As I noted recently in the IT Numbers blog, more than half of SMBs conduct their business in more than one location. The ability to remotely access lone servers is only going to become more important - especially for companies with fewer IT pros on staff.
It's usually not a big deal to instruct a staffer over the phone to "flip the power switch off and on again" to reboot a hung server at a remote location. Unfortunately, most non IT folks won't be able to do much beyond that, leaving you no choice but to make an on-site visit to perform admin tasks such as checking out the RAID controller, or seeing if the server is inexplicably stuck at the boot screen. Even disregarding the BIOS screen, I have my fair experience of VNC software crashing on me at the remote server end.
I've written before about tools that extend the reach of the server room. In response to one of those blogs, Justine Schneider from Adder contacted me to see if I'd be interested in giving some of their hardware a spin. I said I would and the AdderLink IPEPS (IP Engine Per Server) unit reached me a couple of weeks ago. I finally got around to testing it out.
The IPEPS is interesting in that it's essentially a VNC server squeezed into palm-sized hardware. The appliance is IP-addressable and, though the literature on the Web site mentioned RealVNC, I was able to connect to it via UltraVNC without a glitch.
The IPEPS sports the requisite keyboard-video-mouse connector on one end, which is to be hooked to the server from which remote connectivity is desired. The other end is an Ethernet connection as well as a socket for an external power source. The loaner came without a power adapter, so I presume that it's an optional item. That's no problem since the unit is also bus-powered and lights up once you plug in the keyboard and mouse connectors.
I plugged the KVM cables from the IPEPS to my headless home desktop that serves as my dedicated VMware host. I then connected directly to the IPEPS using a cross cable to my laptop. I noted the default IP address thoughtfully pasted on the IPEPS, and the display of my home desktop appeared seconds later on my UltraVNC client.
Here are some interesting features that I discovered while testing the IPEPS:
- Capability for defining additional accounts
- Option for enabling encryption (AES 128 bit encryption)
- Upgradeable device firmware
- Additional access control which allows you to limit access by IP
- Connectivity via the built-in Java client (via Web browser)
- Capability of specifying a Syslog server for logging
The IPEPS also supports an amazing range of computers, starting from PC, RS/6000, Alpha, SGI computers, Macs, and even Sun. There is also bundled ADDER.NET software, which I didn't try, that allows you to manage multiple IPEPS devices from a single interface.
My overall experience with the Adder IPEPS was a delight. It's a well-engineered and intuitive product. I found it to be rock stable - even after I plugged it into my home network and switched to accessing it via wireless. I don't think many traditional IP-KVM product will work as well over wireless.
The whole package doesn't come cheap though. At a recommended retail price of US$449, it's not for hobbyists. But for those of you who need it, the IPEPS might well be a lifesaver. And yes, it will even allow you to ditch the monitor attached to the server.
Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.