Data Centers

Webmin: One big drawback to using this data center management tool

You're looking for a tool to manage the Linux machines in your data center--is Webmin what you need? It depends on the size of your database, concludes Jack Wallen.

webminhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

Webmin has been around for a very long time; in fact, the initial release of this GUI Linux config/admin tool was October 5, 1997. Since its inception, Webmin has often been one of the best ways to manage Linux boxes. And now that Linux is a mainstream solution for data centers, some admins find themselves at a bit of a loss when it comes to the administration of those machines.

Yes, the big two enterprise Linux distributions—Red Hat and SUSE—offer their takes on the admin tools, but what if you want something that's more familiar? If you employ CentOS or Ubuntu Server for your data center, is Webmin what you want? Even more importantly, is Webmin a solid solution for the data center? Let's look at what it offers, and then answer that very question.

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Installing Webmin

Before we get into what Webmin offers, let's install this wonder tool on Ubuntu.

Because Webmin isn't found in the standard repositories, you have to first add the necessary repository in order to install it. To add the repository, open a terminal window and create the file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/webmin.list, with the following contents:

deb http://download.webmin.com/download/repository sarge contrib
deb http://download.webmin.com/download/repository sarge contrib

Save and close that file. Next you'll need to add the necessary GPG key with the following commands:

sudo wget http://www.webmin.com/jcameron-key.asc​
​sudo apt-key add jcameron-key.asc

Finally, install Webmin with the following commands:

sudo apt-get update
​sudo apt-get install webmin

Once the installation completes, you can point your browser to https://IP_OF_SERVER:10000 (IP_OF_SERVER is the server's actual IP address). Log in with an administrator account, and you're ready to go.

Out of the box

After installing Webmin, you'll find it contains plenty of tools to help manage your data center Linux machines. Out of the box you'll find the ability to work with:

  • Backups
  • Bootup and shutdown
  • Passwords
  • Filesystems
  • Logs
  • Updates
  • Apache
  • MySQL
  • User email
  • SSH login
  • Bandwidth monitoring
  • Firewalls
  • NIS Client and server
  • PPTP VPN
  • Printer administration
  • Cluster management

That's what you get upon installation...and those are just the used modules. If you glance through the unused modules (they are "unused" because the services haven't been installed on your server), you'll find an impressive number of modules ready to work for you, including disk quotas, LDAP, BIND DNS, DHCP, IMAP/POP3, intrusion detection, Heartbeat Monitor, IPsec VPN, Jabber, Kerberos 5, MON service monitor, NFS, Samba, Sendmail, Shoreline Firewall, Voicemail server, and more. And if that's not enough, you can always head over to the Webmin third-party module database and find exactly what want. The number of third-party modules is seriously impressive.

Add to that the ability to get a quick glance at system information as well as system/server status, and you have a remarkable tool for managing your Linux data center servers.

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Wherein lies the problems?

If something is too good to be true, it probably is, right? Right. If you ask most hard core Linux admins, they'll agree that your best bet for managing Linux machines, especially at the business/enterprise level, is from the command line—and that's true.

If you're looking at deploying/managing hundreds or even thousands of machines, your best bet is a combination of Puppet and Chef (for automation), SaltStack, and Ansible (for large scale management). But those solutions tend to work best on a much larger scale (although Ansible is a viable solution for a small- to mid-size data center). And when you don't want to have to deal with the command line (though you should), where do you turn? Webmin.

(There's always cPanel, but it might not fit the bill for those looking for a free/open source solution.)

The biggest drawback to Webmin is its lack of scalability. If you don't mind logging into one web interface per server and not being able to handle massive rollouts from a single point of entry, Webmin is the tool for the job. If, however, you need your management tools to scale out to enterprise levels, then Webmin will fail you.

Other *mins

There are two tools based on Webmin that you might want to consider: Usermin and Virtualmin.

  • Usermin is a web-based interface for webmail, password changing, mail filters, fetchmail and more. This is a control panel for regular users, so they can take care of any tasks as if they were logged in via ssh.
  • Virtualmin is all about managing web hosting and cloud computing. If you're looking to run web hosting, Virtualmin might be what you need. Virtualmin offers tools to help manage websites, mailboxes, databases, web applications, and web application development environments.

There is also Cloudmin, a Webmin-fork that does a great job of managing your virtual systems, such as Xen, KVM and OpenVZ instances.

My conclusion

I've been using Webmin for years, and I like it. Even though I can work from the command line with ease, I often want something that's faster and simpler. I tend to work with no more than five servers at a time in very small data centers; if I had to scale up, I cannot imagine Webmin serving me well.

The tools and options that Webmin offers are hard to beat on a small scale. It's an incredibly simple installation, includes a vast amount of tools, and serves it all up on a user-friendly web-based GUI. So if you're looking for one of the best tools to help manage your small-scale database, you can't go wrong with Webmin. If you need enterprise-level tools, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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