DIY: Data center rack management made easy

See if RackTables might fit the bill for your data center rack management needs. Jack Wallen walks you through the tool's installation.

If you work in or run a data center, you know that managing all of those servers and racks can be a challenge. You might think that any tool that helps with this task would break the bank, but that isn't the case. The open source, web-based tool RackTables can maintain documentation for all of the server racks you manage. RackTables is free (outside of the hardware).

With RackTables, you can:

  • Have a complete, easy-access list of all devices.
  • Have a complete, easy-access list of all racks and enclosures.
  • Easily manage devices and racks.
  • Maintain a physical listing of ports of the devices and links between each device and/or rack.
  • Manage IP addresses, assign them to devices, and group them into networks.
  • Document firewall and NAT rules.
  • Describe loadbalancing policy and store loadbalancing configuration.
  • Attach files to objects in the system.
  • Create users, assign permissions, and allow or deny any actions they can do.
  • Label everything with flexible tagging system.
  • Access everything from anywhere in the world with a web browser.

Installing RackTables

For this tutorial, I'll show how easy it is to install RackTables on a Ubuntu 11.04 distribution. (Note: At the time of this writing, RackTables is not available for a WAMP, but since the tool is open source, it probably wouldn't take much to get RackTables installable onto a WAMP environment.)

The first step is to download the necessary file and move it to the proper location. This is done with the following (from a terminal window):

  1. Download the latest version from the RackTables Download page.
  2. Move the file to the /var/www directory.
  3. Unpack the file with the command: tar -xvzf RackTables-XXX.tar.gz (where XXX is the release number).
  4. Issue the command sudo cp -r /var/www/RackTables-0.19.6/wwwroot /var/www/racktables.

The next step requires a database to be created. You can do this from the command line or from a tool like MySQL Workbench. Since the GUI tool is so simple to use, let's create the database from the command line. Here are the steps:

  1. Issue the command mysql -u root -p.
  2. Enter the root user password.
  3. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: create database racktables;.
  4. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: grant all on racktables.* to root;.
  5. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: grant all on racktables.* to root@localhost;.
  6. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: grant all on racktables.* to rackuser;.
  7. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: grant all on racktables.* to rackuser@localhost;.
  8. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: set password for rackuser@localhost=password('rackpw');. (rackpw is the password you want to set for the user rackuser.)
  9. From the mysql prompt, issue the command: exit.

After you complete these steps, it is time to point your web browser to the installer. To do this, use the address http://ADDRESS_TO_SERVER/racktables/?module=installer. This will walk you through the process of completing the installation. You will probably find that these Perl modules are missing:

  • SNMP (Optional)
  • GD
  • LDAP (Optional)
  • PCNTL (Optional)
  • HTTPS (Optional)

Anything in yellow is a warning, and anything in red is an error. The installer will not continue with errors. To install the Perl GD module, do the following (from a terminal window):

  1. Issue the command sudo apt-get install php5-gd.
  2. Enter your sudo password.
  3. Restart Apache with the command sudo /etc/init.d/apache2 restart.

Before you proceed, issue these commands:

  • sudo touch '/var/www/racktables/inc/secret.php'
  • sudo chmod 666 '/var/www/racktables/inc/secret.php'

Now hit the Proceed button and the web-based installer will finish, allowing you to enter the details for the database created earlier.

The final step is to set the administrator password. Now log in to your RackTables instance with the username "admin" and the password you just created. You're ready to start exploring RackTables.

In my next DIY column about RackTables, I will explain how to use this incredibly handy and cost-effective way to manage your data center racks.

By Jack Wallen

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