April 2001|Novell's been running an interesting commercial depicting a set of fish bowls to represent networks. The idea they present is that the world isn't a set of fish bowls, it is one fish tank.
Now, by this time their ad is getting to be a bit repetitive, but it does make an interesting point. In the world of administering networks, there really are no borders. Just clients and data.
So it seems only fitting that the hottest thing going today with administration is Web-based manage- ment tools. They strive to provide the full set of interactive tools that once were only the province of proprietary-installed, on-site-only software. While remote access to network management can take several forms, today's leading edge presents the full administrative palette via nothing more esoteric than the ubiquitous Web browser. There are several great reasons we want to have a browser-based, Web-accessed management system: universal access, standardized approach, and simplicity.
Most administrators today can recall a time when managing a particular server or other piece of network hardware meant using a proprietary tool. This tool would have to be installed on either the network server or on each workstation from which you wanted to access the management tool. The network server approach seemed fairly handy, except for when you were off-site either on your laptop or on a remote system. In this era of everlasting uptime—or at least the expectation of it—how can a system administrator keep that promise off-site with only the traditional server-based management approach?
You can, of course, install the software on your laptop, home computer, or remote system. But then there's this ongoing task of updating it to keep it current with your onsite configuration. Naturally, if you forget to bring your management tool discs with you, you can't do the install. Equally frustrating will be the call from your CIO to remedy a configuration problem right at that moment.
So a tool that will run inside a standard browser is ideal. With such a tool, any system with Internet access can serve as your management console. You'll have true universal access through the first true universal client: the browser.
One of the key advantages of this universally accessible client is the discipline it imposes on administrative application design. To work with any of a given set of Netscape and IE iterations, by definition, browser-based management tools have to work in a similar fashion. The Back button needs to work predictably, the Reload button as well. Because of the current state-of-the-art with HTML/ XML and Java, the onscreen controls cannot be too elaborate.
So instructions and procedures cannot be nearly as elaborate as they might have been with a proprietary tool. This means no more strange surprises at the hands of quirk-happy software designers, like those odd-looking buttons as in one package I saw: the button displayed a street with a line down the middle. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what this meant until I asked one of the product's engineers. "Oh, that's the ‘Hit-the-road' button. You know, Exit."
In the emerging era of browser-based management tools, all exits will be clearly marked.