Old School Server Management Still Alive and Well

by Kenneth Hess

It's 2010, and you'd think server management would have reached new heights by now, but it hasn't -- Unless you've recently bought yourself a new pair of shoes.

More on data center management

Walking up to server systems to install an operating system might seem like a story out of your father's repertoire of awesome "back in the old days" stories, but it isn't. It still happens. In fact, it's more prevalent than you probably think. Contemporary data centers boast high security with retina scanners, powerful magnetic locks and temperatures cool enough to chill your favorite beverages. However, often they lack the connectivity necessary to manage those systems remotely. It isn't too late to remedy the situation, but you'll have to put away those sneakers and trade them in for some intelligent planning. If you haven't heard about out-of-band management, here's your opportunity to become an armchair expert.

Out-of-band management, as it's known, involves using a dedicated server port connected to an IP network with which system administrators may work with a system regardless of power state. In other words, out-of-band management allows you to work with a system as if you had walked up to its physical console. You can power on the system, power it off, change BIOS settings and set up RAID devices using this remote management capability.

The Pros and Cons of "SneakerNet"

Back in the "old" days, you packed up your collection of CDs, floppy disks and laptop and headed off to the data center in search of the needy server system. Gaining access to the data center floor and seeking out your target system burned up the better part of an hour. It also took a few more minutes to verify you were working on the correct system and it was cabled properly.

Once your work began, it took a mere three hours (reboots included) to install the OS, patch it, configure it and ready it for remote access via VNC or Terminal Services. Only then could you make your way back to the warmth of your own desk to finish the job that would now occupy the rest of your day.

So, what's the positive side of SneakerNet? You might delay your first trip to a cardiologist by using those sneakers to stroll to and from the data center a half-dozen times per day. Alas, that single positive doesn't outweigh the inefficiency and insecurity built into that system. It's time to go to a gym, hire a personal trainer and enable those remote management ports on your servers.

ILOM -- the New Sneaker

Integrated Lights-out Management (ILOM) removes your need to walk to and physically touch every server system. ILOM is more buzz friendly than out-of-band management, but regardless of which moniker you use for it -- it's a godsend for those weary system administrators.

ILOM provides an integrated, free and powerful management method. Yes, free. ILOM comes standard with most contemporary racked and blade systems. ILOM delivers remote keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) so that you can completely manage your system from power up, through the entire boot sequence and into the operating system.

ILOM Setup

Setting up ILOM is simple but does require some planning. You'll need to decide on dynamic or static IP addressing for the service and if the ILOM network will be isolated or open. Static IP addressing requires more setup and more management but has the advantage of having the IP address tied to a specific system for the life of that system. Dynamic addressing requires less management and setup on the system side, but you'll need a server dedicated to assign and track those dynamic addresses.

An isolated ILOM network prevents unwanted connections by non-administrators. Isolating your ILOM network also prevents any IP addressing confusion with primary production, secondary production or backup interfaces.

Data center management should never require special shoes; nor should it put high mileage on your system administrators. It should require only configuration of your server's built-in ILOM ports. Save yourself the headaches of SneakerNet server management and system administrator tread by boosting your capability with a little fancy, but virtual, footwork.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday Aug 20th 2010
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