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Three interface options for remote server monitoring, management

Remote server management interfaces, such as IPMI, iDRAC and iLO, give data center admins a central location to monitor fan speeds, power supply status, temperature and more.

Remote server monitoring and management isn't just a fancy option for large corporations. It's a minimum standard...

for almost any modern server, allowing administrators to remotely check, configure or reset systems located in closets down the hall -- or in data centers miles away.

A common server management interface also makes life easier for data center admins, reducing the number of tools they need to use. Several major out-of-band server management interfaces are established in data centers, such as IPMI, iDRAC and iLO.

IPMI

Released in September 1998, the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) has grown into the foundation of modern server management. IPMI provides the basic hardware interface and specification, creating a dedicated channel for server monitoring and management that admins can use independently of the system's processor, firmware and operating system. Over 200 vendors support IPMI, and the interface is used in server offerings from vendors, including Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Dell and Cisco.

IPMI is tailored for remote server monitoring and management in heterogeneous environments, exchanging Simple Network Management Protocol messages across a network. A dedicated, out-of-band network link and a sideband network link that uses the motherboard's network interface facilitate remote access. This allows IPMI to function before an operating system boots, after an operating system fails and when the system is powered down -- though, it must be plugged in and connected to a management network.

IDRAC8 builds on IPMI, so it supports basic IPMI functionality -- including temperature, fan and voltage monitoring -- and interfaces, such as IPMI over LAN.

IPMI provides an array of practical, hardware-level information about a system, including fan speeds, voltage levels, temperatures, power-supply status and chassis integrity. IPMI can also gather system inventory data for field-replaceable units and summarize logs to locate potential problems, such as low voltage. It can also issue system commands, such as power down and reboot. IPMI is typically a feature in new servers, and no additional hardware or software is needed to support it.

iDRAC

The Dell Remote Access Controller (DRAC) is an out-of-band management platform and set of software tools found in Dell servers. Earlier DRAC platforms were installed as an expansion card, but current models use an integrated DRAC (iDRAC) included on the system board. The latest release, iDRAC8, serves in Dell's 13th generation PowerEdge servers, such as the R330.

IDRAC8 builds on IPMI, so it supports basic IPMI functionality -- including temperature, fan and voltage monitoring -- and interfaces, such as IPMI over LAN. But it's the advanced functionality and integration options -- especially for remote server monitoring and management -- that set iDRAC apart from the underlying IPMI.

For example, iDRAC8 with Lifecycle Controller provides system inventory and health monitoring, memory information and CPU status, including automatic processor throttling and predictive failure monitoring. IDRAC8 can also assist with server deployment tasks, such as auto discovery, scriptable XML-based system configuration and remote storage device configuration. IDRAC8 helps with license management and firmware updates and can support troubleshooting tasks, such as power cycling. The iDRAC interface also uses stronger security than common IPMI management.

Admins perform these remote server monitoring and management tasks through a web browser or command-line interface, and can also integrate iDRAC with tools such as Dell OpenManage. OpenManage can use plug-ins to connect to other vendors' management tools, such as Oracle Database Manager, HPE Operations Manager, IBM Tivoli Netcool /OMNIbus, and CA Network and Systems Management.

iLO

Integrated Lights-Out (iLO) is HPE's out-of-band systems management platform in ProLiant servers. ILO first appeared in ProLiant G2, G3 and G4 servers; iLO 4, the current iteration, is now embedded in ProLiant Gen8 and Gen9 servers, such as the HPE ProLiant DL580 Gen9 Server.

ILO also builds on underlying IPMI technology, using an embedded management processor to support remote system setup and configuration, health monitoring, and power and temperature monitoring. But iLO incorporates additional features that enhance remote server monitoring and administration for HPE products.

For example, iLO 4 offers features such as agentless management, an improved health system, virtual power buttons to cycle system power and XML-based scripting through the Remote Insight Board Command Language.

Other advanced features include API access, preboot and advanced health checks for better diagnostics, iLO Federation Discovery and Management that supports groups of ProLiant Gen8 and Gen9 servers, and collaboration through an integrated remote console that supports console recording and playback. Not all features are available on all iLO versions.

ILO 4 integrates with management software, such as HPE OneView and Insight Control, to deliver advanced functions. For example, HPE OneView software brings HPE ConvergedSystem, HPE BladeSystem, HPE ProLiant servers and HPE 3PAR StoreServ storage systems into a single server management interface. This allows administrators to pool and allocate resources and automate tasks, such as configuration changes or software updates.

IPMI provides the hardware foundation for remote server monitoring and management, and system vendors have built on that foundation to provide additional management features and functionality. Dell iDRAC and HPE iLO are just two common examples, but there are other extensions of IPMI, such as IBM's Integrated Management Module, Intel's Remote Management Module 2 and Oracle's Integrated Lights Out Manager.

Next Steps

What are the limitations of remote server management tools?

Choose the right server management system for the data center

Explore free options for Windows Server monitoring

This was last published in July 2016

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