How to use SUSE Manager for multiplatform Linux server administration

Linux administrators using both SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux can take advantage of the features in SUSE Manager, a multiplatform server management tool to automate configuration and management tasks on Linux virtual machines.

Once you have installed and configured SUSE Manager in a virtualized environment, it’s time to learn its valuable features for managing Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server physical and virtual machines. SUSE Manager supports clients including SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10 and 11 service pack 1 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4, 5 and 6. Using the Web-based SUSE Manager interface, administrators can manage Linux systems from anywhere  you can connect to the server it’s running on.

The primary purpose of SUSE Manager is to manage a set of Linux systems efficiently and keep them up to date. This includes tasks such as providing updates, patches and security fixes for SLES and RHEL systems. SUSE Manager also makes it possible to take hardware and software inventories as well as monitor and provision systems in an automated fashion.

Admins with a mix of SUSE and Red Hat systems who are looking for a single tool for central administration and management can make the most of this tool. In this tip, we will walk through SUSE Manager’s capabilities for accomplishing these tasks.

Using SUSE Manager for configuration management
Configuring a typical corporate data center typically requires the help of a configuration management automation tool. Environments that are exclusively Microsoft will work fine with Microsoft’s management tools. But when other operating systems enter into the mix, things get more complicated. That’s where SUSE Manager comes in. It’s targeted at the large number of data centers that use RHEL and SLES servers.

Figure 1 shows the summary information for all managed systems. The updates column shows the critical updates that need to be applied to both RHEL and SLES systems. To see the details for the first entry, click on the name that links to all the information specific to that system, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1 (Click on image for larger version)

Figure 2 (Click on image for larger version)

From here, view the available software updates. In this system, there is one critical and four non-critical software updates available. Clicking on the Software tab (see Figure 3) shows the available patches and allows administrator to click the Apply Patches button and apply them immediately.

Figure 3 (Click on image for larger version)

It’s also helpful at times to know how a particular system is configured. Figure 4 shows detailed hardware information about this system and provides additional tabs for quick access to the software inventory and specific configuration files.

Figure 4 (Click on image for larger version)

There are additional tabs for Custom Info and Notes to help document any actions taken. The Configuration tab on the main SUSE Manager page provides quick access to all the details related to managing configuration files. This feature can be used to identify the files to be pushed to individual or multiple systems. Figure 5 shows an example in which an entry for the file /etc/hosts file was recently modified.

Figure 5 (Click on image for larger version)

Patch management simplified with SUSE Manager
Manual configuration changes and monitoring are important, but they’re not always sufficient to handle large deployments, especially when critical updates need to be pushed out quickly. That’s where scheduled actions come in.

Figure 6 shows the System Set Manager page, which is where all the automated actions that SUSE Manager needs to perform are configured. Here, groups can be configured and systems can be added from a master list, which can be sorted using any number of different parameters. The updates can then be scheduled to run at a pre-determined time.

Figure 6 (Click on image for larger version)

Get a quick overview of the available patches by clicking on the Patches tab (see Figure 7). This page shows a big picture of which patches need to be applied based on criticality. Detailed information about each is also available by clicking on individual entries.

Figure 7 (Click on image for larger version)

Figure 8 shows what you would see on the Schedule tab. All actions are logged and can be viewed through this page.

Figure 8 (Click on image for larger version)

System monitoring and provisioning using SUSE Manager
Real-time monitoring uses the concept of a probe that gathers specific information about CPUs or memory usage, for example, and collects network statistics. This information is passed up to the console for display.

Figure 9 shows the display with critical issues. It also shows how the tool will drill down into individual systems. A notification page can be set up to alert admins with a midnight phone call when a server runs out of memory.

Figure 9 (Click on image for larger version)

SUSE Manager can also provision new systems, which is quite helpful in a virtual environment as well as on bare-metal machines. The exact specifications for how a system will be provisioned can be set, right down to the size of the virtual disk and amount of memory allocated. This makes it possible to automate the process of bringing new systems online according to demand or in the case of hardware failure.

SUSE Manager is a comprehensive tool specifically targeted at solving multi-platform management problems. There are many other tools to choose from, but none has the same range of features that SUSE Manager has to help data center admins manage both SUSE Linux Enterprise and Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Ferrill has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and has been writing about computers for over twenty years. He's had articles published in PC Magazine, PC Computing, InfoWorld, Computer World, Network World, Network Computing, Federal Computer Week, Information Week, and multiple websites.

This was last published in June 2011

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