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Managing servers from a remote location is often mandatory in today's large enterprise environment. IT administrators must be able to manage servers in secure data centers or in locations that have no or minimal administrative IT staff. Such scenarios require remotely performing all server management operations and responding to server-down situations.
Dell has superior capabilities with Dell Remote Access Controller 5 (DRAC 5) which is an optional PCI card ($299) which comes with its own processor, graphics chipset and network port. With full administrative access, you can shut down the OS, recycle power and turn off or switch the server back on. It also support virtual floppy and CD-ROM. That means that the system can be booted from an image stored on another system.
DRAC 5 is more capable then Sun ALOM: along with CLI interface DRAC firmware has an embedded Web server so that you can connect to it from a any PC that has a Web browser. Web browser interface works very similar to VNC but currently in working with linux it has problems with mouse: it is quirky and not very pleasant to use. Also unlike working with Windows you see two mouse pointers: one for "external world" and the other for "internal world" (if you connect to Windows server those two mouses are merge into one all the time). That creates quite a lot of confusion as as moving "wrong cursor" and clicking on it can result in unpredictable behavior if "right cursor" accidentally also was position of some kind of button or menu.
But to be fair you need to understand that this is a recovery console, not your every daytool (although it can be used as such); so standards are more relaxed here and the fact that it works with GUI is a significant advantage. It, for example, greatly simplifies reconfiguration of network after server move as you can use RHEL GUI widgets for that (much like in Windows) and do not need to remember all the intricacies of linux command line commands like ifconfig that are slightly different from classic Solaris version (FSF behaves a lot like Microsoft in the area preaching a variant of "divide and counker" theme for software world -- embrace and extend; see GNU echo parody).
Dell also have integrated deployment and change management solution called Dell OpenManage 5.0. With DRAC5 it delivers comprehensive hardware deployment, monitoring and management with features including [Itreseller2006]:
Integrated hardware and software management with partner applications like Altiris Server Management Suite, Microsoft SMS and MOM, and Novell ZENworks Linux Management - Dell Edition, providing single console management of enterprise resources
Dell OpenManage Connections, which allows comprehensive hardware monitoring within industry management frameworks
IMPI 2.0 and SMASH, which deliver simplified management capabilities today and in the future via a standardized management infrastructure
Improved Linux Integration with full support for Novell SuSE Linux SLES9
Improved integration between Dell OpenManage and VMware ESX 3.0, allowing simplified monitoring for customers' hardware devices dedicated to virtual machines.
Sun X4100 servers have built it network management port with secure remote access using Web Interface over SSL or CLI over SSH. They support full lights-out remote management using remote keyboard and mouse, remote CD/DVD-ROM and remote graphics. Sun's integrated service processor (iLOM) is very capable. You also get 4 gigabit Ethernet ports plus a dedicated 10/100 for the iLOM, plus you have two PCI-X Low Profile slots, redundant power supplies, redundant hot-swap fans, etc. To save energy default configuration of T1000 does not have CDROM drive or video card so you need to use Jumpstart. Also Sun N1 System Manager is free and increases the value of the system: it really simplifies hardware monitoring and software deployment.
All UltraSparc servers has Sun Advanced Lights Out Manager (ALOM). The ALOM System Controller hardware is embedded in the server and functions completely independently as a separate embedded computer. The ALOM can monitor hardware status, perform hardware resets, power on and off, and can send e-mail if alarms are triggered. You can switch between the ALOM Command Shell and the OpenBoot PROM Prompt. To switch to ALOM, type #. (pound-period) on a serial console. After that you can configure your management network interface and many other parameters. The network interface variables specify the network settings that ALOM uses across its Ethernet connection at the network management (NET MGT) port on the server. ALOM functions allow for monitoring, logging, alerting and for basic control of the system. ALOM is particularly useful for remotely managing a server in a typical "lights out" environment. Version 1.5.5 provides out-of-box network management interface that includes [Sun2006b]:
Please note that virtual CDROM capability is absent and that's an important deficiency. You can use Jumpstart instead. Also, admins can run Sun Management Center (MC) on a system that has a graphics card and administer the server remotely that way. The MC provides a centralized GUI for most administrative functions through a Web interface, and integrates with the ALOM for hardware control when the proper agents are installed.
There are still advanced administrative technologies that are more commonly used in large corporate IT then in startups (outside ISPs). One of them is custom automated installation. This area is represented by Jumpstart in Solaris and its Red Hat clone Kickstart. The latter was first released with RedHat Linux version 5 in 1998 (not documented) and later was also implemented in Suse. Both Jumpstart and Kickstart permit automation of key elements of installation process including but not limited to:
Solaris Jumpstart has also a variant called webstart in which you can create an image of the system and them replicate it on as many systems as you wish, introducing customarization on the level of already fully configured system. The image of the system is called flash archive and it can be installed. I do not know about similar capabilities of Kickstart.
Flash archive are a very important productivity tool and can save 80% of the time in replication of complex server setups to remote locations.
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