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Lead Image © Matty Symons, 123RF.com

The new openAttic 1.1 storage manager

Minding the Store

Article from ADMIN 24/2014
Although the lastest version of the openAttic storage manager was announced as a conservative maintenance release, openAttic 1.1 is actually a feature-rich new development.

German-based IT-Novum caused much excitement in 2013 when it announced a tool that gives almost anyone the ability to manage versatile storage: openAttic [1]. The first version 1.0 of openAttic clearly demonstrated that the manufacturer has an excellent understanding of the main problem facing storage admins: configuration. The first edition, however, still had many rough edges, which IT-Novum has now smoothed.

Although version 1.1 was officially available for download at CeBIT back in March 2014, IT-Novum did not deliver the matching documentation in the current form until July.

Given the scope of the change, the new openAttic version could easily be called 2.0 instead of 1.1. OpenAttic 1.1 is clearly more than a development of the first version, with many features that will make openAttic interesting and attractive for many companies.

More on openAttic

IT-Novum advertises openAttic as a comprehensive tool for centralized control of storage services; the aim is to merge all the typical storage tools into a single IT installation. The scope of openAttic's responsibilities includes managing physical storage devices, as well as supporting additional services for high availability and export via iSCSI connections. The design that was characteristic of openAttic from the beginning once again proves to be very robust.

The tool is completely modular. The core itself is fairly lean; almost all the functions come from modules that openAttic loads after launching. This modular design makes it possible to replace individual openAttic components without the need for a complete upgrade. The plugin interface makes it easy to install a new module that provides additional functionality.


Packages in .deb format are available for Debian Wheezy and Ubuntu 12.4, and you can install them using apt. On the whole, the installation on Debian and Ubuntu (Figure 1) runs more smoothly than the installation for openAttic 1.0, which should make version 1.1 accessible to a far larger group of users.

Figure 1: Opt-in option: If you use the openAttic ISOs, you have a choice between graphical and text installers.

IT-Novum still has some work to do with the package system; for example, the Deb Directory of openAttic contains a package that was specifically backported for Ubuntu 12.04 but does not have a version number that makes it identifiable as a backport. Oversights like this can cause problems with distribution upgrades.

It is a little disappointing that no packets are available for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which was released in April 2014. Although openAttic 1.1 had already been released when Ubuntu 14.04 saw the light of day, it should not be such a huge hassle to provide packages for the newer version of Ubuntu. Anyone starting with openAttic, will definitely want to use the LTS version, with its five-year support window.

Things look far less rosy for companies that rely on Red Hat. Anyone who uses RHEL, CentOS, Scientific Linux, or another derivative of RHEL is still left out in the cold. RPM packages of software are nowhere to be seen, and the project lacks a guide that describes the manual setup.

OpenAttic is apparently tied to some mechanisms that are specific to Debian and Ubuntu, and replacing them with generic constructs will cost too much time.

A Change of Scenery

When the previous openAttic 1.0 version came out, it was anything but enterprise-ready. In openAttic 1.1, however, the developers mostly achieved what they set out to do. If you run openAttic 1.1 on a Debian or Ubuntu system and are already familiar with version 1.0, you are initially in for an eye-opening experience. The new version differs quite visibly from its predecessor. IT-Novum explains in the company's blog that they received many requests and complaints from users after the first release, and they took this feedback to heart.

Most of the improvements only become apparent when you look at the details: users will find numerous improvements that make openAttic 1.1 far more attractive. The openAttic 1.1 web interface looks a whole lot more up market. The basic principle of the GUI has not changed much; in fact, the top-level menu is still on the left; to the right are the properties you selected in the left-hand part of the front-end. You can even create a dashboard (Figure 2) to keep an eye on your systems.

Figure 2: OpenAttic lets you create a custom dashboard for displaying system information at a glance.

Far more important than the dialog changes are the changes that the new features in the 1.1 edition introduce.

The most prominent new release in the module category is a module that configures the Linux kernel iSCSI target, LIO [2]. Thus far, openAttic has used the fairly ancient IET iSCSI target.

Rising Tide Systems [3] and Nicholas Bellinger made a name for themselves in the Linux scene by designing LIO as a universal target that does not only understand iSCSI. LIO itself can act as an iSCSI target, but it is also suitable for Fibre Channel connections with a matching HBA, because it is itself designed flexibly.

Version 1.1 can set up a LIO target and also integrate it seamlessly with the other parts of openAttic; it is thus possible, for example, to export a LVM2 Logical Volume that you created via LIO and then via iSCSI to another host.

OpenAttic comes with modules for ZFS and Btrfs. Although basic ZFS and Btrfs functionality was already in place in openAttic, the new version offers better filesystem configuration through openAttic's graphical front end.

Version 1.1 offers separate menus for both ZFS and Btrfs that take the configuration up to the same level as configuring other services in openAttic. The functional integration of ZFS and Btrfs has also improved significantly; snapshots of the two filesystems are no longer a problem. Also, it is now possible to define quotas for ZFS, even directly from the web interface.

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