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September 17, 2009

NEI's Element Manager 3.0 Keeps Software Healthy with 'HUB' Features

By Marisa Torrieri, TMCnet Editor


Keeping my physical health in tip-top condition so I can run a half-marathon next month is no easy feat: I need a combination of healthy foods, exercise and sleep.
 
The same thing goes for the health of the software world – where software developers, system integrations and all other IT specialists involved in appliance deployment need a combination of several things to ensure their firmware’s running smoothly.
 
NEI’s latest Element Manager 3.0 is loaded with a suite of “healthy” features that do just that.
 
Thanks to a Element Manager 3.0’s “Health and Alarming,” “Updates” and “Backups” features – also known as “HUB” -- NEI’s Element Manager 3.0 is improving the health of deployed appliances so they require less effort to maintain, allowing the software vendor and their customers to need less support.
 
“What we’re seeing from a software vendor perspective is emphasis on life cycle services that solve deployment and maintenance challenges,” Peter Predella, director of marketing for NEI, told TMCnet.
 
“Element Manager 3.0 answers the call because it allows the appliance to cleanly integrate into existing network management topologies, so the end user won’t have to do any special configuration or setup,” Mike Slattery, director of software engineering for NEI, told TMCnet. “We also support e-mail for a human readable alarm.”
 
Element Manager 3.0’s “health and alarming” feature helps network operators track a system’s “vital signs,” such as hardware status (temperature), drive status and processes such as CPU utilization. The ‘alarm’ component refers to automated alerts sent to network managers who are monitoring the system, so they can take appropriate actions.
 
The second part of the “HUB” approach, the “updates” component, makes sure system upgrades occur in a timely manner. 
 
“Element Manager 3.0 supports both a ‘phone home’ type of solution where remote appliances can reach out and pull down from the Internet patches and updates to the application, OS or image. It also supports dark sites for situations where appliances aren’t allowed to phone home. Dark site updates must be manually pushed onto the appliance by the end customer,” Slattery said. “3.0 delivers end-to-end management services, from OS to application and maintenance to support.”
 
The ‘Update’ component allows software vendor’s to pre-test everything before it is published to the appliance. This ultimately saves cycles and strengthens the value chain from ISV to network manager. 
 
Slattery gave the example of a product that uses Microsoft (News - Alert) Operating system and needs updates: “Let’s say Microsoft releases OS patches. Typically, it’s the end users responsibility to test and install those patches. With Element Manager 3.0 update capability independent software vendors can test the update in the specific configuration of their appliance. This ensures that the update installs correctly and does not interfere with the application. The ISV gains by a testing only the specific appliance OS. The end user doesn’t have to worry about going through the qualification process because the independent software vendor has done all that. We’re creating less work for them – in the value chain both the ISV and the operator.”
 
Finally, the ‘Backup/Restore’ component ties it all together. “The data people always worry about wanting to backup and restore for any disaster scenario,” Slattery said.
 
The backup feature is an “image backup” that literally snaps up an image of the physical drive. This approach means the operator doesn’t need to worry about files being open when he or she wants to back up software.
 
With the 3.0 Element Manager release, NEI has integrated the image and update capabilities. “We automatically create an image backup of the system, so if you have any problems with the update, you can roll back to a ‘known-good’ state,” Slattery said.
 
This allows you to correct any mistakes as easily as hitting “Control Z” lets a writer on a PC correct a word or sentence.
 
And just like training puts me in a known-good state on the day of the big race, being in a known-good state before taking the next big action keeps an appliance in the network healthy.

Marisa Torrieri is a TMCnet Editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.




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