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Five apps for better data center management

By Wally Bahny | April 16, 2013, 12:37 PM PDT
After many years of flirtation with distributed computing - using standalone servers to provide network services and systems - smaller businesses, like enterprises, have begun using centralized hosting again. More popular than ever are data centers - either owned by the business and dedicated to their business or leased by data center organizations to small businesses that are unable to afford the overhead on their own. In addition, with the increasing reliability of virtualization environments, companies have delved fully into virtualizing servers and systems based in a central data center location.
Managing a data center, however, is much more involved and complicated than a distributed server system. The challenge begins with room design and layout, supporting environment such as power and cooling, and rack organization and continues through to the individual virtual server performance and resources within their host system or framework.
In this post to the Five Apps Blog, we take a look at five data center management apps that span the spectrum of IT needs in performing various data center-oriented tasks.

Five Apps

1. IO.AR

Many iPad apps available for data center management actually revolve around the discovery, planning, and information categories and most are released by the vendors themselves or by magazine and whitepaper publishers. IO.AR from IO data centers is one such discovery and planning tool. It allows interested data center infrastructure managers to investigate IO’s line of Data Center 2.0 products and, using augmented reality, displays the various pieces and parts of their data center equipment within real space on the iPad screen. The app uses a set of printable Augmented Reality Markers to facilitate this process or you can use the option without the AR Markers to look at a subset of the products.

2. ManageEngine OpManager

OpManager from ManageEngine is a management dashboard that captures SNMP messages and keeps track of your various systems, either within a data center or a distributed server layout. OpManager keeps track of various devices’ uptime and notifies administrators of outages and problems. Among the services it is able to track are Exchange, Active Directory Domain Controllers, VMware, and Hyper-V hosts, and web servers along with switch and router infrastructure. Administrators are able to automatically generate network maps as well as draw custom ones that can be laid out on top of a background map of the US, a state, or a region, for example. Finally, administrators are also able to drill down to a specific device and see statistics on the health of the device. OpManager is available for Windows.

3. Quest Big Brother

Quest Software, now owned by Dell, has a vast myriad of data center management software including one package humorously named Big Brother. Big Brother is a network monitoring tool that can externally watch TCP services such as HTTP, Telnet, FTP, SSH, and SMTP as well as basic presence using Ping. These statistics are then displayed for each of your configured devices on a simple dashboard using a red/green status indicator. The services are also able to be configured to be monitored “down” so that you can make sure a server isn’t available on a port it shouldn’t be. Also, the Big Brother Client software can be installed on a server or client workstation (not evaluated) to monitor internal statistics, such as CPU, memory, and disk usage which are then reported back to the server software as well. Big Brother is available for Windows and many versions of UNIX/Linux.

4. Schneider Electric StruxureWare Operations: Visor

StruxureWare Operations: Visor for iPhone and iPad displays your Power, Cooling, Network, and Rack Space usage as reported by the StruxureWaremanagement software. The main dashboard screen displays a radio graph of the current usage compared to current capacity and then dashboards for each of the four measurements show a line graph over time of the usage compared to capacity with the ability to look at a week, month, six-month, or annual graph. The server software evaluation requires setting up a demo with APC (Schneider Electric) representatives but the Visor app comes with demonstration data to help you evaluate the system.

5. IT Manager from Smarter Apps Inc.

Our final selection is IT Manager for iPhone and iPad created by Smarter Apps Inc. This app gives administrators control over cloud services such as Amazon Web Services and Google Apps as well as server management using SSH, Telnet, Windows RDP, VNC, and Apple Remote Desktop. There is also a built-in feature for suggesting new services to connect to or manage. Each connection you build is stored in the app’s home screen as a tile to tap on and connect with.
I did not test the AWS or Google Apps managers nor the VNC or Apple Remote Desktop, but the Windows RDP connection displays some system statistics and, with the purchase of a subscription, allows you to control system services and reboot or shutdown the Windows system. The RDP connection window contains the common controls and has a more extensive on-screen keyboard than I have seen in other RDP apps.
Finally, the app also contains some network tools (like Ping, Traceroute, etc) for IT administrators to perform additional troubleshooting. This app already contains most of what an IT person needs for administration but, with further development, this app could literally be a one stop shop for network and system administration.