't want to muck around with .conf files. But they don't scale very well to multi-node and distributed environments, where things like revision control, many-as-one (AKA globbing) and RBAC become gotta haves.

If you want these features Today, you need to step up to something like Puppet or cfengine. These tools give you all the power, scalability and control you could ever want. What they aren't, though, is easy to use. So, there's this massive gap between the easy-to-use tools on one hand and the scalable tools on the other. And this is where NetDirector plays.

With NetDirector, less-experienced Admins get a GUI for fill-in-the-blanks administration of many of the most popular open source server apps running on one or a group of servers. In the near future, we will enable more experienced admins to create and run their own scripts through NetDirector against a set of distributed nodes. And NetDirector provides tight role-based access control (RBAC) so that, for example, the script functionality can only be accessed by certain Admins, and more junior Admins can only interface with services via the GUI modules.

Why does this matter? It matters, I think, because if you are a mid sized company, you don't want to have different tools for different admins. You want one tool that all admins can use.

And this brings me to the last wicked cool thing about NetDirector. The next dot release, scheduled for mid feb, will include a Windows agent. With Windows support, in addition to filling the gap between single-server tools and massive CM tools, NetDirector will also bridge the fizzure between Linux and Windows tools.

In the interest of full disclosure, what you can do with NetDirector on Windows will be limited initially, since we don't have any plugins for Windows-based applications (yet). But, if for some reason you are running Apache on Windows, you will be able to use NetDirector to manage it. But the key thing is that this sets the foundation for NetDirector really being able to serve as the single, central administration tool for mid-sized enterprises, since just about all of these guys have some Windows. And, it's free and open source (yes, I can use the term open source confidently, since we are also moving to GPLv2 in the Feb. release).

And where we plan to go with NetDirector is very exciting. So, we'll have the script plugin available soon for running scripts against Linux/UNIX servers. And later, we'll implement the ability to run batch scripts through NetDirector on your Windows machines. And how about Windows service plugins, like a SQL Server GUI, an Exchange GUI, etc.

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