The Need for Out-of-Band Management in today’s System Outages Dominant World

Attributed to: Brendan Walsh, Director of Sales, APAC, Opengear

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In any business, system outages can result from cyberattacks, human error, or any number of environmental conditions. No business can afford an outage, but as an enterprise’s network grows, the more likely they will occur. In today’s IT dependent workforce, outages are costly and may require on site technicians to address an issue at any time. And even firmware updates, configuration changes, and power cycling to correct errors require hands-on help. To be able to remediate outages from anywhere, one will need remote access through a secondary connection. This will provide you always-on access to your network devices.

What causes Network Outages?

Network outages are inevitable and can be caused by a wide range of network elements. Cable interconnects, power supplies, switches, dense compute chassis, storage arrays, and even air conditioning are potential sources of problems. With the rapid evolution of the Indian IT industry amidst the pandemic, network devices are only increasing in complexity, with software stacks that are frequently updated and susceptible to bugs, exploits, and cyberattacks.

One of the most common cause of outages is the vulnerability of the primary network’s last mile. While ISP connectivity has improved over the past few years, one weakness these services can’t overcome is the last mile problem. This refers to is the final segment of the production network that connects your network to ISP. This is the weakest link in connectivity. 

A famous instance of network outage was what happened with Google Cloud in June 2019. The company’s projects running services in multiple US regions experienced elevated packet loss as a result of network congestion for several hours. In analyzing the outage, Google engineers were alerted to the failure two minutes after it began, and rapidly engaged the incident management protocols used for the most significant of production incidents. Debugging the problem was significantly hampered by failure of tools competing over use of the now-congested network, and they lacked a secondary way to address it.

What is the solution?

The need for a secure alternate access path becomes necessary in case of a network outage and the ultimate solution to these outages is the use of both ‘In and Out of Band Management.’ A company has a production ISP connection for network traffic including VPN, web, email, cloud apps, and lots more. Often there is only one major network pipe, (T1, cable, SD-WAN, or MPLS), that routes this traffic to the internet. Management information flows through the same interfaces as user data. When management and data share this same plane, one ends up using the data plane to access their network equipment. This is known as In-Band management. To manage equipment using an In-Band network, both data and control commands are traveling across the same network route, so the management plane has the same security vulnerabilities as the data plane. And one may find themselves locked out of the management plane because of the outage.

Alternatively, the management traffic can be run via a stand-alone network which only handles management traffic. This is Out-of-band Management (OOB). OOB gives an alternate way to securely connect to the remote equipment such as routers, switches, and servers through the management plane, without directly accessing the device’s production IP address in the data plane and independent of the primary ISP connection the company uses.

For companies with remote offices, Out-of-Band is a no brainer. Instead of having to send a network technician to the site, troubleshooting and administration of the equipment can be done anywhere, anytime, through a centralized management system. Keep in mind that the LTE bandwidth used to perform administrative tasks is minimal. They should also consider using centralized management software that, behind the scenes, still doesn’t use excessive bandwidth, keeping the LTE charges low.

Out-of-band management eliminates the need for truck rolls and network engineers visiting data centers, branches, kiosks and dispersed offices. One can remotely upload configurations and OS images, simplify backup and restore functions, power cycle routers to reset equipment, and reduce break-fix times. OOB is a huge time and productivity boost for a company. And for customers, Out-of-Band management can mean the difference between smooth operations and catastrophic failures. If customers can’t access one’s business, basic trust and loyalty suffer and they don’t get high customer churn.

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