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Having to manage a couple of remote dedicated servers, working with network related stuff can be quite stressful.

Is there any possible way I could connect to those boxes (possibly via third box) and not have to depend on their networking configuration at all?

Something like "xm console", but not xen related? Hope my question is clear enough to answer.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

If your server has a serial port you can connect through it easily enough. Let us assume the simplest case; 1 server and a cart pc or laptop. Add an entry to your /etc/inittab file similar to:

s0:12345:respawn:/sbin/agetty 19200 ttyS0 vt100

That will tell the server to listen on ttyS0, the first serial port, for terminal like behavior. Plug a cable from that port on the server to your laptop/cart. Using a program such as minicom or the right options on screen connect to your local serial port. Assuming you properly configured the speeds you should drop straight into a login prompt on your server.

For the more complicated case, many different servers, you can centralize the same basic approach. Instead of a mobile cart or laptop, setup a specialized server that will be directly connected to all of your various devices. This can be done with a boatload of serial ports, or something like a Digi console server. From this console server you can then gain out-of-band access to any of your connected systems. I would check out applications like Conserver when working in bulk.

I would recommend, at least, configuring the serial port on these systems even if you don't plan on using an enterprise wide management system. You can't always trust that a box will have video, and at least with the serial port enabled you can work on a system that may not completely boot.

EDIT: After sleeping on it I realized this method will not work for virtual machines. Best case, using a serial connection you could drop into a shell on the VM host, but not any of the guests. We leave this problem as an exercise for the reader.

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Yeah, a serial connection is the way to meet the question's requirements. USRobotics (and I'm sure others) still make high-speed modems, so you should be able to get a decent speed for the terminal. –  Ward Jul 3 '09 at 3:25
    
Also handy for embedded Linux systems without a traditional video output. –  jldugger Jul 3 '09 at 4:28
    
Serial consoles may 'meet the questions "requirements"' but not actually solve the problem. Serial consoles have gone the way of the dodo in modern data centers. –  jtimberman Jul 3 '09 at 4:51
    
@jtimberman: [citation needed] –  womble Jul 3 '09 at 8:56
    
Not to be combative, but I have yet to see a rackmount system, with the possible exception of blade chassis, that do not have a serial port. Or in the case of networking equipment a console port that is just serial with a different pin-out. –  Scott Pack Jul 3 '09 at 13:06

Many server hardware vendors offer some kind of remote console, like IBM's RSA (System x) or Dell's DRAC (PowerEdge) and HP's iLO. This will still be over the network, and a good practice is to put that on a management VLAN that you otherwise don't mess with.

Newer server models might not actually have a serial port available to connect a serial console to (remote or otherwise), but there are USB adapters available.

And this is why data center hosting facilities have "hands and eyes" support :-).

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3  
HP has "iLO". It's all based around IPMI. –  freiheit Jul 3 '09 at 2:55
    
Isn't IBMs acronym for this technology RSA? (Remote supervisor adapter) –  Izzy Jul 3 '09 at 3:41

Google for an IP KVM or KVM over IP. (KVM = Keyboard, Mouse, Video)

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KVM over IP is a really great solution. It is actually a box that plugs in like a keyboard, mouse and monitor (with USB or PS2 and VGA cables), then the other side is plugged into the network and you can log into it remotely to work on a machine. A CoLo facility I use has them and they are fantastic. The problem is that they are a bit expensive, and as far as I know can only be hooked up to one computer at a time, so you still need someone on site to plug it in. –  Catherine MacInnes Jul 3 '09 at 2:50

I'll throw my support in for "IP KVM's". I use the Dell 2161DS KVM (see http://www.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/power/en/ps3q02_avocent?c=us&l=en&cs=04 ) at a couple of Customer sites and really like it (though the java client sucks... I wonder if anybody has done one of these w/ the RFB/VNC protocol as the output). This particular switch is nice because you can cascade addt'l modules off of it to control more servers. One Customer has about 80 servers spread over 2 of these switches, and physically walking into the data center was almost never necessary.

One thing you should think about in addition to such a beast is remotely controllable power. It can be in a UPS, or it can be a freestanding remote power switch (see http://www.blackbox.com/Store/Detail.aspx/Elite-Managed-Power-Controller-Horizontal-120-VAC-16-Outlet/PSH16-D20-120V for an example), but you're going to find yourself in some situation with PC servers where, inevitably, you need to power-cycle the box.

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Yep, what you want (I think) is a serial console server. A quick google throws up plenty of results as to how to achieve this.

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Using serial port extenders like this one is a really easy way to communicate to devices with a console. You can use telnet into the device and you are connected on the serial side. They are really easy to install and configure.

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