Every network administrator may at some point create or support a mobile collection of equipment for use between sites or at other destinations. Rick Vanover shares some strategies that can be used to manage this type of network.
Having a collection of equipment that can be transported to another datacenter or location can be convenient for a number of reasons. While these collections may not be as sophisticated as Google's datacenters in the ocean concept, network administrators may be presented with challenges with managing mobile networks. This mobile equipment collection may be used for staging resources during an upgrade, consolidation capacity during a merger or acquisition, a traveling demonstration system, or other legitimate business purposes.
This mobile collection of equipment can usually contain a few servers, a back-up mechanism, and a storage system and could be enclosed in a portable rack enclosure with network equipment. From the network perspective, this can be difficult to manage if it is frequently located on different networks, including those of external parties or public facilities such as tradeshows or research sites.
One strategy to address this challenge is to treat this mobile collection of equipment like a mini-datacenter, including a private network that travels with the unit. If a managed network is installed in the portable rack enclosure, standard networking policies can be put in place for the mobile equipment. The immediate issue with this approach is the various mechanisms that the equipment will use to communicate back to the main network, if necessary. To address this, the use of gateway devices that provide site-to-site VPN connections could be used for the mobile equipment.
In this configuration, there would be an additional device that would make the rack function like a remote or branch office. Even if this device were in the internal network, every node in the mobile equipment inventory could maintain static IP addresses and DNS entries if needed. Further, if the mobile equipment were connected at a customer or other third-party facility, the gateway device could provide employees with connectivity back to the main office while they access the local resources. Further, some of the gateway devices can be configured to have connectivity with wireless broadband if no wired network is available.
The other approach is to connect the mobile equipment directly to an unknown network. Many organizations would not permit this type of configuration, leaving few options including not managing this type of connectivity at all. With this approach, each device in the mobile equipment collection would retrieve a DHCP address (if possible) from an unknown network and be frequently reconfigured. Further, connectivity to the main office would not be possible or easy in this configuration. The administrative footprint in this situation becomes high over time for the mobile equipment without the configuration of a gateway device for use at all times.
The mobile equipment collection's network connectivity is a rare occurrence, but treating it like a remote office can be the best way to protect the equipment's network connectivity and keep the ongoing management of the systems behind the mobile private network low effort. What have you done for mobile networks in your organization? Please share your comments below.