From Bit Part to Leading Man: Moving Linux into the Enterprise

by Drew Robb

What does Linux need to make real headway in the corporate world? One key element is the ability to interact transparently with other systems, and that takes tools. Without the support of major software vendors, Linux is relegated to a few side functions, such as web serving, without reaching the core business applications--sort of like being an extra in a lavish Hollywood production.

"Robust management solutions mark the line between enterprise-ready and enterprise-pervasive", says research firm Aberdeen Group, Inc. (Boston, Massachusetts) in its white paper "Penguin-Powered Computing". "For no matter how well behaved Linux may be as an operating system, it cannot function as a good corporate citizen until it can be managed as part of a distributed heterogeneous IT environment."

This "chicken and egg" dilemma meant that a) developers didn't want to write network management software without customer demand, and b) customers wouldn't deploy an operating system they couldn't manage.

Fortunately, a few vendors have helped break this cycle by offering Linux as a viable platform for their enterprise-class software. Computer Associates Inc. (CA) of Islandia, New York, for example, now offers an expanded array of Linux products, services and tools.

Where Are the Tools?

Until the last year or two, enterprises largely shied away from Linux due to a perceived lack of tools to support the operating system. Take the example of PCMall/eLinux, an on-line vendor of equipment and software based in Torrance, California.

"Our decision to support/use Linux internally was originally us wanting to 'eat our own dog food',' explains Christopher Swadish, Director of Operations. "We couldn't sell Linux-based solutions if we weren't willing to use them ourselves."

The company began using Linux on its ecommerce sites, and then expanded its use to provide additional infrastructure support for functions such as Network Address Translation (NAT) and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). It also runs several open-source security products on Linux to monitor the status of the environment and to handle reporting, and it recently deployed a fully functional tech support help desk on Linux as well.

"The introduction of Linux into our environment was painless and has proven very rewarding from both a system-management perspective as well as TCO", says Swadish. But, while PCMall/eLinux liked the operating system itself, it lacked the ease of support of other parts of the network. Even simple routine actions like backing up servers needed to be done separately.

"Initially, we were simply tar-balling the Linux systems up to tape or we'd use AMANDA or some other open-source alternative that would work well for backups, but there was no way of unifying our environment", Swadish continues.

Luckily for PCMall/eLinux, CA arrived on the scene with an impressive range of enterprise-class Linux tools and applications. Since 1999 when its first Linux offering appeared, CA has expanded up to 54 Linux products covering all six of its product lines.

"Early on we saw Linux as being one of those movements in the industry that we knew was going to take off," says John Pincomb, vice president for eBusiness Solutions at CA. "We decided it was something we wanted to be part of."

Mainframe Roots

Computer Associates started out in 1976 making software to improve performance on IBM mainframes. Over the next quarter century, the company has grown into a six billion dollar giant providing software to organizations in over one hundred countries, including 99 % of the Fortune 500. It produces over 1,200 software products in six main areas. Each of these fields now includes several Linux applications:

  • enterprise management (Unicenter)

  • storage (BrightStor)

  • security (eTrust)

  • portal and business intelligence (Cleverpath)

  • database management and application development (Advantage and Jasmine)

  • software lifecycle management (AllFusion)

"Unlike companies that add a Linux agent to a pile of products and then loudly proclaim, 'We do Linux,' Computer Associates has done the real work", says Aberdeen. "The result is an offering for Linux that is comparable to Computer Associates' capabilities in Windows 2000 and Solaris."

The company's first Linux product, released in April 1999, was a module for its Unicenter network and system management software. The following year, it released Unicenter for Linux, a full-scale enterprise management framework designed to run on the Linux platform and manage not only Linux boxes, but Windows, UNIX and others as well. In August 2000, a DVD containing Unicenter TNG Framework for Linux began shipping with SuSE Linux 7.0.

"Linux does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a heterogeneous enterprise", says Pincomb. "Our job is to make it manageable within that context."

Whole Range

Managing Linux in a mixed-OS environment can be achieved either by having the management software installed on a Linux box, by adding Linux capability to software running on a different OS or a combination of the two. CA supports both approaches.

To make this work, the company has adopted a three-prong approach to releasing products for Linux. The first step was to port its existing products for managing mainframe, UNIX and Windows environments over to Linux. Currently there are 42 Linux offerings fully developed and 12 more in beta. While the company will continue to port products over, the key ones necessary to make Linux a viable option in an enterprise are already available.

The second step is to make Linux part of every new release, something CA is now vigorously embracing. For example, its new Unicenter Universal Job Management Agent supports Linux right from version 1.0, on both x86 Linux releases (Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera and Turbolinux) as well as on IBM zSeries mainframes.

