Webmin Helping To Spread Use of Linux

The Webmin enterprise has been helping to promote the corporate use of Linux, and cottage industries are emerging to assist in the use of open source through risk management tools and indemnification insurance, research shows.

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio confirmed research shows Linux is gaining traction in the Webmin enterprise primarily on the server side, mostly in production for Web hosting and Web applications.

“When needs have not been met by third-party software providers foradministrators in these environments, they will often turn to opensource for the answer,” DiDio told LinuxInsider.

Developed by Jamie Cameron during the late 1990s, Webmin acts as a comprehensive interface to the underlying applications on Linux servers, including support for configuring applications like ftp, ssh, mail, Web, databases and more.

Tech Specs

Differing from commercial control panels like Ensim and Plesk, thecore Webmin interface is intended for system administrators with root accessto their servers.

The application runs on its own mini-Web server so as to be availablewhen primary Web server software, such as Apache, is not running, and ispowered by a number of Perl-based applications that directly interface with system configuration files. Cameron said the entire solution is built on Perl 5 and uses no nonstandard Perl modules.

Of particular enterprise appeal are several features conducive tomulti-server environments with multiple server administrators. Forenvironments requiring heightened security, Webmin supportssecure-sockets layer (SSL), securing the remote administration connection.

A package to enable users (or clients) to control aspectsof servers within a limited scope allows for the delegation of systemadministration tasks without compromising system access and user rights.

“Webmin also has its own RPC [remote procedure call] mechanism, which allows one server to call functions and run commands on another server running Webmin,” Cameron said. “There are several modules that make use of this feature to do things like creating Unix users on multiple hosts at once, by calling the usercreation function on each of those servers.”

Some Webmin History

The genesis of Webmin came when Cameron was graduated from college inAustralia and went to work for an internet service provider (ISP).Administrators and IT managers needed a way to delegate tasks to lowerlevel technicians, and Cameron developed web-based interfaces to carry outthese duties. Webmin’s first release was in 1997.

Once word spread, Cameron found himself working for Caldera (now partof the SCO Group) in Utah, telecommuting more than 8,000 miles from hisMount Waverly home in Australia. During that period, Caldera sponsoreddevelopment of Webmin and distributed it with their OpenLinux distribution.

After Caldera was acquired by SCO, Webmin took on a life of its ownand has been gaining momentum ever since.

“The last time I checked, Webmin was averaging about 5,000 downloads aday,” Cameron said.

Real World Application

Speaking with LinuxInsider, Dirk Elmendorf, cofounder andself-appointed chief technology evangelist of Rackspace, said he has never seen a commercial tool that supported the traditional command line administrator as well as Webmin.

“We have 10,000 servers at Rackspace, and every Linux server is deployed with Webmin,” he added.

Rackspace, founded in 1998 and located in San Antonio, Texas, has 407 employees and serves the broad web and managed hosting markets.

Elmendorf said Rackspace has a thorough process through which applications get selected for use on their platforms.

“Sales and support identify a need, our product group performs an evaluation of potential products and makes a selection, and our engineers test for our environments,” he said. “This is how Webmin was selected.”

The Next Step

Cameron has a roadmap for Webmin, one that he believes will ensure it keeps in step with the evolving Linux kernel.

“My biggest objectives at the moment are adding new modules for servers or services not currently supported by Webmin, like vsftp and INN,” he said. “And keeping up with all the new Linux distributions that get released, so that Webmin remains compatible with them.”

Furthermore, Cameron seeks to redesign the user interface (UI) as a move to modernize the software.

“[I will be] refactoring and rewriting some of the existing modules to use new common UI generation code, instead of printing HTML directly. This would provide a more consistent user interface; simplify the code and all themes to have more control over how modules look,” he added.

Profits Ahead

DiDio pointed to applications like Webmin as prime examples of tools that could ride a wave into corporate budgets if the open source community takes a page from Linux distributors.

“If open source applications are going to penetrate the enterprise in any meaningful way, it has to be commercialized and have a mature roadmap,” she said. “We need a closer look at compatibility across platforms as mixed environments are here for good.”

“Now what we need is a large body of work evaluating the pros and cons of open source,” she added. “Otherwise people by necessity will have to make moves outside of open source and not wait for the results.”

For his part, Cameron is keeping his time and attention focused on growing Webmin for broader use with commercial applications.

“I am expanding my Virtualmin virtual hosting module to support new features like virtual Majordomo mailing list hosting, multiple domains per user, reseller access and so on,” he said.

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