May 18, 2005

Interstructures plugins make Linux easy for Windows admins

Author: Rob Reilly

Switching over to Linux has been a gamble for many business people. They ask, "Who is going to support this thing?" That question has been the killer for many would-be Linux migration projects. In spite of distribution vendors and consulting firms offering a plethora of support services, companies have still been reluctant to change. Even if the new system had ultra-slick support tools built in, the disruption caused by retraining the operations staff in the Linux way of doing things was just too much to handle. QCD Microsystems hopes to overcome this migration barrier with their Interstructures product.

QCD looked at Linux migration issues from the standpoint of a Microsoft Windows user. They created modules that make it easy for users to configure Linux based services from inside a Windows environment. These aren't web based tools, either. Existing Microsoft tools are used (with the QCD Interstructures plugins) to manage Linux based back-ends.

The ground-breaking part of their approach is that it turns the focus of migration problem-solving from, “How can we make Linux replace Windows?” to, "How can we help Windows users seamlessly manage Linux-based resources?”

Linux programs like Samba started the heterogenous environment ball rolling by offering a way for DOS and Windows users to access files on a Unix or Linux file server. The Samba developers knew that businesses could use a reliable and stable platform from which to serve files.

Then along came Webmin. Webmin is a browser-based application that helps system administrators manage various Linux server functions including user accounts, Apache, and file sharing.

QCD has taken the concept one step further by creating plugin programs for the Microsoft Management Console that help administrators configure Linux functionality. In other words, Windows-trained administrators can manage such things as a Linux/Samba server with their familiar Windows based tools. And they don't need to know much about Linux to do it.

Troy Backus, of The Kerr Group is typical of network administrators tasked with migrating functions over to Linux.

“We have about 1000 users and almost all of them are on Windows”, Backus says. That includes his network support staff. He is currently evaluating Interstructures plugins to manage his Samba and print servers.

Backus first loaded the Interstructures server software on the company's Linux machines, then followed up with a small module that went on the network administrators' Windows boxes. Authorized network administrators now use their normal Windows-based tools to configure the Linux server exactly the same way they configure a Windows server.

One of Backus' problems with moving to Linux was that his staff were intimately familiar with Windows configurations but knew very little about how things are done in the Linux world.

Let's face it: The thought of configuring Linux boxes remotely via text files and scripts can be pretty intimidating for non-Linux folks. It's not impossible, but the learning curve can be time-consuming.

For well established processes, like setting up or changing a Samba file server, the Interstructures solution makes a lot of sense to executives and IT managers alike.

Obviously, programs such as Samba, LDAP and Kerberos need to be loaded, so the Interstructures plugins are built to work them, along with many other popular pieces of Linus server software.

Backus handles the installation and initial configuration of the Samba machines himself. His network staffers handle normal operations after that.

And, while he keeps the whole shebang running, he can gradually teach his staff how to become more more comprehensive Linux network administrators.

The New Frontier

QCD has broken the ice on making Linux administration easy from a native Windows admin standpoint.

Interstructures has introduced a new mindset to the mixed Linux/Windows environment. It acts as an essentially seamless bridge between the two worlds.

Can we expect other Linux vendors to follow QCD's lead and develop tools for “the other side?”

That's for the developers and technology people to sort out. Executives and business people, as always, just want it to work. And so far, it looks like that's exactly what Interstructures does.

Rob Reilly is a consultant, writer, and commentator who advises clients on business and technology projects. His Linux, portable computing, and public speaking skills-related articles regularly appear in various Linux and business media outlets.


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