Using a Console Server Management Unit to Collect Error and Status Messages

In many applications, a console server management unit needs to be able to perform multiple functions at the same time. It’s pretty much a given that a console server management unit will need to provide out of band access to remote network devices, but in addition to that important function it might also need to be able to monitor rack temperature, check devices for ping response and capture error and status messages that connected devices send out via console port.

If your console server management application requires the ability to capture and store data such as error and status messages, then it’s important to choose a console server management product that supports the ability to configure serial ports as buffer mode ports. In this case, it can also be helpful if the console server management unit can generate notification when ports become full or nearly full, and forward captured data either as it is received, or when the amount of data reaches a user-defined trigger level.

Typically, buffer mode ports are cable connected to serial console ports on other devices in the equipment rack. When the target device generates an error message, status message or other data, that data is immediately captured and stored in the serial port buffer on the console server management unit. Once this data is captured and stored, it can then be used by network administrators for troubleshooting and diagnostic functions, or forwarded to other users who might use that data for statistical analysis or other purposes.

Since buffer memory is limited, in order to avoid losing data when the buffer is full, some sort of notification or alarm scheme is needed in order to let administrators know when it’s time to retrieve older data before it is overwritten by newer data. Ideally, this “buffer full alarm” should allow administrators to define a specific memory usage level that will trigger notification, and provide the ability to notify several different users in the event that the primary user is not available. Console server management units that support a variety of different notification formats also provide an advantage, in that they allow the buffer full alarm to be compatible with the needs of a wide variety of different users. For this reason, it’s important that the console server management unit supports several different popular communication protocols such as SNMP traps, SYSLOG messages, email and text messages.

Although alarm notification helps to prevent the loss of data when buffers become full, it can also be helpful if the console server management unit includes the ability to automatically forward data to user-defined SNMP managers when the amount of stored data reaches a predefined critical level. For example, you might want to configure the console server management unit to forward each data item immediately as it is received, or collect a given amount of data and then forward it to the SNMP manager.

These days, it’s unusual to find a console server management product that doesn’t support other features beyond basic out of band management and remote console port access. For this reason, it pays to do some research before choosing a console server management unit; determine which features and options would be most useful for your application, and then select a console server management solution that provides the best fit with the needs of your users and the requirements of your applications.

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