Console Servers Make It Easier to Deal with Problems at Remote Network Equipment Racks

When a minor problem with network element brings down your main network, often all it takes to correct the situation is a few diagnostic and troubleshooting commands issued via the console port on the device that caused the problem. If the troublesome network element is located nearby, then it’s no problem to simply walk over to the device, connect to a console port and start issuing commands, but if the device that brought the network down is located miles away, then even a minor problem can halt network communication for hours while a service team travels to the remote site to deal with the problem in person. The best way to avoid network shutdowns caused by minor flukes at remote network equipment sites, is to implement an out of band management solution that includes a console server unit at the remote site.

An out of band management solution provides network administrators with a secure, reliable means for communication with remote network devices when the primary network is unavailable. Ideally, the console server unit is installed on a secondary maintenance network that is typically used by IT support personnel during minor upgrades or routine maintenance. When the main network crashes, this secondary maintenance network can then be used to contact the console server, which is cable connected to the console ports on the various critical devices at the remote site. Once connected to the console server, network administrators can then access the console port on the effected device, and start issuing status, troubleshooting or configuration commands in order to deal with the problem. Access to the console server unit is usually protected by multiple layers of security, including features such as password protection, IP address filtering, remote authentication and other security protocols.

In cases where a secondary maintenance network is impractical or unavailable, an out of band management solution can also include the ability to contact the console server via dial-up or satellite modem. This type of solution is often found cases where the location of the remote network equipment is beyond the reach of a network cable. When communication via dial-up or satellite modem is used to contact the console server, some security protocols such as remote authentication and IP address filtering may not be practical. So with this in mind, it’s important to choose a console server product that includes alternate, non-network-dependent security measures such as callback security or dial-back security.

When the console server supports callback security or dial-back security, callers are not granted immediate access to command functions when the console server answers the modem call. Instead, the console server prompts the caller to enter a password and then disconnects and calls the user back at a phone number that has been predefined for the user name and password that were entered at login. This effective authenticates the caller, by ensuring that the only to access console server command features is to answer a call to the pre-defined number. In some cases, the callback security feature will also redisplay the password prompt when the user answers the callback; providing an additional layer of security in the event that the callback number has been improperly defined.

In addition to providing remote access to console port command functions, a full featured console server-based out of band management solution should also allow network administrators to monitor environmental conditions, power events, communication stability and user events at remote network equipment sites. When a console server supports the ability to monitor and report temperature spikes, power outages, communication loss and other factors at the remote site, this enables a more proactive approach to remote network management by allowing administrators to implement preventative measures before conditions such as high rack temperatures or failing power supplies bring network communication to a halt.

An out of band management solution that relies on a console server unit provides network administrators with a quick, secure means to deal with problems at remote network equipment racks without the expense of a service call or truck roll, and without the delay that would be experienced while waiting for your tech support team to arrive at the remote site and deal with the problem. Instead of running up charges for service calls to remote sites, and waiting for the service team to arrive on site, network administrators can deal with most problems at remote equipment sites without even getting out of their chairs. When a console server is deployed at your remote network equipment rack, most problems with finicky network elements can be dealt with by merely entering a password, connecting to the desired port/device and invoking a few quick commands.

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