Being asked by management to do more with less is the new norm. Keeping “the wheels on” with fewer resources is not only challenging but can lead to tremendous amounts of stress within the technology departments of a business. So what methods can be used to effectively optimize budgets and increase staff efficiency? One method being utilized with great success is the use of remote infrastructure management (RIM).
RIM is a technology-driven method for secure access, control, monitoring and management of a variety of devices (infrastructure) installed throughout a communications network. These devices can be quite varied in their function and can include all of the following IT and industrial types of equipment: network appliances (switches, routers, servers), security devices (firewalls, IDS/IPS, AAA servers), telephony equipment (PBX, unified communications systems), power (UPS, PDU), surveillance (IP cameras), industrial SCADA (RTU, PLC), and environmental (door/cabinet open sensors, vibration sensors, humidity/water sensors, temperature sensors, gas leak sensors, etc.).
Many times, infrastructure devices are located in remote locations that are either staffed with non-IT people or totally unstaffed. These remote locations can be branch/field offices, automated machine locations (kiosks, vending machines, ATMs, etc.), oil/gas wells, solar/wind farms or telecom towers. Some of these locations are sheltered within some form of building or structure while others are exposed to the elements.
There are a variety of methods being used today to securely connect to remote sites and utilize RIM products to manage critical infrastructure. In some instances — like campus environments or large buildings — fiber optic networks are deployed to connect remote locations back to a network operations center (NOC). If you don’t have the luxury of being able to tap into a backbone network due to the location and conditions of your remote site then other methods need to be utilized to provide connectivity and access to the critical infrastructure devices. Some examples of alternative connectivity methods are: the Internet, analog modems, satellite and cellular (one of the fastest growing methods). Even if you do have a primary method of connecting to your critical infrastructure, there is always the possibility that your primary connection will fail, so having and using an out-of-band (OOB) method is both advisable and a sound business practice.
Run Book Automation
Run book automation provides the ability to define certain conditions or thresholds and associate them with specific actions to be performed — error messages via SMS or email, for example. RIM devices with run book automation are interactive, so you can also remotely direct the auto response actions by sending in messages (SMS or otherwise) with new instructions. In addition to alerts, run book automation provides the major capability of austomatically running corrective actions.
For example, if a network router goes into a “hung condition” then the RIM device can alert you and automatically reboot the router to hopefully correct this condition. Also, if there is a power outage and your UPS system is starting to run out power or low on fuel, the RIM device can automatically alert you and then gracefully shut down infrastructure devices to avoid a hard shutdown scenario. In this example, the RIM device is monitoring environmental conditions.
In another scenario, you might have a RIM device monitoring environmental conditions including temperature. A sudden rise in temperature could be an indication of a potential fire at your remote site. While the RIM device would not fight the fire it could alert you and the nearest fire department to investigate, while at the same time sending live video footage (using IP surveillance cameras) of the remote site.
CooperVision, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of contact lenses, needed to enhance and modernize its out-of-band management network solution in order to strengthen business continuity and reduce security threats. Given the ever increasing number of new, potential security threats, the out-of-band management gateway needed to keep pace with their current corporate security policies and mitigate exposure to future threats. CooperVision also wanted to provide its IT staff (in the field) with secure remote access, which would boost productivity and flexibility.
With locations distributed around the globe in 12 countries, CooperVision was compelled to find a solution that could:
- Ensure security compliance with certificate based VPN connections.
- Manage its network infrastructure remotely and securely out-of-band in order to minimize downtime and reduce on-site technician visits.
- Achieve disaster recovery compliance at remote locations that lack immediately available IT staff.
As a result, CooperVision uses RIM products to enable its central support team to perform reliable and secure data center management of its IT assets distributed across the globe. The company also was able to ensure high availability for the support team that utilizes secure out-of-band access via 3G GSM cellular connectivity.
With more than 200,000 active students worldwide, Penn Foster prides itself on providing convenient, affordable and open access to a secondary and post-secondary education. Its IT department plays a key role in ensuring uptime of the IT infrastructure and online learning sites to continuously provide an academically rich learning environment.
Technology is inseparably linked with learning today, and with the explosion of students using their own laptops, tablets, and smartphones (BYOD) to access online courses, Penn Foster needed a secure out-of-band mechanism to ensure consistent delivery of educational material to an ever expanding IT infrastructure. With limited IT personnel at satellite facilities, it was able to find a RIM solution that could:
- Centralize the origin of outbound dialing to remote locations.
- Operate as a secure dial-in gateway at remote locations for out-of-band access.
- Monitor and manage APC battery backup systems and deliver secure remote access to the management interfaces to core routing and switching components.
- Provide the best value and functionality at the lowest possible price.
Centralized Outbound Dialing To Remote Locations
Secure out-of-band access to the distributed IT equipment is crucial for enterprise customers to eliminate the need for onsite remote IT staff or for service calls to handle outages. Not only does this save on travel expenses, but the out-of-band access also reduces recovery time in the event of unplanned outages.
Traditionally, out-of-band access to remote sites during unplanned network outages has been accomplished using analog modem connections. This solution is secure, robust and still widely deployed throughout the world. As technology changes, the overhead for maintaining analog modem requirements for remote IT staff has become an issue for IT management. Most modern laptops and tablets lack internal modems to allow for IT staff on the road or working from home to connect easily to remote sites. This issue can be addressed through the centralization of the outbound dial connections to enable IT staff to securely connect via a VPN and then trigger an outbound call to remote sites.
Power Management Imperative
Power failures, spikes, supply surges and brown-outs remain a fact of life — as do the service disruptions, data corruption and mangled file systems that result from such power interruptions.
The uninterruptable power supply (UPS) shields critical network infrastructure by maintaining a continuous supply of electric power to connected equipment. Its rechargeable batteries supply emergency power in the event of power loss and if the power loss is extensive the UPS can signal to initiate an orderly power down sequence. It is imperative that the UPS systems are monitored closely as each one will only provide power for a limited period of time and will require graceful shutdowns for IT equipment in the event of extended power outages.
Penn Foster, like other organizations has deployed more than one brand of UPS system. This can cause management headaches and require proprietary software. It is now possible to apply a solution that allows for agnostic UPS systems management, and provide instant notifications and visibility into distributed battery backup systems both in-band and out-of-band.
Remote infrastructure management can not only aid in maintaining business continuity, but also in helping to more effectively manage resources and expenses. I urge you to investigate the existing RIM solutions out in the market and explore how they can be applied to your environment to solve the business continuity and limited resource problems that your business faces today and in the future.
As the Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Product Management for Opengear, John is responsible for overseeing the overall marketing, product strategy and company vision. John has more than 30 years of high-tech experience in: IT management, business continuity, security and compliance. John earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and Management from Wagner College, as well as, a combined Masters/Doctorate degree in Metaphysics from ULC.