OOB: A little-known technology with big potential

* Out-of-Band Management: Niche market or industry building block?

Most people associate Out-of-Band Management (OOB) - if they have a clear association for it at all - with remote KVM (Keyboard Video Mouse) used to fix problems and reboot troubled systems consoles in remote locations. KVM enables administrators to work with the processor or system as though they were virtually inside the machine. It also enables IT to control multiprocessor machines or machines with multiple blades. Moreover, KVM can be used to stop and start processes, or restart processors and reboot remote devices.

Many network administrators may also recognize that OOB can deliver serial console access, primarily for internetworking devices such as switches, firewalls, load balancers and routers. Virtually every network device has a RS232 serial port for management purposes that largely complements any existing in-band management instrumentation. 

Other IT professionals may also be aware of OOB support for service processors, which are embedded agents that provide native support for monitoring device hardware - primarily server platforms and blade computing - and are well adapted for remote management. These include support for standards such as IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface), as supported by Intel, Dell, HP and NEC.

Finally, many in IT may know that OOB remote management can provide remote power control, which is critical for recycling to fix devices by turning power on and off. A good example might be a crash in which the system is frozen and the keyboard doesn't respond.

All these things, combined with powerful ROI in terms of minimizing mean-time-to-repair delays and eliminating costs associated with truck rolls - or time and travel to fix devices at remote locations - have made OOB a relatively fast-growing market. OOB includes a number of vendors, some quite sizeable, which as a group are growing well and building up substantial customer loyalty. Some names, in alphabetical order, include Avocent, Cyclades, Raritan and UpLogix (this last focused on network edge devices).

However OOB, or remote management, hasn't yet gotten the industry respect and attention it deserves, being viewed primarily as a niche market with clear but limited functionality. This is a shame because OOB holds promise beyond the obvious, as in-band management systems become increasingly vulnerable, and the huge amounts of detail needed for thorough analysis of the infrastructure can threaten infrastructure performance.

OOB could and should be viewed as another building block to enable a more versatile approach to management more generally. Most of the vendors named above, for instance, already provide systems for monitoring consolidation and scale well across high volumes of devices. Most, as well, provide some combination of in-band and out-of-band awareness. And all provide solid designs for controlling access to devices and ensuring that security and compliance requirements are enforced.

How OOB will come into play more broadly is an open-ended question, however, and one that the industry has, in general, done little to address. Viewing OOB as a true building block enabler for infrastructure management in general will, however, bear worthwhile fruit for those vendors willing to think creatively and break through yet another industry stereotype.

I'm interested in your comments and experiences here. Have you tried products from any of the above companies, and if so, how are you using them? What would you like to get out of the opportunity to utilize a more fluid approach to mixing in-band monitoring and out-of-band control if the marketplace stepped up to this bigger challenge?

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