November 4, 2008

Management Tools for Multi-Vendors

Filed under: adminstration,blogging — jonEbird @ 4:44 pm

The challenge to build a tool which manages multiple vendors and platforms by way of piggy backing off their technology is a losing battle. Be it provisioning, patching, monitoring, etc it doesn’t matter. To choose such a tool, you end up paying big bucks for other people to constantly watch and react to what various vendors are doing. Combine that piece of realization with the fact that a tool will almost never perfectly suit the unique requirements of your business and you’d be in denial to not realize that it sucks. Beyond the shear money of the endeavour you are also wasting time of your associates which will probably not get recouped.

I will never say anything is impossible. You can build such a tool and it can have the necessary hooks to allow your associates to customize it to suits your needs. My point is, that work is much harder to pull off than the naive observer might realize. Imagine you are abstracting the details of Suse’s automated installer “AutoYast”. But let’s say the OpenSuse project decides to take a drastic change on how the unattended installer works. Their efforts, no doubt, will be motivated by improving their end user’s experience by presumably making it quicker, simpler and overall a better product. Depending on how drastic the change, it could represent an entirely different philosophical approach to OS installs. As the tool builder, trying to provide a layer of abstraction, you have just stuck yourself into a large endeavour to re-factor those pieces of your application to handle the radical changes being made. It’s a given risk, if that is what you’re providing. My point is, as a customer, just don’t buy that product.

To purchase such a product, you are basically stating that you believe the particular team of developers are going to continue to accurately and intuitively abstract those details for you. Don’t forget you’re still paying a lot of money for this. But this is how management thinks, “I’m going to buy this tool and allow my associates to use one tool and spend their time elsewhere.” It doesn’t happen. Instead, the associates try to shift their energies on learning a new tool, figuring out how to customize it for their needs and probably end up with one FTE dedicated to maintaining it.

Please, don’t waste your time and money. Spend your time collaborating with teammates. Decide upon OS and install standards. Each OS installer provides the ability to perform basic configuration of disk, network, software, etc and then allows for final post-install hook. That hook will then lean upon your team’s efforts. You will end up spending the same amount of work creating your post-install scripts as it takes to merely install and train folks on an “all in one” tool. Big difference of “rolling your own” is you now own the tool set, it already exactly meets your needs, every one knows and understands how it works, updates are easy, knowledge and skill gained is more widely recognized and all the while you haven’t spent more money.

Now for the counter-point: You have to have a good team to pull this off. Team members will require enough experience to demonstrate the proper discernment in building out a quality framework. So what if you maintain a Solaris Jumpstart, RedHat kickstart, Suse autoyast, etc all together? Keep your data and configs centrally managed together. Parallel concepts between each one, maintain like directory hierarchies, write straight forward documentation on using and performing builds. Doesn’t it make sense to be proficient in the OS tool which comes directly from the vendor, at least from a personal development perspective? 

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