The Console Server – A Vital Tool for Network Administration

In many cases, large corporate data centers are often located away from the central office, in a secure off-site location that provides access to sufficient electrical power for the routers, firewalls, servers and cooling equipment that populate the data center. This makes perfect sense when you consider security and power requirements, but it also presents somewhat of a challenge for the network administrators who are responsible for maintaining and supporting the devices. When a network element at an off-site data center crashes or starts to act up, administrators need a way to get their hands on the problematic device, without actually traveling to the remote data center. This explains why so many corporate data centers rely on the out of band management capabilities that a console server (http://www.wti.com/c-4-console-server.aspx) can provide.

An intelligently deployed console server provides network administrators with secure, reliable access to console port command functions on remote devices, without the need to actually travel to the network equipment site in person. If the network infrastructure at the remote data center includes a secondary network, or an alternative means of communication such as a satellite modem or dial-up modem, administrators can even connect to remote network elements when the main network is not available. This proves to be a tremendous help in fixing network communication problems; especially when those problems have been caused by a malfunctioning device or a poorly configured network element at a remote location.

In addition to providing out of band access to console port command functions on remote network elements, a console server can also assist in reducing traffic on your main network. A console server that resides on a secondary network provides network administrators and other IT support staff with an alternative avenue by which they can upgrade device firmware, change configuration parameters or run tests on network elements without overburdening the main network.

Given the nature of a console server and it’s ability to access vital network devices, it is imperative that a console server includes several layers of security in order to protect sensitive command functions from unauthorized access. Ideally, a console server should include both security functions (such as password protection, an IP address filter and etc.) and support for authentication protocols such as LDAP, Kerberos, TACACS+ and RADIUS which can be used to verify the identity of each user during login.

In any network application that includes remote equipment installations or an off-site data center, a console server provides administrators and support staff with a valuable tool for communication with remote devices when the main network is down, allowing out of band communication that can be used to access status display functions, perform diagnostic checks and invoke troubleshooting commands in order to get the network up and running again without the need for a service call to the remote network site. When paired with an out of band management solution, a console server also serves an additional function in that it enables IT support staff to perform testing, configuration and maintenance functions without adding traffic to the main network and slowing down communications for network end-users.

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