Introduction

Systems management, which includes managing OS updates, hardware information and overall system health, has always been a tedious and hard-to-manage task for I/T administrators. If you run Ubuntu, you can use Landscape, an all-in-one in-band systems management tool from Canonical used to manage and administer your Ubuntu servers and desktops.

Some of the management capabilities in Landscape include:

  • System usage & performance
  • Security audits
  • OS package information and updates
  • Customized system query using custom scripts

Landscape is included with every Ubuntu server support contract from Canonical, but it can also be purchased for desktop customers or for those who do not have existing support contracts. Canonical offers a free 60-day trial, which can give you a feel of how it works.

Installation

Landscape requires that your managed servers connect to an external hosted service at Canonical. However, if you are behind a proxy server or a firewall you can choose to install Landscape Dedicated Server (LDS) on one of your local PowerEdge servers. 

LDS installation and configuration is very straight-forward. Canonical provides an easy, step-by-step list of instructions on how to install and configure everything. However, there were a couple of gotchas during the registration process that were not documented (thanks to Canonical for clarifying): 

1. The instructions specify to buy a root-CA signed SSL certificate. However, I created and signed my own certificate but got an error when trying to register a server to LDS, having to do with not finding the SSL certificate. The solution was to copy the SSL certificate from the LDS server to the server that I was trying to register, place it /etc/landscape/landscape_server_ca.crt and then add this line to /etc/landscape/client.conf:

 ssl_public_key = /etc/landscape/landscape_server_ca.crt

 And finally, restart the landscape client service:

# sudo service landscape-client restart

Granted, it can be a hassle doing this manually for each server you want to register, but it can be easily scripted into the registration process. Canonical assures me that these steps are not required if using a root-CA signed SSL certificate. 

2.  Landscape collects hardware information from registered servers using HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer). However, HAL has been deprecated in recent Ubuntu releases and moved from Main to Universe, which means it’s no longer installed by default. In order for each server to report its hardware inventory to the LDS server, the hal package must be manually installed on each registered server: 

# sudo apt-get install hal

# sudo service landscape-client restart

I am told by Canonical that in a future release, the hardware inventory from registered servers will be collected using a different mechanism.

Evaluation

Overall, Landscape is a good systems management tool for doing basic tasks such as OS updates and monitoring items such as system performance & availability.

Some of the features that I liked:

  • Provides charts with a history of CPU load, memory, swap and disk usage for each server.
  • Can schedule scripts to run remotely on servers, so you can leverage your own management tools.
  • Can subscribe to email alerts and notifications regarding the health of your servers.
  • Can add tags to servers, which allow you to group servers together for easier management.

As for features that could be added or improved:

  • There are no OS provisioning capabilities.
  • There is no ability to manage apt repositories that each server is subscribed to.
  • The hardware catalogue section is somewhat simplistic, it’s basically a dump of ‘lshal’ rather than a concise list of relevant devices & peripherals on a server

Landscape also provides the ability to manage private clouds (using Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud) or public clouds (using Amazon EC2). Since I do not have any cloud instances to test with, I did not evaluate this feature.

If you are ready to give it a try, you can start here.