The Universe of the Unicenter
Unicenter is a software product from Computer Associates (CA) that provides systems-management functions for a broad range of computer systems. Versions of Unicenter are available for a variety of UNIX environments, for the IBM AS/400, and for the IBM OS/2 and Novell NetWare LAN environments. You can implement these versions as stand-alone system management solutions, or you can interconnect them to create an enterprise-wide solution.
Recently, CA ported Unicenter to the Windows NT environment, intending to leverage Unicenter's enterprise-oriented management tools against the complexity and confusion of today's client/server environment. Unicenter is, however, a relatively complex product, and its introduction into the NT market raises several questions:
- What, exactly, does Unicenter do?
- What is Unicenter's contribution to the NT environment?
- How does Unicenter fit into Microsoft's vision of systems management?
The objective of systems management is to protect the integrity of business applications and the security of business information by automating, regulating, and enhancing system functions. This is, of necessity, a broad definition, and different vendors have different interpretations. From CA's perspective, systems management, and thus Unicenter, has the following core functions.
Security: This is an important component in any operating environment, and CA has a lot of experience developing security packages for mainframes. As a result, Unicenter's security is more robust than that of a native operating environment such as NT; the Unicenter security function actually replaces NT's normal security system. For example, Unicenter logon functions replace NT's, providing both user-based and policy-based security. Under policy-based security, groups of users gain access to groups of resources.
Event Management: This function acts as a system monitor, in effect mirroring the main console you would find on a UNIX system. The event monitor allows you to view real-time information for various types of system activities, including job and network activity, security violations, and so forth. This information is also written to a log file. In addition, the event-management function allows you to configure the actions the system should take when certain events occur, such as sending a message to the system administrator (SA) whenever a security violation occurs.
Problem Management: While event management is oriented toward day-to-day operations, this function is aimed at tracking and resolving on-going problems or anomalies. It is based on a "trouble ticket" metaphor: The problem-management function can manually or automatically create tickets if it detects a serious error. When a problem is addressed and corrected, information is entered into the appropriate ticket file to record its nature and resolution. An included Help desk facility provides easy access to this information.
Backup and Archiving: This function includes centralized tape-management, file backup, and archiving services, ensuring that critical business information is reliably backed up on a predictable basis. You can configure the tape-management service to protect tapes so they can't be accidentally overwritten. The backup service supports combinations of full server and incremental backups. The archive service moves files which have not been accessed for some time to secondary storage. It can be configured to automatically restore an archived file if attempts are made to access it. These services can also be tied to the Unicenter calendar function to automate backup and archiving procedures.
Workload Scheduling: This function is often used with other Unicenter capabilities, enabling system and application activities to be scheduled automatically. For example, you can schedule when to perform backups, when to generate reports, and when to run Unicenter scripts. In complex multisystem environments, the workload-scheduling function provides load balancing by determining the server or client best suited to perform a particular task at a particular time. You can also tie this function's calendar service to other Unicenter functions, permitting you, for example, to link the security function to the calendar so that users can't sign on outside normal business hours.
Report Distribution: Unicenter lets you use email to distribute report information directly to the individuals who need to see it. This function also enables you to break up a report and send different portions of it to different individuals. For example, each salesperson can get the pages of an overall sales report that pertain to his or her activity. In addition, Unicenter controls how reports are assigned and queued to specific printers when hard copy is required.
Accounting and Chargeback: Using this function, you can view system-resource allocation and break it down to determine which jobs, users, or groups of users consume the most resources. Thus, you can establish formal chargeback procedures if you want.
These functions are available in all Unicenter implementations. Some new functions being added to Unicenter include the following:
- Software Delivery: This function provides a mechanism for distributing software and updates to client and server systems participating in the Unicenter environment.
- Database Alert: This function provides watchdog routines that can be applied to external application-oriented databases.
These two functions are being introduced on a platform-by-platform basis and are, therefore, not available for all Unicenter environments. In particular, they are not yet available for the NT environment. Also, CA has laid the groundwork for a totally new version of Unicenter, called Unicenter/The Next Generation, or Unicenter/TNG (see the sidebar "The Future of Unicenter").
