Presenter number two at Network Field Day 4 was Opengear. This was a company that I hadn’t heard much about. A cursory glance at their website reveals that they make console servers among other interesting management devices. Further searching turned up a post by Jeremy Stretch over at Packetlife about using one of the devices as the core of his free community lab. If it’s good enough for Stretch, it’s good enough to pique my interest.
As you can see from the short opening, Opengear is dedicated to making network infrastructure management equipment like console servers as well as PDU management and environmental sensors. Most interesting to me was the ACM5004-G unit the delegates received, which is a 4-port model with a 3G radio uplink. They also make much more dense devices like the one in Stretch’s lab for those that are wanting something with a few more ports. Most of the people I know that are looking at something like this for the CCIE lab use an old 2511 router with octal cables. Those are fairly cheap on eBay but you are taking a risk with the hardware finally wearing out and being out of warranty. As well, there are a ton of features that you can configure in the Opengear software (we’ll get to that in a minute.
Up next…is a caution for Opengear and other would-be Tech Field Day presenters. Yes, I understand you are proud of your customer base and want to tell the world about all the cool people that use your product. That being said, a single slide crammed full of logos, which I affectionately call “The NASCAR Slide” may be a better idea that slide after slide of each company broken down by industry vertical. You have to think to yourself that filling 8-10 slides of your deck with other people’s logos is not only wasting time and space, but not doing a very good job of telling us what your product does. All of the companies on that list probably use toilet paper as well, but we don’t see that on your slides. Better to focus on your product.
Okay, now for awesome time. Opengear’s management software has a bunch of bells and whistles to suit your fancy. You can configure all manner things like multiple authentication methods for your users to prevent them from accessing consoles they aren’t supposed to see. As the underpinnings of the whole Opengear system run on Linux, it’s no surprise that their monitoring software is built on top of Nagios. This allows you to use their VCMS product to manage multiple disparate units. Think about that. You’re using the Opengear boxes to manage your equipment. Now you can use their software to manage your Opengear boxes. Those units can also be configured to “call home” over secured VPNs to ensure that your traffic isn’t flying across the Internet unencrypted. VCMS can also use vendor-neutral commands to manage connected UPSes. I can’t tell you the number of times having a device that could power cycle a UPS or PDU would have saved my bacon or prevented a trip across the state. The VCMS can even script responses to events, such as triggering a power cycle if the system is hung or stops responding.
Next up is a demo of the software. Worth a look if your interested in the gory details of the interface:
We finished off the day with a talk about some of the new and interesting things that Opengear is doing with their devices. I think the story about configuring them to use a webcam to take pictures of people opening roadside boxes then upload the pictures to an FTP server running on the Opengear box that then sends the picture over 3G back to central location was the most interesting. Of course, everyone immediately seized on the salmon farm as the strangest use case. It’s clear that Opengear has a great solution that is only really limited by your imagination.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve needed a console server. Just that functionality alone would save me a lot of pain in some remote deployments I’ve had. Opengear seems to have taken this idea and ran with it by adding on some great additional functionality, whether it be cellular uplinks or software controls for all manner of third party UPSes. I think the fact that you can do so much with their boxes with a little imagination and some elbow grease means that we’re going to be hearing stories like the fish farm for a while to come.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Opengear was a sponsor of Network Field Day 4. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 4. In addition, Opengear provided me with an ACM5004-G console server and a polo shirt. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.