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IBM unveils handheld Unix management tools

Big Blue releases software to let Palm Pilot handheld computers control its heavy-duty Unix servers.

IBM has released software to let Palm Pilot handheld computers control its heavy-duty Unix servers.

The computing giant has posted free software that lets people monitor their IBM RS/6000 Unix servers by plugging a Palm Pilot cradle into the server's serial port.

The move is a novel illustration of a trend several analysts have predicted in which Palm Pilots and other handheld computers would be increasingly used by corporations as well as individuals. The Palm division, which 3Com plans to spin off soon, is seeking more corporate customers to solidify its market leadership.

IBM software also works with the IBM WorkPad, a handheld based on the Palm design.

Using the software, called Snapp, an administrator can configure a server so it can properly connect to the network. An administrator also can monitor CPU and disk performance.

The software uses XML, a standard way of exchanging data, to send information back and forth between the handheld computer and the server. Using XML means that customers can modify the software to monitor and control other features of the server as well.

The software is intended to work chiefly with IBM's B50 "Pizazz" servers, introduced last year for companies that want to buy lots of skinny servers to stack up in racks in the highest density possible. Companies that want to house data or programs on the Internet--often called Internet, application, or network service providers--are prime customers.

But keeping track of so many servers can be difficult. Even with tools that let administrators monitor and control those servers over the network from central console, there's still a need to go out and see the real machines some times.

"This application negates the need to connect a monitor, keyboard or a mouse to each server for configuration and systems monitoring," IBM said about the software. To use the software, the Palm Pilot must be plugged into its "cradle," a diminutive docking station that in turn is plugged into a special serial port on the server used for such administration tasks.

"IBM developed [Snapp] to streamline the installation process for both sophisticated users and on-site technicians with minimal Unix training," the company said.

While it's geared for use with the B50, the software also can be used to control other IBM Unix servers running the AIX operating system, IBM said. The software includes password protection to ensure only authorized people may gain access to the monitoring and configuration abilities.

Naturally, Linux users already are wondering if the software will be able to control their computers as well. Linux is a clone of Unix, of which IBM's AIX is a variant.

"This is a tool that looks pretty useful --but I don't use AIX. Is there any move to port the tools to Linux?" wrote one visitor to the IBM site.

The IBM B50 servers are geared to run the Yellow Dog version of Linux as well as AIX.