Budget-beating out-of-band management

Opengear's all-in-one appliance combines service processor aggregation, serial console, and environmental monitoring at a nice price

I've been a big fan of the out-of-band management concept, but getting access to a multiplicity of management interfaces has pushed me into expensive multibox configurations. Don't get me wrong -- those Raritan and Avocent boxes are amazingly good in my datacenter. In fact, much of the "pimp" features in our "Pimp my datacenter" story came from Avocent and APC. However, these features also inflate the price out of the range of most small to medium-size businesses.

The Opengear Infrastructure Manager provides a versatile and affordable alternative. A 1U box with 8, 16, or 48 serial ports, the Opengear appliance includes serial console access, remote access to service processors, and some clever tunneling options that provide a way for proprietary control software (such as the Johnson Controls building environmental control system) to allow secure access while not creating a support nightmare. As icing on the cake, you can plug environmental monitoring units into the Opengear's serial ports to provide more depth.

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The Opengear unit doesn't provide a unified front end to multiple management systems as Avocent's MergePoint and DSView do. Whereas Avocent's solution aims at being the universal translator to Dell DRAC, HP iLO, IBM RSA, IPMI, and other service processor interfaces, presenting you with a common GUI regardless of which flavor of service processor you're talking to, Opengear merely provides a central way to get to them. If I had to run a big datacenter, I'd probably go with Avocent. But for smaller installations, the Opengear box makes a whole lot of sense. I would need four Avocent boxes to do everything the Opengear does.

Secure tunneling relies on Opengear's SDT Connector, a Windows application that makes it a snap to establish secure remote access to any system through the Opengear Infrastructure Manager. In a nutshell, SDT Connector is an SSH client with predefined tunnel ports and a mechanism for exchanging port configuration information with the appliance. Yes, I could probably do the exact same thing with an old Linux box, but the cost of the box and the multiport serial card could very well end up being more expensive than what Opengear has put together in a much more coherent and maintainable package.

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