September 28, 2000

VNC vs. Ssh: The issue of Linux console control

Author: JT Smith

By Tina Gasperson
News Editor

Vince Frese says his company Tridia is the first to release remote network administration software that gives complete control of the Linux console from anywhere. A Linux expert says "not necessarily so." Virtual network computing, or VNC, is a GPL application originally developed by AT&T. The program allows anyone with admin access to a network to remotely control that network from any other location, including the Internet.

VNC allows network administrators to deal with system emergencies and maintenance from their home or remote office instead of traveling to the site. The software runs on most platforms, including Unix, AIX, BeOS, Linux, and Windows.

According to Tridia CEO Frese, the 2.0 release of TridiaVNC will eliminate a "burden" for Linux admins, because many administrative tasks under Linux can only take place if "you are physically at the console." Says Frese, "TridiaVNC takes control of the console in Linux, and other applications don't."

That claim may technically be true, but Secure Shell (Ssh), a program to log into another computer over a network, to execute commands in a remote machine, and to move files from one machine to another, already does everything a busy network administrator needs, says one Linux expert.

Russ Herrold, owner of Owl River company, says the only administrative task he can't do remotely with Ssh is file system checking before the host is up -- not much of a consideration when Linux systems are known to stay up for days and even months at a time.

And as for long distance network administration, Herrold says, "I just used Ssh to work on a Linux PC in Dallas (from Ohio). The local admin set up the account for me this morning, and I am done; I used the Internet. What's news about that?"

Even Trese admits, "On a day-to-day basis you don't need TridiaVNC for server administration." But when embedded Linux becomes more commonplace, the need for complete remote console control will increase, he says. And TridiaVNC is useful for server-level functions. "The console will send up an error message that's only visible if you are physically in control of the console."

Frese says that as Linux becomes commonplace on desktop systems, the remote console control feature will be critical for user support and training. "A majority of support issues come about because the end user doesn't know how" to execute the necessary commands, even when the tech support person explains them. "We're positioning TridiaVNC as a remote training tool to show the person at the other end how to do it."

But Herrold says the best way to conduct training sessions is with a live instructor. "Support is not 'done' to an end user -- it is best done 'with' the end user understanding the theory and being guided through the fix. This empowers the user, and prevents recurrence of issues."

The TridiaVNC software and source are available for free at the company's Web site, including a newly released beta of the Linux version. Tridia hopes to make money by selling support packages, subscription access to the VNC knowledge base, and consulting services for developers who want to modify and enhance the application. "In the future, we plan to ratchet up sales with add-on products," says Frese.


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