Out-of-Band Management Featured ArticleJanuary 16, 2013
Roll Your Own Embedded Management Appliances at Your Own Risk
Step away from the do-it-yourself mentality.
“Unforeseen challenges often arise when bridging the networking world to physical infrastructure,” he noted in a recent blog post comparing DIY embeds and those offered by his company.
First, there’s the issue of having the right boards.
“It’s not that easy to find a system board with all the right interfaces and connectors, DIMMs, flash sockets, cable headers and so forth, all in optimum positions,” he noted.
Even if the right one is found, it is now common to retrofit the boards with the missing interfaces using a USB or other dongle. What a mess already. That’s not even considering the need to find an enclosure with the right connectors in the right locations, or finding the right power supply and making sure there is no RF leaks.
If that is accomplished, however, “the potential for significant pain now begins.” There’s multiple rounds of expensive regulatory compliance testing (EMC (News - Alert), safety, and carrier), and your custom build may not be able to be deployed due to design issues with components that are outside your company’s control.
Further, there’s the selection and tuning of the embedded OS, storage model, additional subsystems, device drivers and applications to create a firmware image, and it needs to be stress-tested.
“The appliance needs to be ultra-reliable for critical installations that must stay operational when core managed devices are down,” he noted. “This is rarely the case with ‘roll-your-own’ appliances which may not be equipped with watchdog circuitry and support firmware. You also need to monitor the currency of the embedded OS for security and other significant patches.”
Don’t mess around with all that. You could, but instead go the professional route and leverage pre-developed solutions such as Opengear’s ACM5000 and ACM5500 appliances.
The ACM5000 and ACM5500 appliances were made as flexible and modular as possible, allowing a wide matrix of interfaces without re-engineering core components, noted Merenda.
“This makes remote site management installations more future-proof,” he wrote.
The appliances are palm-sized, protected by a metal case, and are packed with a wide range of interfaces (Ethernet, 3G/4G, Wi-Fi, RS232/485, USB, and Digital I/O) and powered by a 250MHz ARM9 System on Chip with 32-64MB RAM (News - Alert), 16MB boot flash and 4GB of storage. For $300 each, they save a lot of work.
They can still be customized easily, so going with off-the-shelf components does not mean functionality must be sacrificed. The appliances have a strong core feature set including console management, event and data logging, email/SMS alerting, PDU/UPS management, environmental monitoring, firewall, routing, VPN, etc.
“Running on a stable embedded Linux platform, Opengear regularly releases additional features and patches to keep your product up-to-date and secure,” too, he noted.
So don’t roll your own computer boards when making your embedded applications. Just don’t. Be smart.
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Edited by Stefanie Mosca
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