Rick Stevenson is CEO of Opengear.
Out-of-band (OOB) management of remotely located network infrastructure has an essential role to play in IT’s future. However, a certain complacency with OOB has hindered the full adoption of its most potent tools. While the history of IT certainly didn’t end in the ’90s, this is where many new OOB devices have their functionality frozen in time.
Like a bewildered Fred Flintstone inexplicably entering the world of the Jetsons, a slew of newly released products still provide the same pre-Internet modem technology that users in the last century used to get onto bulletin board systems. While simplistic products like this can technically wear the name “OOB management solution,” I’m going to be a bit unkind and label them “Dumb OOB.” We live in the age of the cloud and at the dawn of the Internet of Things (IoT), where more advanced OOB solutions and true network intelligence are about to become downright essential.
We’re a good bit into the 21st century, a time when distributed edge networks deliver key data and services through the cloud, and enterprise dependence on always-on connectivity means that downtime can be astronomically costly and damaging. This makes the resilience of distributed edge networks the lifeblood of an enterprise. Factor in the arrival of the IoT introducing everything from connected cars to smart online appliances, and it’s clear that soon even common household devices will require always-on connectivity to function optimally.
What’s more, the latency of the connections between IoT devices and the network performing their data processing is key to their functionality. If the smoke detector in your smart home detects the beginning of a fire, you want that information processed and help to be called for via the fastest connection available (not a dial-up modem), even when primary networks are down. The infrastructure supporting the smart home will require smarter OOB – and the resilience it provides – to ensure continuity and uptime for what will be mission critical applications.
Given today’s integral connections between data centers and the cloud, these sites now depend heavily on Internet/WAN access devices, firewalls, routers, and switches, which can all strain under the demanding burdens of data throughput, cyber-attacks, firmware exploits, table overflows, adverse environmental conditions, etc. With Dumb OOB there’s no automated intelligence actively preventing issues from occurring.
The Smart OOB Approach
The Smart OOB approach is to include backup connectivity that protects business continuity at the hardware layer, with capabilities for automatic responses, diagnosis, and repair using a suite of remediation utilities for common issues. In this way, issues are addressed before they become harmful outages. Think of this as having a virtual network admin staffing each remote sites, trained to perform recovery scripts and lessen the impact of both cyber sabotage and human error. Where resilience is absolutely critical and human personnel are unavailable, intelligent OOB systems can provide the needed assurances of uptime.
When a router’s Internet/WAN connection fails, as can – and will – happen, admins using Dumb OOB are stuck entering commands over a high latency dial-up connection. The smarter alternative is OOB management that utilizes a high-speed cellular connection, ideally 4G LTE. Cellular is cheaper, easier to implement, and delivers bonus advantages such as across-the-board support for SMS, Internet access, and private network connectivity.
Like a good doctor performing regular checkups in the practice of preventative medicine, smarter systems will monitor and log system health and environmental conditions to detect faults and perform repairs before failures can occur. Just as with humans, if a router is smoking, that’s not a good sign of its health (but a dumb doctor won’t ask). Smart monitoring of temperature, humidity, smoke, water, and more can create alerts so that admins can jump into action to mitigate the damage. Smart OOB gateways with on-board storage can log and back up the configuration states for routers, firewalls, and switches will allow an admin to repair or upgrade those configurations remotely (whereas Dumb OOB will simply forget). Smarter systems can even automatically remediate issues when detected to avoid larger problems from arising in the first place.
Take a case where environmental monitoring finds that the temperature in the rack is too high. This sensor reading could trigger an automatic response, where the OOB device takes the most graceful approach to shutting down equipment and load sharing battery power to the most mission critical hardware, then alerts a human admin who accesses equipment via an OOB connection and is able to perform a remote repair, all without end users experiencing any downtime.
With robust OOB capabilities like this available, it would be, well, dumb for organizations reliant on network connectivity not to enjoy the network resilience that’s so vitally important, especially with the IoT arriving.
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