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Right time, right spec: Using IPMI, part 1

IT shops seeking non-proprietary methods for server management should keep an eye on IPMI. The rising popularity of the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) standard has spurred vendors to include it in 30% of the servers shipping today. By late 2004, about 70% of servers will have IPMI. An IPMI update, which will add many new features, is planned for release during the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week. Still, though its star is rising, IPMI is an undiscovered world for most IT shops, said Steve Rokov, director of technical marketing for OSA Technologies, an IPMI software vendor. In this interview, he explains why it's important to consider IPMI in any upcoming server request for proposal (RFP) and summarizes the benefits the standard brings IT staffs.

What are the new features in the upcoming release of IPMI, and how can those features be put to good use?
Due out in early 2004, IPMI 2.0 will add serial console redirection over the LAN, an improved command-line interface, encryption, and more support for modular systems like blades. These new features will enhance management security by supporting well-known and trusted mechanisms, making IPMI easy to implement within current security frameworks. Also, the additional standardized interfaces for console redirection will decrease ongoing support costs.

For example, it will offer a standard way to remotely view the boot or emergency management consoles, irrespective of vendor, to diagnose and repair server-related issues. Finally, with IPMI v2.0 being backward-compatible with IPMI 1.5, it will improve ROI by ensuring that those IPMI 1.5 systems purchased today are fully compatible with 2004 purchases.

Click here to read part two of this interview, which describes how IPMI is deployed and offers examples of IPMI in action in the enterprise.

In general, how can IPMI be used in the enterprise?
IPMI helps the server life cycle by offering 'last mile' management features that IT departments can only find by using a pre-integrated management subsystem like IPMI. Since this management subsystem is autonomous, it is not affected by failures in the main CPU or OS, so a higher level of server availability is achieved. IPMI also allows for seamless cross-platform management, meaning different software vendors that support IPMI can allow for a consistent management view for administrators. Why is it that many IT shops don't know about or use IPMI?

IPMI also allows for seamless cross-platform management, meaning different software vendors that support IPMI can allow for a consistent management view for administrators.

Steve Rokov
Director of technical marketing
Generally, vendors were not promoting IPMI, so IT users were unaware of its benefits. Specifically, for IT shops, up until IPMI 1.0, external access to systems was only available via the serial ports. Without purchasing console servers, it was onerous and expensive to manage. Also, for vendors, many had their own proprietary management systems that required multiple tools to be used in a mixed-vendor network.

That all changed in late 2001, when IPMI 1.5 was released with, among other new things, the ability to manage an IPMI system over the existing LAN connection. This simplified things tremendously. Vendors were also realizing that, by using a standards-based management approach versus a proprietary one, they could do a better job at making more of the standard features available across their entire product line, rather than a few products. What is IPMI's background?
In September 1998, IPMI's promoters -- Intel, Dell, HP and NEC -- released version 1.0 as the first standard platform solution allowing for manageability across any platform. In 2001, IPMI's promoters introduced IPMI version 1.5, which added the ability to communicate with the Baseboard Management Controller (BMC) over the LAN. By mid-2003, more than 150 companies had signed up as adopters of IPMI. In 2004, version 2.0 will be made available. What is IPMI?
IPMI defines how administrators monitor system hardware and sensors, control system components and retrieve logs of important system events to conduct remote management and recovery.

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