NuView’s ClusterX: Managing NT Clusters

Hands On: ENT and Client/Server Labs look at NuView Inc.’s ClusterX

Most of the buzz about clustering Windows NT servers concentrates on the operating system’s inability to cluster beyond two nodes. Even for two-node clusters, Windows NT lacks substantial management functionality.

NuView Inc., however, has stepped in with ClusterX, a product designed to help administrators manage clusters of Windows NT servers.

For our test purposes, we ran a two-node Windows NT cluster on a matched pair of Dell 2300 servers that used Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 4 installed. ClusterX was installed on an HP Kayak workstation, running Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, also with SP 4.

ClusterX is purely an administrative tool. It is not intended to add functionality to the cluster itself, nor is it a direct replacement for the CluAdmin tool included with the NT Cluster Server. ClusterX, nonetheless, has several strong points, including the ability to manage clusters from any workstation, manage multiple clusters through a single interface and present the administrator with a wealth of information not available from CluAdmin.

Installation of ClusterX uses the Install Shield interface. It took us about five minutes. We needed an installation key supplied by NuView, but there were no tricks or traps during the installation process. Once installed, use of the tool requires administrative level access to the cluster.

After we completed the installation, we fired up the ClusterX application and immediately found the first of several nice touches. The left side of the display includes a tree-structured list that users can tailor by including or excluding several elements, such as domains, groups, applications or network interfaces. This list may include information for a single cluster or for a number of clusters in multiple domains, as long as the user has appropriate administrative rights.

On the right side of the display, a series of eight tabbed windows allows the user to see status information for the cluster, hardware, or applications, as well as details on configurations, dependencies, a list of commands executed, an audit log and a dozen predefined reports. As useful as the details are, the real delight was the visual representations in the hardware status and dependencies displays.

The hardware display shows detailed status information about a piece of the cluster when the user clicks on or hovers over an element in a picture of the cluster. The dependencies display solves a significant problem for many administrators: understanding how the pieces of a resource group fit together. By constructing a flow-chart-type of diagram, the tool allows the user to see quickly and easily which resources in a group depend upon other resources.

Any of the dozen preconfigured reports may be run at any time, allowing the user to see detailed information about most aspects of the clusters. The reports can be tailored by selecting elements from the left side of the display, as well as time and date parameters. For example, the user might generate a report on commands executed against five specific resources during the last week.

A bit less impressive, but still useful, are some scripted functions that help install applications to a cluster. At press time, scripts existed only for Exchange Server 5.5 and Internet Information Server. NuView will create custom scripts for specific applications by special arrangement.

Because IIS was installed in our test environment, we chose to test this feature of ClusterX with an installation of Exchange 5.5. We expected the script would create a resource group ready to receive the Exchange installation. Unfortunately, the script did not produce the expected results and the created group could not be brought online to complete the installation. Working with NuView technical support, we determined that the problem was with a change in dependencies introduced in Service Pack 4. A simple menu selection fixed the problem and we were on our way. At the conclusion of the script, ClusterX presents a browser window with step-by-step instructions on how to install Exchange into the prepared resource group.

While this script caused us a headache, NuView claims it will be modifying the scripts to account for the necessary change.

ClusterX also includes a set of scripts for backing up and restoring the configuration information for a cluster. This script comes in handy when restoring accidentally removed resources, and if the need arises to rebuild a cluster from scratch. It is important to understand, however, that the restoration process does not reverse changes as an undo feature might. It will instead restore lost resources or reset changed parameters on a resource. This became apparent when we attempted to use the restore option as a way to recover from our first unsuccessful attempt at running the Exchange installation script: the restore essentially had no effect.

Overall, ClusterX would be useful to administrators confronted with multiple clusters. Good visualization tools and a number of interesting reports are marred only by limited support for installing new applications to the cluster.

Although it won’t replace the native CluAdmin, it certainly brings a few new tricks and a solid interface design to simplify the management of Windows NT clusters.

ClusterX
NuView Inc.
Houston, Texas
(281) 497-0683
www.nuview.com
Price: $1,495 per two-node cluster.

+ Adds management functionality to CluAdmin.
+ Good interface design.
- Scripting problems caused installation trouble.
- Currently scripts only exist for IIS and Exchange.