Improving Network Productivity with Out-of-Band Technology

Once deployed as a safeguard to maintain network availability, out-of-band technologies now take center stage as the integrated out-of-band infrastructure boosts productivity across the main network. We explore the benefits of these technologies.

Enterprises continually struggle to do more with less. Productivity is critical when it comes to architecting an infrastructure that will support the business, meet customer requirements, drive competitive and strategic differentiation, and sustain secure operations. While IT infrastructures began as a support structure for enterprise activity, they now manage increasingly dynamic environments in a more prominent capacity.

Similarly, out-of-band technologies, once deployed as a safeguard or emergency measure to maintain network availability, are now taking center stage as the integrated out-of-band infrastructure (OOBI) boosts productivity across the main network. By providing local and remote management for equipment within the production network, an effective OOBI improves access and utilization of IT assets for greater productivity. Emerging technologies continue to build upon the out-of-band network, leveraging the integrated foundation to proactively protect and improve the production network.

Enterprises have an opportunity to increase productivity across their networks by integrating their out-of-band technologies in a more systemic approach. Key benefits include preventive reliability, reduced operational costs, optimized resources within the infrastructure, and support for key requirements such as compliance.

Achieving Preventive Reliability 24x7

Out-of-band technologies were originally used by early telecommunications companies to guarantee the level of service availability required by telephony applications. Service interruptions triggered costly repairs and lost service revenue for the telcos. “Out-of-band” technologies provided an alternate route to access and restore failed equipment along the main network, so telcos could provide more reliable service to their customers.

Reliability remains the cornerstone of any out-of-band deployment today. When it comes to network outages, companies aim to minimize mean time to recovery (MTTR). Regardless of the cause of equipment outages—from hardware failure to operator error—even a simple fix usually requires the physical presence of a trained technician, adding cost and increasing MTTR.

An out-of-band infrastructure consolidates support for all IT assets into a single integrated framework, simplifying management of, and access to, the production network. An effective OOBI acts as a second line of defense against network downtime, augmenting in-band network management to support business operations 24x7. Out-of-band infrastructures allow companies to manage IT assets locally or remotely, providing flexibility that reduces MTTR (because network operators can address disruptions remotely) and improves overall network efficiency.

Additionally, by automating IT failure detection and recovery activities, an out-of-band infrastructure alerts IT personnel to problems before they result in downtime. Companies achieve preventive reliability with these automated features, which support improved diagnostic time and more granular forensics investigations, while reducing operator errors. With preventive reliability, companies keep MTTR low and reduce recovery costs.

Keeping Pace with Evolving Networks While Reducing Operational Costs

While out-of-band infrastructures help companies cut costs associated with network disruptions, their productivity gains also enable cost reductions in more direct ways.

A true out-of-band infrastructure is not technology specific. It encompasses all technologies from console servers, to power switches, KVMs, service processors, and blades to make the production network more efficient and accessible as well as more reliable. By deploying out-of-band technologies systemically, companies integrate different technologies in the same framework to provide more functionality than emergency remote access. IT professionals strengthen other services, such as security, audit tracking, billing, event notification, proactive system health monitoring, and automation, among others. Companies can also leverage IT assets and personnel more effectively utilizing remote management and automation tools. With greater efficiency, companies can achieve “lights out” IT infrastructure management, consolidate data centers, and eliminate 24x7 support staffs, all while improving network availability.

Additionally, OOBIs enable companies to deploy new technologies and updates systematically, speeding and simplifying integration while bringing greater consistency across the environment.

Tapping New Resources within the Network

At a more granular level, out-of-band networks in conjunction with emerging technologies provide better access to IT assets to achieve new productivity gains. For example, OOBIs can help companies utilize the untapped potential of their embedded service processors to improve server management.

Most servers and blade systems contain an embedded service processor, separate from the main processor, that provides power control, sensor readings, and (in some cases) server configuration, monitoring, and remote keyboard and mouse control. Because service processors are embedded inside the management equipment, they can provide additional information about the server, including internal health parameters and control characteristics (such as temperatures, voltages, console access, remote reset, and fan speeds).

Service processors come in many varieties. Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is an open standard service processor platform supported by over 150 companies, many of which also support their own proprietary technologies. For example, IBM ships Remote Service Cards (RSA), Dell ships Dell Remote Access Cards (DRAC), and Hewlett-Packard ships Integrated Lights-Out modules (iLO). Service processors have been widely deployed across companies of all sizes and industries because they remain active even when a server is powered down, allowing for remote powering on in the event of a failure. With all of these capabilities benefiting server management, many enterprises overlook the need to manage their service processors or are simply overwhelmed by compatibility issues and allow untapped functionality and intelligence to go to waste.

Emerging technologies utilized together with out-of-band networks are now enabling enterprises to leverage their service processors in new ways. By using effective service-processor management, companies can isolate the management network from the production network to achieve secure rack management. With secure rack management, service processor protocols are kept within the equipment rack and not exposed to the data network, physically consolidating and logically securing the Ethernet connections needed for access to service processors. System administrators can then locally or remotely perform operations such as power cycle, remote console access, hardware monitoring and management, and event management across servers using one simplified user interface.

Service-processor management represents significant cost savings in provisioning, deployment, and the recurring costs and overhead associated with maintaining and securing IP addresses for each service processor. Enterprises can consolidate server management, gain greater control over the hardware infrastructure, reduce management overhead, increase asset and personnel productivity, and improve security for all devices in the OOBI.

Meeting Compliance Objectives

An OOBI brings greater network visibility, helping companies better prepare for compliance audits and strengthen compliance initiatives. By establishing an out-of-band infrastructure, companies can strengthen compliance in six key areas:

  • Configuration Change Management: By accessing a new level of data within each IT asset, a well-crafted out-of-band solution is designed to maintain and record an accurate reflection of all changes made to the system

  • Authentication and Access: An OOBI can provide the ability to grant access rights to individuals or groups of individuals to gain access to any asset connected, when needed according to established policies

  • Data Logging and Audit Documentation: A key goal of an OOBI is to create complete bi-directional logging of information that flows to and from connected IT assets which helps assure the integrity of data and supports archiving policies

  • Consistency: The usage of OOBI for complete IT infrastructure management, using all of the integrated technologies of KVM, Serial, Power, IPMI and ILO creates this single consistent approach to policies and procedures across the business function of IT management

  • Encryption: Today, OOBIs use SSL-encryption for all data flows and guarantee that sensitive information is available only to those systems directly involved

  • Data Protection: Out-of-band technology provides access to systems or groups of systems transparently, regardless of production network availability

As auditors become more familiar with the IT infrastructure and identify new points to evaluate, companies need a flexible platform that can evolve with auditor requirements. Companies also need to extend their return on investment beyond their original compliance efforts; solution objectives should include improved operational efficiency, reduced costs and better alignment of IT resources with business.

Looking Forward: A More Preventive and Proactive Role

The widespread adoption of out-of-band technologies is a testament to the fundamental need enterprises have to ensure the productivity of their networks and their businesses. As out-of band infrastructures continue to evolve, their role will be increasingly proactive and preventive, accessing and retrieving new levels of data to facilitate greater security, help meet compliance requirements and adhere to business policy, and continually improve upon the productivity and efficiency of the production network.