IT infrastructure is mission-critical for many global corporations today. Network downtime can result in huge financial losses in the short and long term when companies lose the ability to operate, communicate or process payments. In extreme cases, some businesses never recover from unplanned outages.
To ensure uptime and mitigate potential losses, businesses need the ability to troubleshoot their network equipment as quickly as possible. Smaller entities with a single server room nearby can address issues fairly easily using on-site personnel. For large corporations with hundreds or thousands of locations, however, it is cost prohibitive to staff IT personnel at each site. Sending someone out when there is an issue is costly in terms of travel as well as extended downtime. Remote management can be an effective solution that offers a combination of speed and cost savings.
Network Management Software
Network management software programs such as Openview or SolarWinds allow administrators to access network devices remotely. These tools are designed to operate across a wide range of equipment—such as PCs, printers, servers, switches, routers and wireless access points—from many different vendors. Software solutions can monitor the status of all devices and communicate distress messages, often using SNMP. Administrators access the network though a dashboard from any web-enabled device to monitor network availability and performance.
A limitation of network management software is that it may lose connectivity to devices if the network is not running properly. If a switch fails, for example, you will likely lose the ability to communicate with it. If your Ethernet goes down, you could lose access to your entire network—along with your ability to do business.
Out-of-Band Management with Console Servers
For improved network availability and remote trouble shooting capabilities, corporations often augment NMS programs with an out of band management solution. Console servers give system administrators access to a failed device through an out-of-band connection (OOB). OOB availability allows you to access your network devices even if your network is down, via the internet, 4G cellular service or POTS—the plain old telephone service. This solution uses standard programs such as SSH/Telnet and HTTPS. A console server is a hardware appliance that connects, via RS-232 serial ports, to your switch, router, firewall, server, PBX, UPS or PDU on one end and to your Ethernet port on the other end. One console server may have as many as 48 serial ports. Console servers are often connected to another network separate from your data network, so even if your primary network is down you can still troubleshoot, reboot, reconfigure or reimage any managed device in your system.
Virtual Central Management System
Black Box’s console servers are managed using a Virtual Central Management System (VCMS). VCMS offers centralized, secure, end-to-end OOB management and proactive alerting regardless of remote WAN or LAN health status. The VCMS portal enables you to manage large numbers of console servers over a wide geographic area, even globally, from a single screen. You can search managed devices by name, no matter how they’re connected, and sort results by geography, application or managed device type. VCMS gives you the ability to pinpoint failed devices and address issues quickly, minimizing downtime and the impact on your operations.
Another advantage of VCMS is its scalable administration and automation, from day one provisioning to routine operations and disaster recovery. Even networks with thousands of servers, switches and routers and hundreds of console servers can be managed from anywhere from a single, secure portal.
When to Consider a Console Server
Console servers are a good solution for large distributed enterprises with multiple branches — such as banks, insurance companies, hospitals, utilities, military divisions and school systems — that do not have servers and IT staff on-site. Within these enterprises, certain events create opportunities to include console servers in the network infrastructure.
- You are planning a new LAN in a new building
- You are conducting a complete forklift upgrade to a new network for enhanced capabilities, such as supporting VOIP phones
- You would like to increase network availability by adding a network management system
- A costly network outage has shown you that your existing situation is vulnerable, and you would like to improve your business continuity
- A corporate merger or acquisition requires combining two or more networking systems into one
Benefits of Console Servers
Console servers can save you time and money by ensuring high availability of your IT systems and safeguarding your business continuity. Remote management and troubleshooting provide for quick disaster recovery after power outages, and they eliminate the need to send personnel on-site in response to issues—saving you additional costs in time and travel. For security, OOB management integrates with VPN and authentication systems and extends enterprise security policy to distributed assets. Console servers are also a scalable solution. Regardless of the size of your network, you can access devices, monitor status and troubleshoot issues from anywhere through a single VCMS portal.
If your distributed enterprise demands high network availability for mission-critical infrastructure, out-of-band management with console servers is an excellent enhancement to your NMS system. For more information, read about Black Box's console servers.