Pimp my datacenter: Avocent

Avocent's MergePoint and DSView out-of-band server management lets our fingers do the walking

Avocent brought its industry-leading out-of-band management systems to our project, providing IP KVM for PC and Sun servers, service processor aggregation, serial terminal services, and the DSView management server. Because our new datacenter, HIG 319, functions like a multicompany colocation service, we ended up with a wide variety of equipment and at least three different flavors of service processors (Sun, Dell, HP) with three different management interfaces to juggle. Avocent's MergePoint 5224 appliance, a 24-port service processor aggregation system, gives the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology's IT group a single service processor management interface, while losing none of the functionality from individual dashboards.

The addition of an out-of-band management system like a service processor gives the IT manager a source of detailed system information that isn’t OS-dependent. Still, management and monitoring functions such as power supply details, environmental conditions, and so on are all presented through individual GUIs. Like the proverbial Tower of Babel, every vendor has its own particular interface and command language. Dell has DRAC (Dell Remote Access Controller), HP has iLO (Integrated Lights-Out), Sun has ALOM (Advanced Lights Out Management), and then there’s Intel's IPMI (Intelligent Platform Interface) and a few others. The Avocent MergePoint appliance pulls all of these different interfaces and command languages into a single consistent interface -- and it works wonderfully. Brian’s been using this system in the Interop NOC for several years, where it has spared him untold legwork and shoe leather. Not having to run to the far end of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center only to find a locked telecom closet -- you just can't put a price on that.

[ Return to the "Pimp my datacenter" intro for the background on our datacenter makeover, and links to more cool and cutting-edge datacenter gear. Read about our project's hurdles, and tips for avoiding them, in "Five lessons of a datacenter overhaul." ]

The center of the Avocent system is DSView, which is available in either a Windows or Linux server version. DSView lets you avoid juggling dozens of log-ins on various control devices, instead providing single sign-on and a consistent interface regardless of whether you’re using an IP KVM connection, serial console, service processor, or PDU (power distribution unit). It also provides granular access controls. Whether defined locally or with a RADIUS, LDAP, Active Directory, TACACS+, or RSA server, users can view, using a Windows Explorer-like GUI, only what they are authorized to touch as spelled out in either user or group profiles. DSView client access is for the moment only via Internet Explorer under Windows, but we keep hearing rumors of a Java client. Newly added support for VMware Infrastructure 3 gives users direct access to the VirtualCenter management console.

The SOEST IT folks practically drooled over the Virtual Media capability of Avocent's new KVM dongles, which promise to further reduce foot traffic in their already crowded datacenter. Virtual Media allows remote KVM users to make available just about any removable media on their remote workstation to the target server. Just mount an install DVD or ISO on your laptop and go to town.

Our complete Avocent solution included one MergePoint 5224 appliance, DSView software, one 16-port Cyclades ACS serial console server, one DSR4030 IP KVM, and 40 KVM dongles. Total cost: $27,241.

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