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Are there any alternatives to Dell's DRAC? I need remote console access but $349 to upgrade from the built-in iDRAC Express to iDRAC Enterprise seems very steep.

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3 Answers 3

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You could come close to duplicating the DRAC's functionality with a network-controlled PDU and KVM switch, however you're never going to achieve 100% feature parity. The one huge piece that you'll be missing is the virtual media functionality. Depending on your situation, missing that functionality may not be a big deal, but in a colo or other mostly hands-off environment, the ability to do remote installs or fire up a live CD remotely is huge.

Yes, the DRAC/iLO/iLOM prices have some sticker shock, but in my experience, they're worth every dollar and honestly (depending on how many servers you're talking about), you'd be hard-pressed to save any money by throwing a piecemeal solution together.

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+1, $350 isn't that bad compared to the many hours per year I'd waste without it. Just thinking about it for a minute, it's a hour drive every time I have to come to work just to putz with a server; If I did that once a month the time saved would easily justify a dozen licenses over their 3 to 4 year life. I would never want to throw money away; but DRAC/iLO/ILOM is something that once you have it, you wonder how you lived without it. –  Chris S Dec 13 '10 at 1:02
    
You convinced me! –  AX1 Dec 13 '10 at 1:02
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This really isn't true anymore -- just about every major KVM vendor, including Avocent, Raritan, and even Belkin, has supported remote media for a very, very long time. –  jgoldschrafe Dec 13 '10 at 2:35
    
One thing I've discovered with my Raritan and Lantronix KVMoIPs is that the virtual media is limited to ~700M images. Fine for a smaller install media like a Linux netinstall image, but has proven a barrier for remote Windows installs where source media is DVD size. I haven't yet tried DVD images with any of my DRACs. –  Patrick Mar 1 '13 at 18:26

There's an easy solution to the DRAC cards, but they require you to switch server vendors. Most of the latest Supermicro systems come with similar DRAC functionality built in. But if you want to stick with Dell and get the capabilities I have used a KVM that does some of that...

We've been running a "lights out" data center of around 100 machines for the last 6 years. We have two particular solutions we've used...

One is to use a discrete KVM over IP and network controlled power strip (PDU). We selected the Startech SV1115IPEXT, which you connect to via VNC, and you can connect their multi-port KVMs behind it to control up to 130-ish devices. That gives us access to the VGA, PS2 or USB keyboard and mouse. Then if we need to power-cycle a hung machine we use the APC power stripts that allow us to do remote power control. Startech makes a power strip that will integrate with their KVMs to give you a "reboot" button on the KVM, but we haven't used those. For "remote media" we can do almost all of what we need with PXE over the network (installs and rescue, mostly -- BIOS updates aren't something we've done).

That has been very effective for us, though you need to make sure all the machines are set up (and are capable to) power on when they lose power. Cost for this was fairly low at around $65 per machine.

Newer versions of the machines we use (Supermicro) have had add-in cards that for $110-ish will give us all that plus the ability to power on a machine that is off -- something we don't have with the PDUs above. Plus it gives the ability to do remote floppy/CD-ROM/DVD and read other sensors. Plus, since each machine is individually accessible, we can give users access to their machines. This also has the overhead of another switch port, but it doesn't need to be an expensive switch. The newest machines we are deploying have this built in, so the cost is only the switch port.

We've had some clients use serial consoles and a serial port concentrator. I don't really like these for many reasons... You don't necessarily get full BIOS access, and graphical installers are totally out of the question. The installers need to be automated or need to have the ability to install over serial console, not a default selection for most. The cost of them is actually fairly high, it's pretty easy to spend $5K on one of these. And once the install is done you usually need to go in and configure the system to do the right thing with the serial console (setting up gettys, changing the kernel parameters to show boot progress, changing grub to access the console).

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Depending on the number of servers that you'd want to upgrade you could consider a KVM-over-IP solution which may not be a full replacement as things like ISO remote-mounts aren't possible. Or buy an add-on out-of-band management card. Haven't seen a a lot of them.

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