Patrick Quirk, Vice President and General Manager, IT Systems at Vertiv, explores distributed networks, and how access, control, and full visibility is key for success. Quirk highlights technology like serial consoles, available to enable and simplify remote management of distributed networks and IT sites.
Worldwide data volume is projected to grow 61 percent by 2025 (IDC), creating significant challenges around latency and bandwidth for organizations with centralized IT assets in a core data center. To address these issues, networks are becoming more decentralized and pushing more computing to edge sites. The migration will continue in the coming years as new edge-enabled applications, such as smart cities, digital healthcare, and virtual and augmented reality gain traction.
In a recent survey of more than 800 global data center specialists for the Vertiv 2019 Data Center 2025 Report, participants who have edge sites today or expect to have them in 2025, projected an average 226% increase in the number of sites they will be required to support in the next five years.
Doing More with Less
While resources are becoming more distributed, expertise is not. The challenge of deploying and managing a growing number of IT sites will put a strain on many IT departments. Not only will personnel be asked to manage more sites, many of these sites will be in locations with little or no technical support, creating situations where equipment downtime takes longer to resolve.
That’s where IT management tools deliver especially high value. By providing in-band and out-of-band remote access and monitoring of equipment across multiple sites, IT management tools increase the productivity of IT staff while helping maintain the availability of critical systems. Having secure and remote out-of-band connections directly to the physical KVM, Service Processor, USB, and serial ports complements in-band tools to create a more complete remote management solution. This unified approach enables faster diagnosis and reconfiguration or restoration of equipment to meet service level agreements and minimize downtime.
Specific benefits include:
- Faster Provisioning: Accessing multiple devices through a single switch or console enables those devices to be provisioned from one location in much less time than it would take to provision each device separately. This practice, which is common in data centers, can save even more time when applied to remote locations.
- Simplified Management: Software updates and other routine maintenance tasks are also greatly simplified by enabling access to multiple devices through switches or consoles. With these tools, IT administrators can gain centralized remote access to devices across multiple locations to streamline configuration, troubleshooting and monitoring.
- Reduced Mean Time to Repair (MTTR): IT management tools that provide both in-band and out-of-band access have proven their ability to reduce MTTR in the data center by enabling faster issue identification, and in some cases, remote resolution. These savings are amplified when applied to distributed locations that, without remote access, would require technician travel time just to identify the issue.
- Enhanced Security: Today’s IT management tools minimize the need to physically access IT systems and include support for smart card/common access card (CAC) readers and other physical security systems, enabling centralized management of access to critical facilities.
- Lower Operating Costs: Faster provisioning, improved management, and reduced MTTR all translate directly into lower operating costs while freeing resources to focus on strategic initiatives.
Connectivity as Availability and the Role of Serial Consoles
In this new distributed ecosystem, connectivity and visibility equal availability, and there are a variety of technologies designed to enable easy, secure remote network management. Serial consoles can be an ideal foundation for centralized management of remote sites, providing remote management of servers, routers and switches, in addition to supporting capabilities such as environmental monitoring and Internet of Things (IoT) integration.
In the event of a failure, serial consoles maintain the necessary connections and deliver the ability to analyze configuration and log files remotely, even if no in-band IP connectivity is available.
Without a serial console, the engineer called to respond to a failure will first try to connect to the device via a direct IP connection. If an IP connection is not available, they need to physically get to the device. If the device is remote, they may rely on a local technician (if the site is lucky enough to have one), or a technician must be dispatched to the site. Only then can diagnosis of the problem begin. If the failure turns out to be hardware-related, the technician may need to make a second visit to the site to make the repair. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the device remains unavailable to local users.
Specific management goals combined with the number and type of devices to be accessed will help guide the decision as to the type of solution that best meets your organization’s requirements.
A serial console connects via a standard RS 45 cable to the serial port of a wide range of devices, including switches/routers, storage units, firewalls, servers, power distribution units, and thermal management systems. Best practice is to set up an independent out-of-band network to ensure IP connectivity, and to provide failover backup via modem or cellular connection so you can connect to any device at any time via telnet or secure shell (SSH) protocol. A proactive response system built into the console can even trigger scripted responses to some issues, reducing the incidents where human intervention is required.
If human intervention is unavoidable, the support staff is able to establish connectivity via the landline or cellular connection even if an IP connection is not available. The engineer can then examine logs to see what the device was doing before it failed. If the issue is software, firmware, or configuration related, which 80 percent are, it can be resolved remotely, significantly reducing the downtime of the device and the technical time to resolve it. Even if the issue is hardware related, the mean time to repair (MTTR) has been reduced through faster diagnosis.
Other Benefits of Serial Consoles
In addition to faster problem resolution and reduced MTTR, serial consoles deliver:
- Simplified Management: Software updates and other routine maintenance tasks are greatly simplified by enabling access to multiple devices through consoles. With these tools, IT administrators can gain centralized remote access to devices across multiple locations to streamline configuration, troubleshooting, and monitoring.
- Enhanced Security: Serial consoles minimize the need to physically access IT systems and include support for smart card/CAC readers and other physical security systems, enabling centralized management of access to critical facilities.
- Lower Operating Costs: Faster provisioning, improved management and reduced MTTR all translate directly into lower operating costs while freeing resources to focus on strategic initiatives.
Serial consoles are a valuable tool, but there are a variety of technologies available to enable and simplify remote management of distributed IT sites. Specific management goals combined with the number and type of devices to be accessed will help guide the decision as to the type of solution that best meets your organization’s requirements.
Patrick Quirk is Vice President and General Manager, IT Systems at Vertiv.