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SunTM Management Center Change Manager

Jonathan Han, Eric Nielsen, and Julie Nelson

When asked the question, "How do you like Sun's administration tool set?" most experienced Solaris administrators would chuckle and say, "What administrator toolset?" This, I am happy to say, is changing. For the past five years, Sun has been improving and enhancing its own systems management portfolio, and SunTM Management Center 3.0 has been growing in popularity. Sun's own IT department has deployed Sun Management Center and is now managing thousands of its own servers with the product.

This year, Sun announced the systems management concept called iChange. Sun's iChange concept was presented as a way to manage the change of all of the system software layers. As administrators know, the ever-increasing complexity of the layer dependencies makes it hard to roll out new solutions and keep them up to date. iChange was described as technology that would help solve this growing problem. Many of us were skeptical of the claims that new technology would solve this long-standing problem. So it was a pleasant surprise when Sun announced that the iChange concept would be released as the Change Manager module for the Sun Management Center product family. For many of the enterprise customers already using Sun Management Center, this was great news.

Sun Management Center, like several recent deployment products, takes advantage of a growing trend in the industry to deploy system software using complete system images to any client. Sun has offered pieces of this solution within the SolarisTM Operating Environment, but never integrated the pieces into a complete application. Solaris systems administrators are likely familiar with the capabilities of SolarisTM Flash software, Solaris JumpStartTM software, and SolarisTM Live Upgrade software. However, it takes quite a bit of time and scripting to use these technologies in a multi-client environment. Change Manager brings these technologies together and adds functionality that makes it simple to point, click, and deploy Solaris-based systems. In this article, I will describe the tools that are available in the current Solaris release to deploy system images to a large number of machines. Then we will cover the installation and update process using Change Manager, as well as its key features.

Overview of Today's Solaris Installation

Today's available Solaris installation tools are based around three technologies:

  • Solaris Operating Environment -- Captures a snapshot image of a complete software stack in a Solaris Flash archive format, including the Solaris operating environment, applications, and configurations. A Solaris Flash archive can then be used to install any number of machines making them clones of the original machine where the archive was created.
  • Solaris JumpStart software -- Software that enables automated, hands-off installation of software. The JumpStart software is based on command line interface (CLI) that can install software using either standard packages or using a Solaris Flash archive. The administrator initiates installations automatically from the system being installed. The files for installation are provided by a JumpStart server that contains the install media (either packages or an archive), JumpStart scripts, and data.
  • Solaris Live Upgrade software -- Allows the installation of Solaris Flash archives or software updates while the system is fully operational. On a running system, an administrator uses Live Upgrade to create an alternate boot environment. The alternate boot environment is a replica of the current, running boot environment. The administrator then initiates either a package-based upgrade or the initial installation of a Solaris Flash archive onto the alternate boot environment. When the upgrade is complete, the administrator reboots the system to the alternate boot environment that contains the newly upgraded Solaris operating environment. If, for some reason, the new environment is unacceptable, the administrator can revert to the original environment by simply rebooting.

Today, using the technologies described above, administrators interact mostly with a command-line interface (CLI) to perform complex and time-consuming operations. For example, using JumpStart software, administrators must write and maintain pre-install scripts, finish scripts, profiles, and rules files on one or more JumpStart software servers. Then, each machine to be installed must be initiated by the administrator individually.

Automating Installations and Updates Using Change Manager

Sun Management Center Change Manager builds upon the current Solaris technologies to create a unique, aggregated change management application that makes deploying software on a massive scale easier, scalable, and more cost-effective. Change Manager automates the tools and technologies described above and integrates them into an easy-to-use, Web-based interface, as well as a fully functional, scriptable CLI.

Those of you who have interacted with Web-based management interfaces on printers, routers, or hubs will be quite at home in the Change Manager browser user interface (BUI), which is a second-generation SunTM OpenNet Environment (Sun ONE) Web Server software interface. The Change Manager BUI connects to the centralized Change Manager server via an http connection, tunneling all of the traffic between the BUI and the server.

Some features of the Change Manager software may surprise you. For example, the software does not use any client-side Java in its user interface. The BUI is based on HTML and JavascriptTM technology. The interface, of course, talks to Java servlets on a server, but is 100% pure, fast HTML on the client, resulting in significantly improved performance.

When trying out the software, we discovered it was convenient to reload machines and change what we did. We placed older Sun Ultra 1's in a rack and loaded them with solution sets just because it was easy. We flashed one machine with an xpilot server image, so we could play with it, and it literally took only minutes to download the server image and provision the client system. Also, we found that the Live Upgrade feature allowed us to fall back to an existing stack quickly and efficiently. Several times we changed our minds after running a new stack and found ourselves back online in minutes by using the fallback feature.

Change Manager Key Features

Sun Management Center Change Manager also offers other capabilities, including the following:

  • Change Manager Server Administration -- The Change Manager server contains all of the Sun Management Center Change Manager software and runs a Web Server that supports the Web-based Change Manager applications. It stores information about the managed hosts and stores files used for Change Manager operations, including Solaris Flash archives, shared profiles, audit rules files and manifests, and Solaris boot images. The administrator uses Sun Management Center Change Manager to administer and maintain this server.
  • Solaris Flash Archive Manager -- Change Manager provides a tool for Solaris Flash archive management. The Solaris Flash archive manager enables systems administrators to import Solaris Flash archives, group the archives into folders, and delete and search for archives. It also enables users to edit archive properties.
  • Host Manager -- Administrators can easily install, update, and audit systems. Sun Management Center Change Manager enables administrators to group systems in any way. Administrators can perform upgrades, audit systems, and re-provision software services on one system or on a group of systems.
  • Configuration Writer -- The configuration writer tool provides the ability to create and manage configuration profiles that can be applied to individual managed hosts or groups of managed hosts. The configuration writer also helps administrators install and provision new managed hosts.
  • Software Auditor -- The Change Manager audit feature provides the ability to create the software stack manifest of one or more deployed systems. These manifests can be used in rules-based comparisons to check the software configurations of a managed host or groups of managed hosts. Administrators can compare manifests between two points in time, for example, between the current state and the original software stack manifest. Or, administrators can compare the manifests of individual managed hosts. This helps solve the problem of how to quickly detect what has changed across a farm of servers. This tool provides functionality to write auditing attribute rules, such as file content changes, to help reliably manage changes for software upgrades or system maintenance.
  • Job Scheduler -- Change Manager contains a rich scheduling feature set that allows administrators to schedule software deployment operations during offload hours. Operations such as upgrades, reboots, and software auditing can be scheduled on a single managed host or on a group of managed hosts. Administrators can also monitor the status of scheduled jobs, reschedule jobs, and cancel jobs as necessary.

Sun continues to invest in Sun Management Center 3.0, moving it forward and making administrator's lives easier. Sun Management Center Change Manager continues this trend in the area of software provisioning and change management for Sun systems.

Jonathan Han is a Senior Product Manager at Sun Microsystems. He currently focuses on product marketing for Solaris systems management products.

Eric Nielsen is an engineering director and product evangelist at Sun Microsystems. He has focused on software deployment and system administration products since 1994. Product designs include Solaris Web Start, Live Upgrade, Solaris Flash and the BigAdmin portal community (

Julie Nelson is a program engineer at Sun Microsystems. Most recently, she has participated on the development teams of installation and deployment technologies.

Sun, Sun Microsystems, the Sun Logo, Sun Management Center Change Manager, Solaris, and Solaris JumpStart are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sun Microsystems, Inc. in the United States and other countries.