Finally, there is the matter of ongoing development, and CA updates its Linux products at the same time it updates those running on other platforms. "At Computer Associates, Linux shares tier 1 platform status with other operating systems such as AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and Windows", says Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook. "So solutions are ported in the same time frame to support Linux as other major platforms."

For PCMall, the first item of interest was BrightStor storage management software to back up servers across the entire network. The company used BrightStor to integrated storage management/backup to a single platform. "Simplifying/unifying our storage management platform has enabled us to better utilize the time and talents of our engineering staff and has given us an assurance that our data is well protected," says Swadish.

Other companies have achieved similar success with the CA/Linux combination. The Danish Bibliographic Center (DBC) in Ballerup, Denmark, for example, is the official creator of the national catalog of books, periodical articles, music, visual and sound recordings. It also provides online library services to the nation's public, school and academic libraries. It operates on a Linux/Unicenter platform.

"We are using Linux because it is open source, which is great when you are developing your own applications", says systems manager Jorgen Rishoj. "We also like the sophistication of the security features for Web servers and FTP servers."

Although the company has only 200 internal users, it also needs 120 servers to provide services for its library customers. These servers run a mix of Solaris, AIX, Red Hat and Debian Linux as well as Windows NT/2000. Besides the basic surveillance of the CPU, memory and files, they also use Unicenter to check the services and applications and have it set up to transfer any problems automatically to the help desk management software. In addition, the company uses Unicenter's remote software deployment functions.

"With only four persons to manage the servers, we needed a strong management software for a heterogeneous environment", says Rishoj. "With Unicenter we have 27/7 surveillance combined with mobile alarms, remote access for system administrators and web access to the help desk."

Out of the (Server) Closet

As more leading software vendors come out with applications such as those covered above, Linux can move out of the server closet and into the mainstream as a large-scale organizational operating system. In all likelihood, CA's commitment to Linux, following on the heels of an IBM pro-Linux declaration last year, marks a major turning point in the industry. After all, Computer Associates can now provide everything from PCs to IBM mainframes using Linux--quite an achievement in a short space of time.

"Because Computer Associates has ported so many of its solutions to Linux", says Aberdeen's Claybrook, "clients can more easily move forward with Linux as an enterprise platform, knowing that they have a complete portfolio of industry-leading solutions to support their mission-critical deployments."

This is reinforced by the news that CA has even bigger plans for Linux over the course of this year. More new products are scheduled for release in the near-future and the company has announced aggressive plans to port all its solutions to a Linux platform.

"Customers tell us that Linux is important to them, and they want to rely on it as a peer in their IT environments". says Pincomb. "Our job is to make that possible."

New CA/Linux Releases

At LinuxWorld in January 2002, Computer Associates, Inc. released 23 new products to help organizations better administer Linux within their networks. Seventeen of these qualified as full production releases. The remainder are still in beta, with final versions planned for release mid-summer 2002. All work with Caldera, Red Hat, SuSE and Turbolinux. Among the products now supporting Linux are:

Enterprise Management ProductsUnicenter Network and Systems Management: manages the health and availability of operating systems and status management of network devices, business applications and database systems.

Unicenter Service Level Management: collects availability and response time data from SNMP-enabled devices, application and network services and generates animations, charts and reports to monitor and manage service levels.

Unicenter AutoSys Job Management: provides single point of control for scheduling jobs within a distributed environment including event-driven scheduling, centralized real-time monitoring and programmable error recovery.

Unicenter Cluster Management Option: provides a common management interface for cluster servers coming from different vendors.

Storage Management Products

BrightStor ARCserve Backup for Linux: backup, restore and management functions in a Linux environment.

BrightStor Enterprise Backup: centralized backup and recovery for heterogeneous systems.

Security Management Products

eTrust Antivirus: includes centralized event logging and alerting and distribution of new virus definitions.

eTrust Policy Compliance: monitors network systems and databases, identifying potential holes in an organization's security policies and creating scripts to fix vulnerabilities located.

eTrust Audit: collects security and audit information and stores it in a central repository for monitoring, alerting and reporting.

eTrust Directory: enterprise directory based on X.500 and LDAP protocols. Supports over 20,000,000 entries and 1,000 searches per second.

eTrust Access Control: regulates who can access specific systems, what level of access they have within them (e.g., read-only) and when they are allowed access. Organizations can set enterprise-wide policies or limit them to a particular application.

Data Management and Application Development

Advantage Ingres 2.6: enterprise relational database management system supports Linux on both Intel and IBM s390/zSeries platforms.

Application Life Cycle Management

AllFusion Harvest Change Manager: synchronizes application development schedules and provides enterprise change and configuration management.

Portal and Business Intelligence

CleverPath Portal: application for creating enterprise portals, bringing together information and applications for employees and customers.

The products work with servers or mainframes in a pure Linux or heterogeneous environment.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in business and technology.

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