The Raritan Blog

Centralized Data Center Management in a Heterogeneous Environment

June 29, 2010

Many IT professionals battle with the issue of gaining convenient “single pane of glass” access to multi-vendor and multi-technology data center servers, equipment and devices.  Not only do an overwhelming majority of data centers include servers from different vendors, but they also require an array of methods to access and control them.  Virtualized servers, embedded service processors (ESP), servers with KVM ports, intelligent PDU’s, and serial access routers all require frequent access and maintenance.

To meet this need, centralized management systems must to be able to support access to virtual machines and ESP-ready servers — in addition to the traditional KVM access to which we’re all accustomed.

Many administrators are implementing a hybrid approach, while others continue to expand on their KVM footprint because of its inherent performance, manageability and security features.  Cost is also an obvious consideration.

Performance: ESP management features can be less “clean” and less convenient than a full-featured KVM platform.  KVM solutions provide optimal video quality at any bandwidth, a broad choice of remote clients, and robust features like video scaling, full-screen mode, and Absolute Mouse Synchronization.  There are also more choices when it comes to building redundancy and failover functions into the solution.

Manageability: KVM switches typically provide “plug and play” deployment features.  And configuring a single KVM switch takes much less time than configuring 64 embedded processors.  Although server vendors claim automatic ESP discovery, IP address ranges must be provided to the management interface.  Also, each ESP physical connection requires network setup, user privileges, SNMP scripting, etc.  Comparatively, a heterogeneous management system — if designed properly — can be set up quickly, provides thorough reporting capabilities and delivers centralized user rights management and authorization.

Security: Centralized authentication management is critical; not only for efficient user management — but also to ensure that the right people have access to the right equipment.  Built-in ESPs are often lacking in this area.

Costs: ESPs often incur incremental cost for advanced features.  They may be advertised as free, but embedded solutions may not include rights to advanced features; licenses for those are additional — as much as $500 per port.  The average KVM over IP solution comes in at around $200 per server.  Also, only one IP address is needed per KVM switch, while each ESP typically uses up another one on its own.  The average TCO for a network port in a data center is $200.   With the use of a 32 or 64 port KVM switch, a 32 to 64-to1 reduction can be made in IP addresses, network ports and cable runs.

Local Port: If there is a network failure, KVM solutions typically provide local access; embedded solutions do not.

Of course, some homework is needed to help determine if traditional KVM or ESPs are the better match for your organization.  Whichever you choose, your management system should be able to accommodate both.