Managing Remote Network Elements with a Console Server

The most challenging aspect of managing network elements at remote sites is often the simple fact that remote sites are generally located some distance away from those who manage them. Many routine network problems can often be solved by simply accessing the console port and changing a few parameters. The problem with managing remote network devices is that their distant location makes it difficult implement even simple solutions. The most effective way to deal with problems at remote network equipment sites is to use a Console Server to provide remote access to console port command functions.

An intelligently deployed Console Server allows tech support personnel to connect to the console port on a remote device and immediately invoke commands to change parameters or review status without the delays and expenses that would be involved in a physical service call to the remote site. When a Console Server application includes both a primary means of communication, such as a network connection, plus a secondary means of communication such as a dial-up or broadband connection, then administrators and support personnel can access remote console port functions via out-of-band connection, even when the primary network is down.

Obviously, adequate security is important in any application that involves remote access to critical console port command functions, and for that reason, it’s important to choose a console server that provides an assortment of up-to-date security and authentication features. At the very least, a console server should include a user directory that allows administrators to set passwords and access rights for each user. Ideally though, a console server should go a few steps farther, security-wise, and include features such as support for popular authentication protocols such as TACACS+, Kerberos, LDAP and RADIUS in order to verify the identity of each potential users, plus encryption capabilities to protect communication with the unit from unauthorized interception. Other helpful security-related features to look for on a Console Server include IP Address Filtering, support for HTTPS and SSL Secure Web and alarm functions to provide notification when it appears that unauthorized users are trying to hack their way past the security features.

When properly implemented, a Console Server should provide remote administrators with the ability to communicate with console ports on remote devices, plus a solution for out-of-band communication when normal network communication is unavailable, and in addition should also include adequate security and authentication measures to ensure that communication with remote devices is adequately protected. In addition to these basic capabilities, a full featured Console Server can often offer other capabilities that help to further simplify management of remote network elements. These features include monitoring and alarm functions to help keep track of conditions at remote sites, activity and event logs to provide a record of console access and use, and support for MIB files and SNMP to allow automation of basic Console Server tasks.

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