Perle Systems Case Study
Console Management Solves Elsag Server Farms Complexities
With the evolution of technology and the areas in which it is used, the data centres of application companies catering both to internal and external users have become more and more complicated.
The Challenge - It's not unusual to see large machine rooms with layers of devices and IT technologies that companies need in order to conduct their business.
This increased architectural complexity can entail problems for the management of the server farm.
This is the problem facing Elsag, a company belonging to the Finmeccanica Group, which offers ICT outsourcing services to sister companies and other important businesses in the world of enterprise solutions.
The Elsag data centre offers many services: legacy services for the mainframe world, SAP services (which are very important, since they have to deal with all the ERP's of the Finmeccanica companies), services custom made specifically for various clients (created on Oracle databases, other databases or with other platforms), e-commerce applications and pay per use services. In this server farm there's also a management and monitoring service which checks both on-site and remote servers, located either in Elsag locations or the clients' own locations.
The server farm is therefore complex: "We don't have everything, but we have a large mix of different equipment," explains, Elsag's data centre director. "We range from IBM mainframes to Bull mainframes, from the Unix, Sun and HP machines to the IBM and Bull units, as well as many NT machines: IBM, Compaq, Dell and even Olivetti".
The Elsag IT manager, therefore, faces two fundamental problems: "With the Sun machines, which come with graphics,
and which are of considerable size and have short cables, one can imagine what happens when you have a 1,000-square meter machine room: I had consoles strewn all over the data centre. The second problem is linked to those units that we were able to bring to the console room. We had a considerable proliferation of consoles."
At the Elsag server farm, in fact, there are over two hundred computers, including various kinds of mainframes and servers. If you consider the theoretical approach "one computer, one console," the logistical difficulties appear evident. "But then, things are not quite like that,"says Elsag, "because the NT machines are installed in rack configuration so they already have console switches. However, if we consider the Sun and HP machines, that's our approach. With the IBM machines, it's a bit different because there's a common console, but in any case we had a fairly good console room."
The main goal was to reduce the number of consoles without losing functionality, an issue that was resolved by installing a Perle Console Server. "This way," explains Elsag, "We were able to resolve all our problems swiftly: We installed two PC's connected to the Perle Console Server, subdivided the console loads on these two personal computers and now we can work easily and safely."
"The Elsag server farm," explains Country Manager for Perle Systems Italy," boasts highly complex features, in terms of the quantity and kind of devices it possesses. These factors represent a considerable challenge for someone who wants to create remote server managing applications. For example, the presence of servers based on the NT operating system made remote management critical, especially in cases of problems with the server and the resulting inaccessibility to the graphic interface." In this case, as in the case of the inability to access the servers through a network connection, the problem of restoring normal operation was resolved by intervening directly in the machine room. The Perle Console Server, on the other hand, allows one to regain control of the NT or 2000 server and eliminate from a remote location the element that has crashed the system. The system administrator can therefore restore his or her servers by connecting to the Perle Console Server even while remaining miles away using only a simple analog modem and a normal phone connection. The features of the Perle Console Server allow remote access and monitoring not only of the servers, few or many as they may be, but also of other apparatus such as routers, RAS, RAID systems and phone centres.
The installation process was simple: "We had no particular problems," confirms Elsag. "We did everything ourselves without major difficulties. After some initial tests, the release of the managing software was updated and we obtained an increase in memory power."
This simplicity was confirmed by Marco Colli, Business & Marketing Manager for Strhold, who distribute Perle and supplied the Console Server to Elsag thanks to a partnership that unites these two companies on the basis of years of collaboration: "I must say that it wasn't a complex project, quite the opposite. This was due to Elsag's skill and the ease of use of the Perle Console Server. The implementation time was very brief indeed because, during the analysis phase, as is often the case today, it was necessary to show our partner the technological and safety differences offered by the Perle Console Server compared to other hardware solutions, such as manual switches, or software, like Windows or Linux operating systems."
The Perle Console Server with 8, 16 or 24 ports provides access to all of an organization's network infrastructure devices that are managed via a console port over a networked connection. With a Console Server, administrators have access to a system's console from anywhere on the local network, or via dial up connections, as if they were locally connected through a serial connection. By connecting the console operating ports of devices to the Perle Console Server, the devices themselves can be run either in-band or out-ofband via LAN/WAN or dial-up. In the in-band configuration, one can connect via Telnet or SSH to the Console Server simply by indicating its IP address.
In the out-of-band configuration access is gained via a modem connected to one of the Perle Console Server's serial ports. The security of the connection is ensured through the support of SSH protocols versions 1 and 2 and, with dialup access, SLIP and PPP protocols. The Perle Console Server can handle user authentication via an internal database or via an external Radius server. The standard management and control systems (SNMP, BOOTP, DHCP and DNS) are also supported, however, the Perle Console Server has the ability to disable unused daemons such as Telnet, SNMP, HTTP, SSH, DHCP etc. to further prevent security violation to the Perle Console Server and LAN. Another important feature of the Perle Console Server is the ability to capture messages from attached devices even when the administrator is not connected. This is achieved by providing Port Buffers for each port which capture all data from the port. When an administrator connects to a port he will have the option to view these buffers and therefore be able to view any important messages the attached device has generated. The Perle Console Server has the largest Port Buffers in the industry by default and these can be made even larger by re-configuring the unit.