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 through terminal or console servers can be an effective solution that offers a combination of speed and cost savings.
What is a Terminal Server?
A terminal server (sometimes called a serial server) is a hardware device that enables you to connect serial devices across a network. They establish user connections coming from a serial port out to the network ports.
Terminal servers acquired their name because they were originally used for long-distance connection of dumb terminals to large mainframe systems such as VAX™. Today, the name terminal server refers to a device that connects any serial device to a network, usually Ethernet. In this day of network-ready devices, terminal servers are not as common as they used to be, but they're still frequently used for applications such as remote connection of PLCs, sensors, or automatic teller machines.
The primary advantage of terminal servers is that they save you the cost of running separate RS-232 devices. By using a network, you can connect serial devices even over very long distances—as far as your network stretches. It's even possible to connect serial devices across the Internet. A terminal server connects the remote serial device to the network, and then another terminal server somewhere else on the network connects to the other serial device.
Terminal servers act as virtual serial ports by providing the appropriate connectors for serial data and also by grouping serial data in both directions into Ethernet TCP/IP packets. This conversion enables you to connect serial devices across Ethernet without the need for software changes.
Because terminal servers send data across a network, security is a consideration. If your network is isolated, you can get by with an inexpensive terminal server that has few or no security functions. But if you're using a serial server to make network connections across a network that's also an Internet subnet, you should look for a console server that offers extensive security features.
Remote Network Management Software
Network management software programs such as Openview or SolarWinds allow administrators to access network devices remotely. Remote Network Management Software is 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.
There are many network management software solutions but a strong limitation of them is that they 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.