Saving time, and saving soles...

Whether you wear sports shoes, cowboy boots, or birkenstocks, the life of your shoe's soles are determined partly by how much walking you do in them. I'm a big fan of recreational walking, but I'd like to minimize the running around I need to do at the shop.

In the event of an emergency, getting on a serial console saves me from pushing a cart around, waiting for elevators, carrying a laptop around (and all the extra adapters, cables and power packs), just so I can get on the console of various devices, just so I can check configurations.

Yes, if the network is working, I can check a lot of the configurations across the network. But, sometimes interfaces die. Sometimes a typographic error will change an interface or network setting. Sometimes a cable gets unplugged accidentally. That's when your normal access breaks, and leaves you scrambling. Unless you have a console management network in place, and some strategicly placed console servers. (Better still, you should have something logging all of those remote consoles, but that's a topic for another post.)

Today I watched a friend cutting over to a new network over the holidays. Progress was being made, but it was slower than planned, and the days are starting to run out. He had developers from the new network gear vendor helping to debug the lack of interaction. While they all had their laptops, I watched as they wheeled a cart around the buildings, and up and down elevators, trying to check configurations because the network wasn't yet stable.

What was missing was a stable, simple console server deployment, with 8-16 ports in each of the main and intermediate frame rooms (MDF and IDFs). There was already fiber between the rooms. The console net could have been simple, stable, and independent of the main network. And it would have allowed them to be logged into many consoles at one time. They could have been watching errors and events on many devices as they tried tuning various settings.

Sure, this costs a bit of money to set up. But the price per port is low for simple, reliable gear. Consider the time for a couple contractors, and three developers, working over the holidays, trying to debug a problem. (I guess if your doing that work as an hourly worker, it's not so bad...but if you're the person in finance trying to close out the end-of-year books, and the network is being flaky, I imagine that your perspective about how soon the network should be stable would be different.)

I've written elsewhere about my portable Emergency Kit (a small hub, console server, adapters, cables, and canned telnet configurations to the console server). Today, I'm trying to lobby for you to consider a simple configuration, to support your current devices, with a bit of room to grow. Hopefully, you may find yourself trying to add more gear in preparation for a cutover, adding extra devices in every wiring closet, and you'll save yourself time and steps if you have some extra ports ready in each location.

Remote offices/sites deserve this consideration as well. I know many places that install a modem on the core router at their remote sites. But, what happens when the router relies on a TACACS or RADIUS server at that location, and the problem is not the router? You can dial in, get a prompt, but you can't authenticate, so you can't get into the router, or the authentication server. If you had a small console server there, and the modem allowed you into the console server, you would have a better chance of getting the access you need. (Even if you only see errors, you'd understand how to resolve the problems later...maybe the authentication server is trying to log your attempt by resolving to a DNS host that it cannot reach (since the network to the main office is down)? You know you need a DNS host in that office, or at least some static entries in the local hosts table for that host.)

Trust me about this...adding console servers isn't going to make you lazy. It WILL save you time, which you can spend doing some of the other tasks on your plate. It is well worth the investment of time and money to set it up.


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