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The Return of PowerCockpit

Popular Linux Server Management/Deployment Program Re-emerges

  • February 25, 2003
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

One of the hidden gems of Linux server administration was Turbolinux's proprietary PowerCockpit. With it you could management tasks on multiple Linux servers and clusters. What most administrators probably liked about it best was its outstanding image deployment and single update to multiple systems features. Then, Turbolinux left the American market leaving PowerCockpit behind in legal limbo. Now, the program is coming back in March in a long-delayed new version from Mountain View Data, Inc.

Mountain View, which made its reputation in server software storage, may be little known in Linux circles, but its president and CEO, Cliff Miller, is well-known in the Linux community. Mr. Miller was an early Red Hat reseller and founder of Pacific HiTech, the company that would become Turbolinux.

This new version, PowerCockpit 2.0, Miller says is an incremental improvement over the original with two major additions: the first is that it now supports Windows 2000 and XP deployments as well. For offices looking for a single product to manage and deploy Linux servers and Windows workstations, PowerCockpit may be just what the network administrator ordered. The second is that it's been integrated into Mountain View's enterprise replication and backup storage software programs

Bill Claybrook, Aberdeen Group's Research Director for Linux and Unix, certainly thinks it has possibilities that way. "Mountain View Data's recent acquisition of the PowerCockpit software and its integration of MVD's existing network storage software will broaden the scope of the product and give it even more appeal in the cluster provisioning and management software market."

The program's core functionality remains the ability to create and keep a library of customized deployment images. These images can contain not just the operating system, but the applications and any and all customized settings.

With these libraries, you can then manage and deploy updates to not just a single server or workstation but to what Mountain View calls "clusters," but you might find it easier to think of as groups of computers. For example, if you needed to make a security update to all your Linux servers running OpenSSL, you would first set up a reference model server with the installed patch. Once you're sure the fix works, and doesn't cause more trouble, you can then image that server and deploy it to the entire OpenSSL crew of servers.

You can also set PowerCockpit so that it dynamically records local changes to any of the servers. Armed this information, you can then track from one central workstation what's really happening on your servers and make appropriates changes to them. This alone is a feature that would make many a server-farm administrator drool.

Of course, you can find this kind of functionality in other products, such as market leader, Altris' server management lines. But PowerCockpit is the only commercial product that's primarily based on Linux.

So why haven't you heard of it before? One reason is that Turbolinux didn't push it that hard towards the end of that company's American days. Then, On August 22, 2002, Turbolinux sold its name and Linux distribution to the Japanese company SRA. PowerCockpit, however, was left behind. This made it a commercial product without a company to market, support or sell it.

Recently, though, Miller, who had left Turbolinux long before its last days as an American company, acquired PowerCockpit intellectual property in auction. Mountain View then set to work immediately to include the never-released fixes and finish up its Windows compatibility.

So it is that next month, March 2003, PowerCockpit will re-emerge into the marketplace. Miller is sure it will find customers. "We checked with its old customers, and they liked it a lot. They had few support issues; the product just worked, never crashed, and was low maintenance. Most of them are happy to know that it's back."

Mountain View plans though to do more than just release the improved, Windows-friendly version. Miller explains, "We think that PowerCockpit is extremely well-written with great modular code" so instead of charging for the software development kit (SDK), including extensive documentation, the kit will be freely available. While it's not open source, developers will be able to easily add additional modules for improved general functionality or for vertical industries.

It's Miller's hope that independent software vendors (ISV)s, system integrators, and resellers will make PowerCockpit the heart for their own network management solutions. One such company, CoroSoft, which specializes in infrastructure automation, has already made a strategic partnership with Mountain View and will be embedding PowerCockpit within their network management products.

In the meantime, though, at an estimated price of $200 to $300 a node, if PowerCockpit 2.0 turns out to be as good as its predecessor, many network administrators will be using it regardless of what programmers do with it.

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