Dealing with Out of Band communications and WAN failure

A few weeks ago while attending Cisco Live in San Diego, I was invited by the Tech Field Day group to participate in a couple of sessions, and I wanted to share my responses to one in particular today, but first a little bit of background on myself. These days I find myself working as a Network Engineer focused on Collaboration technologies, but it wasn’t always this way. I spent the good part of a decade supporting a number of enterprise environments both as an employee and as a consultant, and at one very large healthcare organization in particular I had the opportunity to design and deploy multiple datacenters (big ones) and several branch locations.

Supporting such a widely distributed environment, I found myself managing dozens upon dozens of individual pieces of hardware, sometimes half a day’s travel from me, and we didn’t always have the most reliable of WAN connections. I very quickly decided that out of band management solutions were necessary in the environment, and went off on a journey to fully OOB-enable our environment. In the end, I had console servers in every datacenter row, 100% remote control of the environment, we were set. But even the out of band network connections relied on terrestrial telco services (sometimes VPN).

I saw a product for the first time last week by OpenGear, and it really set me back (in fact, I can recall Stephen Foskett calling me ‘chatty’ but I was seriously getting into this!) Let me tell you about the product and why it exited me so much. OpenGear has created a product called the Resilience Gateway. It’s a unique combination of products wrapped up in one. First and foremost, it’s a 4-port console server. While not large enough for my datacenter needs, this is the perfect size for most of my branch offices, and my wiring closets. In addition to console control you get a few GPIO pins to monitor environmental sensors (think door alarm, water sensor, etc) but where the product really shines is in it’s Failover to Cellular feature.

Picture a remote branch office with less than reliable WAN services (we still deal with this in many parts of the US today). Now picture using the Resilience Gateway, which is already giving you out of band console access, as a Cellular-Backup WAN connection. Utilizing whatever WAN failure detection mechanism you want (in my case this would be Cisco IP-SLA), you can redirect traffic out the 4G connection over the cellular WAN. So not only does the device give you remote control of your gear, it can be used as a pathway to re-establishing connectivity when your primary WAN is down. How sweet is that? Did I mention that it’s only like $800? This thing is a no-brainer!

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One concern with the product that I had that didn’t get fully addressed during the Tech Field Day Extra session (or should I say that they answered it, but it’s just not a good answer) is that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of QoS or traffic detection mechanism to prevent bulk data from stepping on my remote console access in the event we’re using the Failover to Cellular link. The last thing I want is to try and troubleshoot my network over a low-bandwidth backup connection, but have somebody’s Netflix traffic consuming the pipe, when what I really need is to access my routers and switches. I think it would be a benefit to add some sort of ‘console first’ QoS rules to the device to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

The word from OpenGear is that the product will be shipping starting the first part of July 2015, and they’ve agreed to send me a review unit to put through its paces in my lab. I’ll post a followup to this article (probably a video review) once I’ve had a chance to do that, so stay tuned! Thanks to the Tech Field Day staff for inviting me to geek out with them during this session, and thanks to OpenGear for taking the time to present to us.

I’m looking forward to seeing what else you’ve got up your sleeves (hint, give me an 8 port version of this but add an integrated PDU for power control).