Out of Band Management – An Essential Tool for Network Administrators

To network administrators, the term “out of band management” can mean a number of different things, in some cases, it refers to a secondary, maintenance network that parallels the main network, and in other cases, it may refer to a dial-up/phone line connection to network devices. Generally speaking though, out of band management refers to a connection to a network device that comes from outside of the main user network.

Typically, most large, corporate networks include both a “main” network that is used for general operations, communication and data access, and a secondary “maintenance” network that IT support personnel can use for out of band management. In addition to providing a means to access network devices when the main network is down, this secondary maintenance network can also be used by IT personnel to upgrade devices and perform testing without increasing traffic, or disturbing the users on the main network.

Although this configuration that includes both a main network and a maintenance network provides the ideal solution for out of band management, it’s not always economical or practical for some network applications. In cases of remote site applications or small network applications, it’s often more popular to employ dial-up out of band management.

In a dial-up out of band management application, network administrators and IT support staff rely on modems and phone lines in order to communicate with devices when the network is down. This means that when the network is down, IT personnel can dial in to a console server in order to communicate with several connected network devices, allowing them to review network status, troubleshoot problematic devices and change configuration parameters.

Obviously, dial-up out of band management presents a bit of a security issue, in that public phone lines are generally less secure than a corporate network. But if your console server includes features such as dial-back security, and a pre-programmed dial-back contact number for IT personnel, this ensures that only authorized users are allowed to access the console server and connected devices. When dial-back security is enabled, callers are not immediately connected to the console server; instead, the console server prompts the caller to enter a username and password, and then disconnects and calls a phone number that has been pre-programmed for the user’s account. This ensures that even if a caller might correctly guess or hack a password, the console server will still only allow access by the party who answers the call to the pre-programmed dial-back number.

Given the far-flung, global nature of many modern corporate networks, the presence of an out of band management solution has become an increasing important factor in network configuration. Whether based on dial-up or secondary maintenance network, a secure, well-conceived out of band management solution allows Network Administrators to access and diagnose network devices, even when the main network is down. This saves both money and time by eliminating the need to send IT personnel off on road trips to remote network installation sites, and helps to ensure that your IT support staff will be available when you need them, instead of tied up in transit to some remote equipment cabinet or satellite network facility.

Western Telematic, Inc. (WTI) designs and manufactures remote device management products for IT applications. WTI’s Serial Console Server products, Remote Reboot products, Switched PDU products and A/B Fallback products are engineered to allow you to securely manage and troubleshoot rack equipment in remote locations.

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