Console Management Provides Secure, Out of Band Communication with Remote Network Devices

Network applications that include off-site data centers and remote equipment racks often present a unique challenge for network administrators; when vital network elements at a remote location malfunction or crash, the task of accessing command functions on a remote network device is much more complicated than it would be if the network device was located at the central office. In cases like this, console management provides a secure, reliable means to communicate with remote devices without actually traveling to the remote equipment site in person.

In a typical console management application, a device such as a console server or serial switch is installed at the remote network equipment site, and then cable connected to the serial console ports on the various network elements at the site. In the event that a network device at the remote site fails and/or cannot be contacted via a normal network connection, network administrators can contact the console management unit at the remote site via either secondary maintenance network or dial-up modem, and then use the console management unit to access console port command functions on the malfunctioning network device. In this type of application, console management can be used to solve many routine communication problems with the remote site, without the expense of a service call or the delays that occur while your service team is en route to the remote network equipment site.

In addition to providing remote access to console port command functions, console management can also be used to track conditions at the remote site and then automatically alert administrators if rack temperatures, ping command response, buffer conditions, power supply stability or other factors exceed user defined thresholds. When high temperatures, non-responsive devices and other monitored conditions or events exceed threshold parameters for the alarm, the console management solution can also notify administrators and tech support personnel via email, SYSLOG message or SNMP trap, keeping network administrators informed regarding conditions at the remote network site and providing a clearer picture of exactly what’s going on at the site.

Obviously, given the powerful console port access capabilities provided by console management, it’s also extremely important that the console management solution includes adequate safeguards to ensure that access to console port command functions on remote devices are protected from unauthorized access. For this reason, it’s important to make certain that your console management solution includes both standard security features such as password protection and a user directory, as well as support for popular authentication protocols such as TACACS+, Kerberos, RADIUS and LDAP in order to provide compatibility with a wide variety of authorized users and ensure that each potential user is who they claim to be. Depending on the nature of your specific application, there are also other useful security features to look for in a console management strategy, including an IP address filter that can be used to block specific IP addresses or ranges of IP addresses, and dial-back security, which provides a kind of low-tech authentication for users who access the console server vial dial-up connection.

Managing network devices located at off-site facilities will always be more of a challenge than managing a network device that’s located in the room next door, but an intelligently implemented console management solution can prove to be a tremendous help in dealing with many routine communication problems without the need for a service call or a long drive to the remote site. If your network application involves communication with vital network elements in hard-to-reach locations, console management can help to simplify the task of communicating with remote devices and save both time and money that would otherwise be spent on many routine network management functions.

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