The Serial Console Server – An Absolutely Vital Tool for Remote Network Equipment Management

The task of managing remote network equipment can often be quite a challenge. When vital network devices are located at a remote, off-site installation, even relatively simple maintenance tasks such as accessing console port command functions or checking rack temperature and power conditions suddenly become much more difficult to achieve; especially when network communication with a remote site is interrupted. In cases like this, a serial console server can provide a valuable tool for managing remote network devices, allowing network administrators to access console ports on remote network elements and check environmental conditions and significant events at remote equipment racks, even when network communication is not available.

A serial console server often functions as the “heart” of an effective out of band management solution, by providing a single interface for out of band communication with remote network devices and a powerful assortment of monitoring and alarm functions that network administrators can use to keep track of conditions at far-off network equipment installations. Typically, a serial console server is installed at the remote site and connected to serial console ports on target devices. In some cases, the serial console server sets on a secondary, maintenance network, apart from your main user network. The purpose of this secondary network is twofold; it provides out of band access to remote devices when the main network is down, and it also allows administrators and IT support personnel to perform maintenance tasks, update firmware at remote devices and perform testing without adding to traffic on the main network.

If the main network crashes, administrators can then contact the serial console server via the secondary network in order to send diagnostic, troubleshooting and reconfiguration commands to console ports on remote network elements. When problems at a remote site bring down the main network, the serial console server on the secondary network allows administrators to quickly deal with the problems that brought the main network down, without the time and expense that would otherwise be required to send a service team out to the remote network site.

In addition to providing a alternative means for communication with remote network elements when your main network is down, a serial console server also helps administrators to closely track conditions at remote network sites. Ideally, the serial console server should support monitoring functions that allow administrators to keep an eye on temperature trends, power supply malfunctions, interruptions in communication with remote devices, invalid access attempts, ping command response and a range of other factors that could possibly indicate trouble at the remote site. If the serial console server also includes user-defined environmental/event alarms and a means to notify administrators when alarms are triggered, this enables the serial console server to immediately inform administrators when potentially critical conditions are detected.

It’s relatively easy to manage network devices that are located right down the hall from your office, but it’s a completely different game if those network elements are located miles away from the office, in an off-site data center or roof-top equipment locker. A serial console server essentially allows network administrators to reach out across the miles in order to invoke commands at console ports on remote devices, check device status and deal with small network problems before they turn into larger disasters. A serial console server combined with a well conceived out of band management solution saves both time and money by allowing your network support personnel to deal with remote problems efficiently, quickly and securely, without even leaving their desks.

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