You may want to link Unicenter information to non-Unicenter functions and applications. For this type of interaction, a number of standard interfaces are supported, including Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for network-level interactions, SQL for database activity, and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) for application-oriented communications. Unicenter also conforms to CA90s: Computing Architecture for the 90s, CA's architecture for open systems integration.
The Management Interface
The information used and maintained by Unicenter is stored in an external database native to the operating environment. For example, in the NT environment, SQL Server provides the database functions. The configuration, operation, and management of Unicenter functions is performed through a set of graphical user interface (GUI) modules.
Unicenter's management modules run under the GUI native to the operating environment. In the UNIX environment, the management modules run under the X-Window Motif interface; in the OS/2 environment, they run under OS/2 Presentation Manager; and in the NT and Windows environments, they run as native Windows applications.
The management modules appear as icons related to the various Unicenter functions. At the highest level, the icons include Workload, Users, Problems, Files, Console, Assets, Configuration, Stations, Calendar, Tape, and Reports. Beneath these icons are other icons or configuration dialogs. For example, under the Workload icon you'll find additional icons for Jobsets, Jobs, Resource Profiles, Action Profiles, Trigger Policies, Jobset Status, and Job Status.
Although having a native management GUI is certainly desirable, it can potentially become cumbersome in large, multisystem Unicenter implementations because each unique environment (e.g., UNIX, AS/400, Novell, NT) has its own UI and its own set of Unicenter management tools. This can make administration difficult, because to access Unicenter information for a specific environment, you need to use a specific type of client system. As a result, you might need to use three or four different client systems to get all the Unicenter information you want. CA solved this potential problem with a related product: Unicenter/Star.
Unicenter/Star is a central management point for all aspects of a multisystem Unicenter implementation. It runs on OS/2, Windows, and, most recently, Windows NT Workstation and provides access to all the Unicenter management modules for all the managed environments. In essence, Unicenter/Star provides a single GUI for Unicenter on an enterprise-wide basis.
Unicenter and Windows NT
Unicenter is a broad, multifunction product that can address a number of computing issues. But how does it fit into your NT environment? The answer depends on your equipment mix and the overall scope of your environment. The most obvious fit is to bring the NT network environment into an existing Unicenter implementation. For example, if you are already a Unicenter user and you want to introduce NT Workstations or NT Servers into your environment, then Unicenter for Windows NT provides a smooth integration path (from a systems-management perspective).
Similarly, if you operate a large, multivendor environment that includes NT, UNIX, and other commercial systems, and you don't have a systems-management function, then Unicenter is a viable option for an enterprise-wide solution. The benefits of Unicenter in this environment exceed its NT feature set; Unicenter is attractive because it is an overall, multisystem solution.
The more difficult question is how or why to use Unicenter in a pure NT environment, one that doesn't include any UNIX, AS/400, Novell, or OS/2 LAN components. This environment is further complicated by the availability of the Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) which would, at least superficially, appear to have similar capabilities.
In truth, the orientations of Unicenter and SMS are quite different. SMS is a desktop solution for DOS and Windows-family PCs. Unicenter is a enterprise-oriented solution for NT Workstations, NT Servers, and native NT networks. Unicenter doesn't, for example, attempt to discover or maintain configuration information about DOS/Windows PCs, and SMS doesn't provide comprehensive, network-wide workload-management functions. In short, SMS and Unicenter are aimed at solving two different problems. This point is further emphasized by the joint marketing program that CA and Microsoft have embarked on. The two companies have created a single software package that contains the NT version of CA's Unicenter, Microsoft's NT Server, and a run-time version of Microsoft's SQL Server to provide the database functions required by Unicenter. CA will market this package through its sales force and resellers.
Is Unicenter for You?
If you have a large or moderately complex NT network, Unicenter's systems-management functions can relieve a wide variety of recurring headaches. You can automate mission-critical--but tedious--tasks such as file backups, report generation, and report distribution. You can determine the utilization levels of your various NT systems and see which users are consuming your resources. You can set up a security policy that is both bulletproof and logical. And you can be proactive instead of reactive to system and network problems that may occur. If these benefits sound good to you, take a hard look at Unicenter for Windows NT.
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