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    The proliferation of virtualization coupled with the increasing power of industry-standard servers and the availability of cloud computing has led to a significant uptick in the number of servers that need to be managed within and without an organization. Where we once made do with racks of physical servers that we could access in the data center down the hall, we now have to manage many more servers that could be spread all over the globe.

    This is where data center orchestration and configuration management tools come into play. In many cases, we're managing groups of identical servers, running identical applications and services. They're deployed on virtualization frameworks within the organization, or they're running as cloud or hosted instances in remote data centers. In some cases, we may be talking about large installations that exist only to support very large applications or large installations that support myriad smaller services. In either case, the ability to wave a wand and cause them all to bend to the will of the admin cannot be discounted. It's the only way to manage these large and growing infrastructures.

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    Many server automation and orchestration solutions, like Puppet and Chef, rely on a mixture of solution-specific coding, Web UIs, and command-line tools to make the magic happen. Ansible is different. Although a Web UI is available, Ansible plays very well on the Unix admin's home turf: general scripting and the command line.

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    (Insider Story)

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    Like Puppet, Chef, and Ansible, Salt is an open source server management and automation solution with commercial, officially supported options. Based on command-line-driven server and client services and utilities, Salt is primarily focused on Linux and Unix server management, though it offers significant Windows management capabilities as well. While Salt may look simple on its face, it's surprisingly powerful and extensible, and it has been designed to handle extremely large numbers of clients.

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    Docker is an open source framework that provides a lighter-weight type of virtualization, using Linux containers rather than virtual machines. Built on traditional Linux distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu, Docker lets you package applications and services as images that run in their own portable containers and can move between physical, virtual, and cloud foundations without requiring any modification. If you build a Docker image on an Ubuntu laptop or physical server, you can run it on any compatible Linux, anywhere.

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    Unlike most other desktop and server operating systems, Linux comes in a wide variety of flavors, each based on a common core of the Linux kernel and various GNU user space utilities. If you're running Linux servers -- or Linux desktops, for that matter -- you should understand the important differences and be discerning about which flavor of Linux is best suited to any given situation. This article will help you do just that. 

    Because Linux is open source software, the number of discrete Linux distributions is hard to know for sure. But a short list of major distributions account for the lion’s share of commercial Linux deployments: Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, and OpenSuse. 

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    In the real estate world, the mantra is location, location, location. In the network and server administration world, the mantra is visibility, visibility, visibility. If you don't know what your network and servers are doing at every second of the day, you're flying blind. Sooner or later, you're going to meet with disaster.

    Fortunately, many good tools, both commercial and open source, are available to shine much-needed light into your environment. Because good and free always beat good and costly, I've compiled a list of my favorite open source tools that prove their worth day in and day out in networks of any size. From network and server monitoring to trending, graphing, and even switch and router configuration backups, these utilities will see you through.

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    MariaDB is a fork of the wildly popular open source database MySQL. Although MariaDB is very similar to MySQL, it is not necessarily the same. One of the primary goals behind the MariaDB project is to serve as a drop-in replacement for MySQL, but MariaDB also offers features beyond those available in MySQL.

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    (Insider Story)

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    7 killer open source monitoring tools
    7 killer open source monitoring tools

    Network and system monitoring is a broad category. There are solutions that monitor for the proper operation of servers, network gear, and applications, and there are solutions that track the performance of those systems and devices, providing trends and analysis.

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    The stage is set for SDN (software-defined networking) to change the way we push data through our infrastructures, with the promises of more agile network provisioning and management, as well as more affordable network hardware. But for many, the SDN concept is still amorphous. What does SDN look like in practice? 

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    (Insider Story)

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    Although the most popular Web server in the world is still Apache, Nginx is cutting into that market share in a very significant way. Both versatile and extremely fast, Nginx generally performs faster than Apache right out of the box, especially when serving static content or acting as a reverse proxy server. It's used to serve content for many extremely large-volume websites.

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    Those who know OpenStack know it’s an exceptionally powerful cloud infrastructure platform. They also know it’s far from simple to build and deploy. A large number of moving parts make up a production OpenStack environment, and coordinating them can be tricky at best.

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    In the not so distant past, VMware held a long and commanding lead in the server virtualization space, offering core features that were simply unmatched by the competition. In the past few years, however, competition in virtualization has been fierce, the competitors have drawn near, and VMware has been left with fewer ways to distinguish itself.

    The competition may have grown over the years, and VMware may not enjoy quite as large a lead as it once did -- but it still enjoys a lead. With useful improvements to a number of key features, as well as the bundling of functions such as backup and recovery that were previously available separately, vSphere 6 is a worthy addition to the vSphere line. That said, some of the major advances in this version, such as long-distance vMotion, will matter most to larger vSphere shops.

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    The past few years have seen a meteoric rise in the breadth and scope of small-business NAS, and while the top names in this space may have brought the core disciplines of NAS and even SAN to maturity, they continue to add features to their hardware. The latest from QNAP and Synology -- two longtime leaders in this market -- showcase this trend.

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    (Insider Story)

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    InfoWorld Editor's Choice

    The concept of object health is present throughout ACI. When problems are detected, an object’s health score drops from 100, with lower scores indicating greater severity. This is hierarchical, so while a port that is disconnected on a single endpoint will show a health score of 0, the fabric node containing that port may show a health score of 50, and the application containing the down endpoint may show a score of 80. This can be traced visually through the Web UI by selecting the Health view on the affected application. This makes it extremely easy to pinpoint problems on a vast fabric.

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    (Insider Story)