HP prepping all-in-one server mgmt. software

Hewlett-Packard Co. is readying server management software that should give users control of Unix, Linux and Windows machines from a single console, a capability analysts say will be particularly important as businesses consolidate workloads to boost efficiencies in their data centers.

The software, code-named Nimbus, will be the first integrated tool from a systems vendor that handles the nitty-gritty of server management regardless of platform, from updating server BIOS and driver agents to updating patches, analysts say.

According to sources, Nimbus will be an amalgamation of HP’s server management tools: Insight Manager, the old Compaq technology that monitors Windows and Alpha servers, and Servicecontrol Manager for HP-UX and Linux systems. HP Toptools Device Manager, which managed multiple platforms, was discontinued last year, but its features are expected to be integrated in Nimbus.

HP declined to comment on Nimbus, but sources say a base version is expected to ship with HP servers within months.

The package is an upgrade to Insight Manager, which brings HP’s management and monitoring expertise to the legacy Compaq product, says Jason Robohm, director of technical services at Crossmark Holdings in Plano, Texas. Crossmark, which is testing the Nimbus software, is a longtime ProLiant customer.

“The advantage for us is we’re seeing thinner and thinner load on the server and more (remote monitoring) and SNMP-type polling, which means you have less overhead and fewer things to update in the way of agents,” Robohm says. “That’s the direction where we see this new version of Insight Manager heading: almost an HP OpenView look and feel, but not meant to be providing network-related uptimes and correlation, but instead give you the kind of information about a specific box and performance of that particular box.

“So it’s collecting all the information like Insight Manager used to, but saying ‘I’m not worried about operating system differences because I’m using industry-standard ways of gathering information,’ ” Robohm says.

The capabilities in Nimbus are important, analysts note, because server management software feeds into larger, higher-level network management systems such as HP OpenView and IBM Corp.’s Tivoli product, which are used to manage heterogeneous servers, storage and other resources.

“The last few versions of Insight Manager have been pretty advanced for server management,” says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst for The Yankee Group. “To consolidate Insight Manager with HP-UX management is awesome. It’s been a common problem for server management – having different tools for different server operating systems.”

Insight Manager identifies, isolates and resolves problems on HP ProLiant servers, blades and their Alpha servers; Servicecontrol Manager performs fault monitoring, configuration and workload management of HP-UX or Linux systems; and Toptools performed fault and inventory management on former HP Netservers and HP-UX machines.

With Nimbus, users will no longer have to jump from console to console to control the various server nodes on their networks. Instead, they will have an integrated view of systems running Windows, Linux and HP-UX.

Today, server management software from all systems vendors require console-hopping to manage heterogeneous systems. IBM, for example, has IBM Director to manage servers running Windows, Linux and NetWare, but AIX systems are handled through different software. Sun’s Sun Management Center will handle only Solaris running on scalable processor architecture and Intel-based boxes, although there are plans to extend that software to encompass Linux, analysts say. Sun’s Cobalt appliances use the Sun Cobalt Control Station software, Sun officials say.

But while the focus has been on server consolidation, “the management stuff has lagged behind,” says Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Illuminata. “Management, from a user point of view, is one of the first places you should go. IBM has been counterintuitive about working on hardware consolidation before working on management consolidation. Only this year have they talked about managing other IBM platforms such as AIX.”

Eunice says users should expect vendors to move in this direction, however, as barriers collapse in data centers with Unix, Linux and Windows environments working more in tandem as workloads are consolidated.

“Today, IBM Director is included with the purchase of our xSeries servers,” says Ted Mazanec, product manager for IBM Director. “IBM Director supports all Intel-based hardware, but going forward, we will be converging some of our systems management tools so that we have a common management platform and console for customers who want to manage beyond Intel. (With IBM Director) the customer would not have to use different tools.”

Users say an integrated server management system will be a boon in the data center.

“It will make operations a little more seamless for us,” says Mark Deck, director of infrastructure technology for NMHCrx, a pharmacy benefit manager in Port Washington, N.Y. He says an integrated tool will eliminate the headache of having to implement and run two separate management packages.

Crossmark’s Robohm agrees. “The ability for Crossmark to look at its entire fleet of servers in a Wintel environment and in Linux environments in a single reporting engine is important because it allows us to look at one place and see the health of an entire mission-critical infrastructure,” he says. “The other option is we would have to look at almost a Batman’s (utility) belt worth of reporting solutions and then try to aggregate that information together to get a concise picture of the uptime and status and health of our infrastructure.”

What it boils down to is better efficiencies and cost savings in the long run, analysts say.

“A consolidated platform takes fewer people to run everything,” says Terry Shannon, an analyst at consulting firm Shannon Knows HPC. “If you’re running ProLiants and Superdome with Linux in one partition, HP-UX in another and Windows in another, do you want to have four management (packages), or do you want to have one?”

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