For enterprises managing multiple data center sites across several locations, accessing network equipment can be a costly challenge. Performing maintenance and troubleshooting issues that arise often necessitates footing an expensive travel bill to have engineers access and fix devices in person. And when network downtime is a factor, the cost of lost business and reputational damage owing to repair time can easily exceed that of the repairs themselves.
To better address these issues, enterprises are increasingly investing in strategies that enable out-of-band (OOB) access to remote data center sites, allowing engineers to resolve issues quickly—and from a distance. This remote-management mentality is further enhanced by technology providing automated intelligence for overseeing critical network equipment at dispersed sites. The goal is addressing faults without the need for human intervention and before more major issues can occur.
The Search for Greater Efficiency
Secura is a cloud hosting provider, founded in 2001, that offers high-performance virtual private-cloud hosting. Its customers are enterprises that require secure, scalable hosting to support their critical applications and systems with absolute reliability. These customers come from a wide breadth of industries, from the large European hospitality brand PPHE Hotel Group to software-as-a-service providers such as Causeway and Selima. Secura is highly regarded in its industry thanks to its strong operational processes and close adherence to best practices, especially when it comes to data security.
Following its acquisition in 2014, Secura experienced a sustained period of growth, requiring an infrastructure expansion to three different Tier III+ data centers throughout the United Kingdom. To ensure its preparedness to meet its infrastructure-management needs—and with growth projections anticipating continued rapid expansion—the company investigated approaches to improving its methods of accessing critical data center equipment.
“One of the areas for improvement that we identified was infrastructure management and maintenance across our data center locations,” said Dan Nichols, Secura’s chief technical officer (CTO). “As highly secure environments, gaining rapid access to them during off hours is not easy. The amount of travel time and the inconvenience of having to visit sites to carry out tasks such as firmware updates, patches and other configuration changes requiring console access were really inefficient.”
Recognizing that the process of deploying engineers to its remote data center locations was not a viable long-term solution and could instead be transformed by remote-access technologies, Secura compared available solutions. Following an extensive evaluation, it selected the Opengear CM7100 console server with intelligent out-of-band technology built in. The company chose the Opengear console server as a flexible and reliable device offering an inclusive set of features, easy deployability and the interoperability necessary to function alongside Secura’s existing hardware and processes.
Making Infrastructure Smart With Out-of-Band Management
Secura now has Opengear CM7100 console servers providing out-of-band management of network and server infrastructure at all of its data center locations. Each of these console servers has up to 96 serial ports that connect core switches, firewalls, security appliances and Secura’s high-performance storage arrays with Opengear’s remote-access and remote-management capabilities.
Secura was drawn to the console server’s effective monitoring, diagnostics and remediation features. These capabilities were designed to maximize network uptime through efficient recovery from any infrastructure fault conditions while mitigating the need for engineers to be locally present.
The CM7100 is built for the type of always-on data center operation that Secura requires. It includes dual Gigabit Ethernet for redundant connectivity to both primary and secondary networks. A pair of AC power supplies offers built-in redundancy and uninterrupted function in the event a single connection or power source fails. These dual AC feed inlets are further backed by two internal power supplies, all supporting automatic failover.
The console server adheres to the stringent security standards demanded by Secura and its customers, including support for AAA with Active Directory, TACACS+ with FIPS 140-2 validated encryption for military-grade applications, and encryption of sensitive management traffic via HTTPS, SSH and VPN, as well as OpenVPN and IPSec. These security measures allow administrators to lock down access to equipment by user, or by group, as necessary. Each console server also maintains its own audit trail, logging all session activity to either the device’s embedded 4GB of local storage or to a remote log server. That information is in turn available for uses such as troubleshooting and fulfilling compliance audits.
Cutting Down Data Center Visits
Secura estimates it achieved a full return on its investment with the CM7100 console server in a mere seven months. Owing in large part to the remote access to critical equipment, the company has reduced technician visits to its data centers by 30%.
“Opengear’s console servers provide us with the ability to remotely access management functions of our network and storage elements at each site, and to carry out key tasks that cannot be done over the normal management platforms,” said Nichols. “By using Opengear, we effectively save a couple of days each quarter in management time and in the event of any unexpected issues, we have an effective out-of-band method of quickly troubleshooting any physical device at any data center location.”
Automated intelligence capable of overseeing system health and environmental conditions in the data center has helped Secura derive significant value through active remediation of issues. Automated responses to faults are guided by custom rules and policies, enabling the CM7100’s technology to immediately begin performing complex actions before a human technician has even had time to respond to alerts. Also, built-in environmental sensors have overseen the temperature, humidity and risk of water at the data center, as well as motion and door access to ensure security against human tampering. The ability of these systems to quickly and intelligently power down equipment or reroute connectivity when necessary—thus avoiding downtime and keeping services operational—has helped Secura win more business.
Secura also cited the benefits of the full audit trail of configuration changes that Opengear’s console servers provide. These benefits have offered essential value in supporting the company’s strict security policies and helped to establish a fully safeguarded environment for customer data. Looking forward, Secura will continue to address its sustained growth by incorporating Opengear’s SmartOOB solutions into its future data center configurations.