Control Tower hits new server management heights
Upgraded solution has deeper monitoring, stronger automationFollow @infoworld
Control tower, RLX’s application for managing its server blades and blade chassis, has long been one of the best server administration tools available. With the newest release, 6G, it gains new capabilities for detecting problems with an RLX server system and for using policies to automatically remediate those problems.
Although Control Tower 6G is a worthy upgrade, the software remains narrower in scope than datacenter management tools such as IBM Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, or Computer Associates Unicenter. On the other hand, it’s only a fraction of the price.
I tested Control Tower 6G using an RLX server system provided by the company, consisting of a 600ex chassis and five ServerBlade 2800i servers. Two were set up with Windows, and three with Red Hat Linux.
The Control Tower 6G software itself resides on a separate 1U server, branded by RLX but manufactured by SuperMicro. I looked at a similar hardware combo last May; this review focuses only on Control Tower 6G.
There’s much to admire about Control Tower 6G. Because it’s designed to work only with a narrow set of hardware devices, the management can go deep, providing on-screen reports with rich graphics, intuitive menus, and clean navigation structures. The browser-based software uses digitized photos and animation to display real-time status reports, and it can e-mail to alert administrators of malfunctions.
Where the software continues to fall short is in its capability of managing a broader array of hardware and software, even those from RLX. The release I looked at in May was designed to manage the company’s blades as well as its SAN hardware. Although the SAN switches and disk arrays carried the RLX logo, they were a hodgepodge of devices assembled from other manufacturers, and Control Tower XT couldn’t manage them -- so much for an integrated solution. Control Tower 6G hasn’t evolved further in that direction; it remains geared specifically for managing the servers.
But as a dedicated server admin tool, the software remains solid, particularly for automated provisioning. Control Tower provides an excellent point-and-click way to capture a desired configuration for a server blade and then to deploy it based on a particular event or schedule. This can be used either to swiftly bring up a new server after one fails or to change a server’s role. For example, a server might be deployed as part of a Windows-based employee portal cluster during business hours but then be wiped clean and added to a scientific-computing Linux cluster at night and during weekends.
Three improvements in 6G stand out: dynamic polling, workload monitoring, and “task chain” response automation. Those features are implemented as extra-price add-on modules.
Previous versions of Control Tower were passive: Server blades or other hardware components notified it when something went wrong using SNMP. The weakness there is that if the monitored device wasn’t capable of sending an alert -- perhaps it died completely or the SNMP service failed -- Control Tower wouldn’t know what happened.