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The theory of e-Volution

Caldera’s Volution helps businesses run Linux systems while reducing costs.

As Linux continues its upward climb into the business world, also arriving are system-management tools that will help companies simplify the implementation and administration of Linux-based servers and clients. This further cements the placement of Linux in business-critical environments, which will help companies reduce the cost of computing while increasing reliability.

One such example is Dell’s OpenManage tools, which support installation, remote management, and system-health monitoring. As of this writing, the OpenManage solution specifically manages Dell PowerEdge servers that are running Red Hat Linux 6.2 or 7.0.

Another Linux system management solution–Caldera Volution–provides a much broader range of administrative services that can be applied to all major Linux distributions. Administrators can use a secure Web-browser interface to distribute software, take software or hardware inventories, configure printers, and monitor the health of clients and servers. Volution supports the use of profiles and policies to manage the machines in use at your company.

I recently took Volution for a test drive and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. I simulated a small-business environment that contained two servers–one running Caldera eServer and the other Red Hat Linux. My fictitious company also had 10 end-user machines that were running a variety of Linux distributions (e.g., TurboLinux, SuSE).

Setting up Volution was simple. The company has included an automated script to install the directory, server, client components, and console. Volution includes OpenLDAP (LDAP version 3-compliant) and Novell’s eDirectory. It also supports iPlanet directory services and includes a secure Web server.

During the installation process, the administrator defines the initial directory structure at an organizational level. Once installation is complete, additional system and resource information can be added to the directory (which is just a data repository). Administrators use a Web-based interface to configure Volution’s management capabilities.

The interface is simple and easy to understand. It even supports different themes for the graphics-minded administrator who might like a different look and feel to match his or her mood. The available documentation contains enough information to answer any questions administrators might have.

I liked that I was able to interact with Volution via secure Web browser access from any machine within my test company’s network, but I also appreciated that I could securely access Volution outside of my test environment–a useful feature for administrators who may be on the road.

There are a number of things you can manage with Volution. One of the most useful tools is support for software distribution or removal. I defined a profile for my sales personnel that included all of the software they needed. You can also alter the scripts to perform custom functions during and after installation or removal.

Once you have defined a profile, you can configure software installation schedules. You can choose a scheduled day or time, complete the task immediately, or kick it off based on an event.

After selecting the time and date for the software install on my test-company sales machines, I linked to the appropriate computer objects and submitted the installation process for execution.

Volution also uses policy-based actions. For example, if you want to define what Volution should monitor on one or more systems (e.g., disk usage), you can do so via a policy. The same is true for software and hardware inventories. You can define the number of scans to keep in your inventory history.

Taking hardware and software inventories proved just as easy as installing the software. I was able to inventory all the machines on my test network. I then made some hardware changes and manually removed some software. Upon running the inventory actions again, Volution noted the changes that I’d made since the previous inventory.

You can also manage printer configurations using Volution. You might want some users to send output to a specific printer. For example, my sales users needed to print to their shared departmental printer. But if I needed to take my printer offline for maintenance or replacement, routing my sales folks to a different printer was quite simple.

Implementing Volution produced a lot of positive results and only a couple of drawbacks of note. On the plus side, you can reduce the cost of managing your network significantly by using a system-management tool, such as Volution. And Caldera is the first to produce a comprehensive solution for the Linux platform.

At the moment, however, Volution can only keep track of RPM-based software in its inventory. I’d like to see Caldera expand this support. Additionally, Volution neatly manages Linux-based systems, but what about companies that run a mixed-platform environment? Linux is typically used in mixed-platform environments including Domino, NetWare, or Windows. Until Caldera offers support for these other environments, its market will be limited to the few pure Linux shops. Caldera may wish to keep a Linux-only version of Volution and produce a second mixed-platform product that could manage a variety of servers and clients.

One other item to note: As of this writing, Caldera has indicated on its Web site that it will open up the source code for some of the Volution components. Those who want the complete Volution solution will need to spend $2,995, which includes the directory services, server and client components, and the console, plus support for 10 nodes. Additional nodes can be purchased and added separately. The company also offers international versions of Volution.

You should see more system-management solutions for Linux arriving this year. If you have implemented Linux or are considering it, Volution is but another great reason to consider using that platform to run your business economically.

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