Originally published in the May 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.

first impression

Multiple system management

By Peter Galvin

Since the beginning of (computer) time, system management has been a challenge. Since the invention of networking, multiple system management has been an even bigger challenge. There are currently several different approaches to the problem. Some sites choose to manage their HP-UX and Solaris 1 and 2 computers by hand or with some simple tools like rcp and rdist. Others use all-encompassing, expensive tools such as Tivoli Management Environment from Tivoli Systems (Austin, TX) and CA-Unicenter from Computer Associates (Islandia, NY). NTX (Network Task Expert)/Exec, an administration tool from Crossroad Systems (Boston), falls into the third category: smaller, less-expensive tools designed to solve specific parts of the problem.

Collecting the wealth
NTX/Exec 1.7.1 provides a means to execute the same command on multiple machines, while it returns the output. At the press of a button, NTX/Exec can check disk space, running processes, or general system status on a set of systems. It also allows control over the use of sets and subsets of machines. For instance, systems running SunOS 4.1.3 and those running Solaris 2 could be in sets, making it easy to run a command on all systems running a specific operating system. A security subsystem lets the administrator control who can use NTX/ Exec and which machines each user is allowed to access via NTX/Exec.

NTX/Exec consists of a GUI interface and a control daemon. The daemon needs to run on every client system. The clients are organized into groups and, through the GUI, a sysadmin can select a group and enter a command. Users can easily execute a command on every system in the group and have NTX/Exec direct the command's output into a separate window for each client. Alternatively, output can be stored and manipulated in the NTX database.

NTX/Exec accepts jobs in the form of shell scripts or programs. They can be quite simple, such as the date command (used to find the date and time on each system), or complex and long running, such as a sar performance monitoring command. The shell is user-selectable and can be C, Korn, or Bourne. NTX/Exec also supports awk and Perl programs. The GUI has several commands built-in, so a mouse click causes one to be executed on the current client group. These buttons can be used to find the current date, to list the user environment, to show disk usage, to display network services, to get system resource information, and to display running processes on each client node in the current group. Through the GUI's button editor, these button functions can be renamed, have their functionality changed, and be reordered.

Operation is fast, and the GUI is functional, if not pretty. There are data-entry fields at both the top and bottom, and menus and buttons on the top and down the side, causing a little confusion during the first few uses. The product itself is feature-filled, customizable, and convenient. It serves its purpose and allows a job to be spawned on multiple, user-definable machines.

Installing NTX/Exec on a SPARCstation 10/41 running Solaris 2.4 was straightforward, but system administrator-intensive. Most of the install work is done by hand, rather than with scripts, for security reasons. Because the NTX daemons run as root, Crossroad Systems wants the installer to know exactly what is being done on each client and on the master server. Server installation includes editing of the services file to add a new network service, installation of the NTX files, and execution of a script to initialize the NTX databases. Client installation involves changing the system start-up files to run the daemon.

There are also intermediate systems, known as gateways, that need software installed on them. The gateways are necessary because Unix places a limit on the number of open network connections per system. If more than 253 clients are going to be used, one gateway is needed. With more than 506, two are needed, and so on. The NTX server then talks to the gateways, which in turn talk to the clients and funnel output back to the server.

A few small problems occurred during testing. The documentation (two thin manuals) is complete and accurate, but lacks an index and glossary, making it awkward to track down specific information. Customer service seems well equipped to deal with the resulting problem inquiries, at least. Also note that installation steps must be followed exactly or NTX/Exec may fail to run.

When the GUI starts, it prompts for an NTX user id and password that must match entries in the NTX database. If the first password attempt fails, all others appear to fail as well, and the GUI must be aborted and restarted. Following the Motif model, delete doesn't function to backspace over mistakes. Fortunately, Crossroad Systems says this password bug is now fixed.

Finally, if the NTX server daemon stops running, all the client daemons will loop trying to regain a connection. By default, this happens once per second, causing a load of 0.4 on each of our SPARCstation 10s. Thankfully, this delay is modifiable via a command-line option.

NTX/Exec 1.7.1 is the first of a number of products in a family of administration tools. Others include NTX/cron, NTX/FTP, and NTX/Notify (a bulletin board-like system). NTX/Exec is available for HP-UX and Solaris 1 and 2. It costs $400 per node; volume discounts are available. Crossroad Systems Inc., 113 Bay State Rd., Boston, MA 02215, 617-424-8385, 617-424-6274 fax, alek@world.std.com.

[Copyright 1995 Web Publishing Inc.]

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Last updated: 1 May 1995.