Remote server management
Since we often have limited physical access to our machines, and our
collective members are spread around the country, our holy grail is remote
This could mean a lot of things. Mostly, we just need to:
1. power cycle computers remotely
2. access the bios and boot menu remotely
This allows us to reboot if the machine crashes, boot from a different
drive if the boot drive is toast, and allows people to pretty much install
a complex system remotely (especially if we leave a rescue cd in the
drive). Ever tried installing an LVM or software RAID or firewall
remotely? It can be dicey!
Access over IP is acceptable. In other words, we do not need a
solution which is completely 'out of band' like a modem or radio
Below are some notes on the research we have done. Any stories,
experiences, or advice with this kind of stuff would be greatly
* Motherboards *
Many motherboards support serial console (or 'console redirection').
This allows you to use the 'serial console buddy system' or terminal
server to access the machine's main console and bios. With linux, you can
access the console after the boot process has started, but doesn't get you
very far so hardware support in the motherboard is also needed. In the
past, we have had frustration with the quirks of serial console support
(like it killing the real console).
Boards which typically have serial console (serial redirection) support:
* KVM over IP *
These boxes convert the keyboard, video, and mouse to digital and route
over an IP network. Wild stuff. Traditionally very expensive, newer
products are making this affordable.
American Megatrends has a new one supposedly available Q1 2004 which is
super tiny, can support unlimited machines (when connected to a KVM), with
an anticipated list price of $600. http://www.ami.com/kvm/.
I think some you can ctr-alt-del over and some not(?).
* Serial Console Buddy System *
The idea is to have machines in pairs or more, connected to a partner's
serial port. If one goes down, connect to it from the one which is
(hopefully) still alive. You can use two serial cables for this, or one if
you are tricky. It is sometimes difficult to find null modem cables with
the correct pinout for serial consoles to work.
* PCI Cards *
Cards which add remote support to a motherboard without it:
pumps video and keyboard through a serial port.
needs an async terminal server, a buddy, or modem(?), to be truly remote
includes remote reboot too.
$250 for ISA
$350 for PCI
MegaRac G2 Lite (american megatrends)
Serial over LAN, power control, remote bios.
OS independent, no drivers. BIOS independent.
client: web based ui (SSL) platform independent.
Mostly intended for monitoring hardware through I2C or IPMI.
Unsure about how robust the serial over lan is.
$300, not available yet, but soon.
* Terminal Server/Serial Concentrators *
Not sure if there is a difference (or a similarity!)
A hub for serial lines, so if you had a bunch of machines
with serial consoles they could all be controlled in one place.
pricey! some can route through ip(?), or to another machine, or a modem.
* Real Servers *
"Real servers," unlike the commodity stuff we use, have had serial console
support since the beginning of time: Alphas, NetServers, etc. People on
lists sometimes say they often buy this stuff without a video card at all
and just use the serial console (through a terminal server).
In addition to serial console, you can buy used on ebay for under $40
stuff like the "HP P1218A Netserver Remote Control Interface"
which lets you reboot the system, flash the bios, and reconfigure
* Remote Reboot *
Typically is has been pretty expensive to have a power strip which can be
controlled remotely. Here are some affordable options:
http://www.webreboot.net/ sells a little box for $250 that can
connect to 8 machines through the reset connector on the motherboard.
reboot from a web browser.
http://www.wti.com/power.htm sells power strips which can be rebooted
from a web browser ($600 for 5 plugs) or a control unit + satellite units
setup ($350 for control unit + $200 per satellite).