Aberdeen InSight: Linux-Based Software Management

Mar 14, 2002

Bill Claybrook

Overview: In the past year, the lack of Linux software management solutions has frequently been cited as one of the top reasons users are cautious about deploying Linux. Today, several emerging Linux suppliers as well as large systems management companies are providing Linux-based software management solutions. This InSight describes the challenges of managing Linux platforms as well as the features users should consider when selecting Linux-based software management solutions. It also offers an overview of two groups of companies now providing such solutions.

Linux-Based Software Management: It Really Is Different!

Linux is open source, and almost all of the software that constitutes Linux distributions is open source. As an example, a Red Hat Linux distribution for servers contains hundreds of software packages. In reality, a Linux distribution, as well as other open source creations, is a combination of efforts from many people. Because many of the software packages are maintained separately and are on different release schedules, knowledge of the dependencies and interactions between the packages is essential.

Coordinating software development schedules is often paramount. For example, contrast open source development with the way proprietary software is developed by Microsoft, where schedules are monitored and coordinated constantly. But the value of the open source software development process is indisputable; the two primary reasons that users adopt Linux are that it is reliable and stable.

Here's the Difference

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Who's Afraid of Linux?

Linux users have almost unlimited access to thousands of open source packages on public servers and elsewhere. The benefits of the open source development model include the promise of rapid software enhancements, continuous improvements, and constant flow of patches and security fixes. Reaping the benefits of the open source development model, however, places certain software management requirements on Linux management solutions.

The challenges of managing Linux software largely result from having hundreds of common components and libraries shared across applications. Thus, the process of updating one application can lead to dependency conflicts that may "break" another application. Linux software management solutions have solved this problem because they automatically detect dependencies and conflicts, making the install-and-remove package operations simple and safe, one-step tasks.

Two Groups of Suppliers

There are at least two groups of Linux software management solution providers. The first group - emerging Linux companies - consists of suppliers including Aduva (Aduva Director); BladeLogic (Configuration Manager); Caldera (Volution Online, Volution Manager); Red Hat (Red Hat Network); RLX (Control Tower); Sun Cobalt (Control Station); Turbolinux (PowerCockpit); and Ximian (Red Carpet) that provide Linux software management solutions. Software management includes delivering and installing patches, installing new software, removing software, resolving package dependencies, maintaining dependency trees, etc.

The second group - heterogeneous computing environment network and systems management solution providers - includes larger companies like BMC, Computer Associates (CA), Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Tivioli. All of these companies have portfolios of Linux management solutions. CA has a portfolio of more than 50 stand-alone management solutions for Linux.

The first group, along with CA, provides solutions that have the capability to install and remove software packages on Linux-based desktops and servers. That means their solutions support RPM (short for RPM Package Manager) software packaging. All of the large suppliers have developed or are developing relationships with Aduva, Caldera, etc. - in some cases because their software does not currently install RPM packages. For example, HP's Servicecontrol Manager does not install RPM packages, but it can launch Aduva's Director software to perform RPM software package installs on HP and non-HP Linux platforms.

What Do Emerging Linux-Based Suppliers Offer?

The emerging Linux software management solution suppliers offer products that provide some standard features, including:

  • Centralized remote management;
  • RPM Package Manager support;
  • Security patch capability and security alerts;
  • Secure Web-based browser management;
  • Conflict and dependency checking;
  • New package notification;
  • Hardware/software inventories for the managed systems; and
  • Open source agents running on the managed systems.

Other features that the suppliers support in varying degrees - and features that potential users should consider when selecting a Linux software management solution - include:

  • Flexibility of software package support;
  • Integration capability with enterprise network and system management frameworks;
  • Linux distribution support - i.e., one Linux distribution or several;
  • Potential for adapting to non-Linux systems;
  • Degree of customization possible for managing corporate users and defining software access privileges; and
  • Degree of software package certification.

Several of the solutions are not limited to just Linux. For example, Ximian Red Carpet will be available on Solaris in 2002; Caldera Volution Manager is now available on Caldera OpenServer and Caldera Open UNIX, and will be available on Solaris and Windows. Of the Linux-based software management solutions, only Red Hat Network is available for one Linux distribution and operating system - Red Hat Linux.

A recently released 50-page Aberdeen research report entitled Software Management Solutions from Linux Suppliers: A Competitive Analysis covers products, targeted markets, business strategies, etc., for Aduva Director, Caldera Volution Online, Caldera Volution Manager, Red Hat Network, Turbolinux PowerCockpit, and Ximian Red Carpet. In addition to helping users sort through the multiple offerings and various partnering strategies now underway, this report provides a competitive analysis/ranking of the solutions available today. In addition, it notes the solution providers that have the best chances for success in the future.

Aberdeen Conclusions

The nature and use of open source software such as Linux - access to thousands of open source packages via the Web - places certain requirements on products for managing Linux-based systems. As a result, the creators of the Linux-based solutions have included some important features not found in proprietary software management solutions. Most of these features make installing/removing Linux-based software an easy, one-step process.

Early on, the emerging Linux software solution suppliers focused on open source software deployment issues for Linux platforms. Now, however, some of these suppliers are beginning to tackle the problems of deploying proprietary software on Linux and deploying software on proprietary operating system platforms such as Solaris and Windows using the same solutions. This effort increases solution value because solutions will be able to perform cross-platform software management.

As Linux servers move increasingly into the enterprise and interoperate with Unix and Windows servers, the need to integrate Linux management solutions with enterprise network management and systems management solutions will increase. This integration is important and necessary because the emerging suppliers' solutions do an inadequate job of handling, if at all, tasks such as hardware monitoring, resource management, performance management, etc. And, today, they are not capable of managing heterogeneous platforms.

Aberdeen's research suggests that the suppliers whose Linux-based software management solutions can easily integrate with enterprise management solutions are the suppliers likeliest to have the largest impact in the Linux market.

Bill Claybrook is Aberdeen Group's Research Director, Linux and Open Source Software.


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