A Serial Switch Simplifies Management of Remote Network Equipment Racks

Most network administrators who are responsible for managing remote network equipment racks know the value of a good serial switch. A well-designed serial switch not only provides out of band management capabilities for communicating with remote network elements when the main network is down, but also enables network administrators to keep a closer watch on conditions and events at remote network equipment racks without the expense of stationing onsite personnel at the remote site, or the inconvenience of traveling to the remote site in person in order to deal with finicky equipment or to check on conditions at the remote rack.

In most out of band management applications, network administrators will install a serial switch at a remote network equipment rack in order to provide remote access to console port command functions on various devices in the remote equipment rack and to enable monitoring and reporting of events and conditions at the remote site. In most cases, the network administrator communicates with the serial switch via dial-up modem or satellite modem, but in other applications, the serial switch resides on a secondary maintenance network that network support personnel typically use for general troubleshooting purposes, firmware updates, configuration management and for running various tests.

When a malfunctioning device at the remote equipment site interferes with network communication with the site, administrators can then employ the serial switch to access console port command functions on the troubled network element, and invoke diagnostic and troubleshooting functions in order to get the device (and network communication) back up and running again. This effectively enables support techs to deal with problems at the remote site without the need for road trips or onsite personnel at the remote site.

When the serial switch’s monitoring and alarm functions are active, the serial switch can monitor environmental factors such as rack temperatures, or events such as invalid access attempts or power supply instability, and then report back to network administrators when conditions at the remote equipment rack exceed user-defined threshold values. Serial switch products can often monitor and report on many different factors at the remote site. A full featured serial switch should include the ability to monitor rack temperatures, ping command response, excessive invalid access attempts, power supply hiccups, communication interruptions, port buffer conditions and other factors that could potentially effect the performance of the network devices in the equipment rack. When potentially harmful conditions are detected at the remote equipment rack, the serial switch can then promptly notify the appropriate personnel in order to allow the problem to be further investigated. Typically, a serial switch alarm will support notification via SNMP trap, email, SYSLOG message and text message, and in some cases, the serial switch can notify up to three different responders in the event that the primary contact is not available.

Given the power command capabilities that are provided by a serial switch, security and user authentication are obviously very important. Ideally, the serial switch should support both security features such as password protection and an IP address filter, as well as authentication protocols such as LDAP, Kerberos, RADIUS and TACACS+. If the serial switch supports communication via modem, then the serial switch should also support password protection for modem communication, plus other modem based authentication features such as callback security.

A serial switch can vastly simplify the task of managing remote network equipment sites, and provide substantial savings over other remote rack management solutions that rely on on-site personnel or constant service calls to the remote site. Rather than traveling to the remote network equipment rack to deal with every miniscule problem, a serial switch essentially allows the overworked network administrator to bring the remote network equipment rack to them, by providing an accurate picture of exactly what’s going on at the remote site, and powerful tools for accessing command functions on remote devices without even leaving the office.

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