Rolling out Ximian Red Carpet

Make Linux rollouts easier with Ximian Red Carpet Enterprise 2.
Written by Scott Lowe, Contributor

With its acquisition of SuSE and Ximian and its open source focus, Novell has very quickly gone from a niche player in the open source Linux world to being a major force with which to contend. Even more, with broad support from companies like Novell and IBM, Linux and related services stand to quickly gain traction in the corporate marketplace.

A long-time contender in the race for the Linux desktop, Novell’s Ximian unit—formerly a standalone company—has released some compelling new products in the past few months. Starting with the newest Gnome-based Ximian Desktop 2 and most recently with the release of Red Carpet Enterprise 2, the Ximian unit at Novell aims to bring both ease of use as well as centralised management to the Linux operating environment.
What is Red Carpet Enterprise 2?
Simply put, Red Carpet Enterprise 2 (RCE2) is a member of the Novell Resource Management line of products designed to greatly simplify the package installation and upgrade process across a variety of Linux platforms from Red Hat and SuSE.
As more and more Linux servers are deployed across the enterprise and as Linux continues to creep its way onto the desktop, it becomes increasingly important to have an easy way to maintain the complex package hierarchy that you inevitably run into when deploying Linux. A consistent computing environment at both the server and desktop level can greatly ease the management burden on IT staff and can result in fewer conflicts since everything is the same across the board.
RCE2 has a number of features that make it very suitable for enterprise package management including:

  • The ability to resolve both dependencies and conflicts as a part of the package installation and update process.
  • A complete command line interface to allow granular scripting.
  • A scheduling facility to allow updates to happen at a time convenient for the business.
  • Integration with SuSE and Red Hat package update systems.
  • The ability to roll back to a previous installation in the event of a problem.
  • The ability to create RCE2 caching servers for remote, bandwidth-starved sites.
  • Security features designed to protect your enterprise computing environment.
  • The ability to use either Oracle or PostgreSQL as the backend database.

Platform support
RCE2 supports various flavors of Red Hat, SuSE, and Mandrake Linux as well as Solaris under certain circumstances. Specifically, RCE2 supports package management for the following client operating systems:
  • Red Hat Linux 7.2, 7.3, 8, 9, Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1
  • Mandrake 9.1, 9.2
  • SuSE 8.2, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, SuSE Linux Desktop 1.0
  • Solaris 8 (using RPMs)

How does RCE2 work?
RCE2 has a couple of key components: the RCE2 server and the RCE2 client software. The RCE2 server has to be run on one of a very few specific versions of Linux. Ximian indicates that the server must run on a Red Hat Linux 7.3/9, Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1, or SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 system with at least 512 MB RAM, an 800-MHz or better processor, and at least 2 GB available on the disk for database and package storage. Ximian also recommends that this be a dedicated server that does not perform other duties.
The RCE2 server requires a backend database for its storage. With support for both Oracle and the superb PostgreSQL open source database, this requirement shouldn’t be a problem for any organisation.
Like it’s older cousin—Red Carpet (not the Enterprise version)—RCE2 works on the concept of channels; a channel contains the packages for a specific product or update into which users are subscribed either individually or via groups. For more complex applications, RCE2 has the ability to define sets of packages for better control.
Administration and infrastructure
The RCE2 server features a complete Web-based management interface and allows multiple administrators the ability to manage package sets, machines, and users. Furthermore, RCE2 sports a complete command line interface allowing you to create scripts to perform common administrative tasks related to the service without having to use the Web GUI. Even better, the designers responsible for RCE2 have anticipated the human tendency to make mistakes once in a while and have provided a useful rollback function that can place a client system back into a previous configuration. RCE2 also supports pre- and post-installation scripting allowing you to shut down certain services before a deployment or reboot a system after a deployment, for example.
In an effort to reduce the administrative overhead required to support a number of Linux machines, RCE2 is also capable of automatically detecting the client OS and will show only the pertinent packages, saving you from having to wade through a plethora of useless and confusing packages. Furthermore, RCE2 automatically resolves potential conflict problems and makes the appropriate package adjustments to ensure a smooth deployment.
RCE2 can scale to the enterprise level with some of its unique features. The Red Carpet Cache provides administrators with the option of deploying a caching RCE2 server on a remote network that might have limited bandwidth. The administrator can then deploy from the local caching server rather than depending on the WAN connection. Furthermore, RCE2 provides the ability to deploy but not install a particular set of packages.
RCE2 uses a number of standard security features including SSL for package transfer and MD5/GPG checksums to ensure that the package being installed can be trusted. RCE2 is designed to be deployed behind the corporate firewall.
Rolling out Red Carpet
With an eye on Linux in the enterprise, Ximian’s Red Carpet Enterprise 2 product is in a great place to provide a valuable service for large Linux installations. Package management in Linux can be somewhat complex, especially considering the huge number of permutations in packages available for the open source OS. Different versions of packages on the desktop could quickly grow out of control for an administrator. Pricing for RCE2 starts at $200 per management system, but volume pricing is available.

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