NT high-availability application software

When Microsoft released Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) in 1997, many users thought the product was the advent of Windows NT high availability. However, MSCS is difficult to configure and manage, and MSCS's management software, Cluster Administrator, isn't user-friendly. These shortcomings lead to improperly installed and configured NT clusters, so many companies continue the search for high-availability NT solutions.

Veritas Software's ClusterX 2.0 combines a flexible GUI, application-setup wizards, and extensive online Help to fill the NT high-availability application void. I installed ClusterX on a Data General AViiON NT Cluster-in-a-Box that included two 450MHz dual Pentium II processor systems, ten 18GB hard disks, and 2GB of RAM. You can use ClusterX to manage multiple clusters from one console to run one-to-many commands, replicate and remotely install a cluster configuration, and troubleshoot clusters. ClusterX includes an easy-to-use backup tool that saves cluster settings and configuration data, which you can use to quickly restore clusters. You can run ClusterX from Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 or as a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in. In addition, ClusterX integrates into network-management systems, such as HP OpenView and Computer Associates' (CA's) Unicenter TNG.

ClusterX's wizard-based setup made installation easy. The software prompted me to ensure that I stopped the MSCS service before I installed ClusterX, but I would have preferred ClusterX to automatically notice whether the MSCS service is running. After installation, which took about 2 minutes, I had to manually restart the MSCS service on both clustered nodes. ClusterX includes detailed Adobe Acrobat Getting Started and User Guide Help files, which helped me quickly set up ClusterX.

I opened ClusterX from the Start menu. The main screen shows the Cluster List window in the left pane and the Results pane on the right. The Cluster List shows all clusters, nodes, resources, and applications that the software is managing, and the Results pane shows an expanded view of the item highlighted in the left pane. The software's screens provide a lot of useful data and are easy to navigate. For example, when you click a cluster in the left pane, the right pane displays performance information such as the cluster's CPU utilization, node restarts, and the length of time that the cluster has been online. This information is beneficial for proactive monitoring and maintaining service level agreements (SLAs).

One of the product's most impressive features is its wizard-based installation of cluster-aware applications, such as Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0, Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 and 7.0, and Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 and 4.0. To install new applications, you right-click the cluster in the left pane of the main screen and select the application from the Setup New Application menu. I selected SQL Server 7.0, and a wizard prompted me to supply the group information, IP address, and disk resources for the SQL Server 7.0 cluster. I was impressed that ClusterX shows you the IP addresses currently in use and uses the next sequential IP address. In addition, the software recognizes when an IP address that you enter is already in use and prompts you to enter a different address. After ClusterX finished the installation, an HTML document popped up, listing the steps necessary for me to complete the clustered installation of SQL Server 7.0. One of the steps walked me through running SQL Server 7.0's Failover Cluster Wizard. This wizard configures SQL Server 7.0 as an active/passive-clustered application. After I completed the steps, I rebooted my secondary node and was ready to test whether ClusterX truly set up SQL Server 7.0 for clustering.

To test ClusterX, I sent a continuous stream of SQL queries to the primary node and, after about 2 minutes, I disconnected the network cables from the primary node. I clicked the Retry button that appeared on my client, and after 2 minutes I was able to continue sending queries.

One of the most difficult tasks you face using Cluster Administrator is configuring and managing dependencies. You must manually enter dependencies, and you have to know the proper order of the dependencies. ClusterX lets you open a Dependencies view, which Screen 1, page 147, shows, that lets you drag dependencies as resources change. ClusterX also includes a rules system that lets you set up and manage complex resources and applications, and includes support for duplicating cluster failover groups across multiple clusters. This feature is an innovative time-saver.

Another timesaving feature is the Invoke Application Management Tool utility, which opens an application's specific management tool. To access the Invoke Application Management Tool, right-click the application and select Invoke Application Management Tool from the Advanced Commands menu.

If you've worked with MSCS, you know the frustration of getting hardware to work only to find that you can't configure the software correctly. In addition, Cluster Administrator is difficult to learn and provides minimal usability. ClusterX fills these holes and lets users quickly configure cluster applications with all dependencies in place. If you manage 1 or 100 clusters, I highly recommend investing in ClusterX. You can download a 30-day-trial full version from the ClusterX Web site.

ClusterX 2.0
Contact: Veritas Software * 407-531-7501 or 800-327-2232
Web: http://www.clusterx.com
Price: $2500 per node
System Requirements:
233MHz Pentium processor or better, Windows NT Server 4.0, Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 4, Microsoft Cluster Server, 64MB of RAM, 30MB of hard disk space
233MHz Pentium processor or better, NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 4 or later, NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 or later, 64MB of RAM, 20MB of hard disk space