IPMI & KVM Over IP Hardware
Administering a dedicated server with KVM or IPMI access can be a “must have” for many server administrators. KVM stands for Keyboard, Video and Mouse. “M” came with the invention of the mouse whereas before it was known as KVS; Keyboard and Video Switch. KVM has been available for many years and well before IPMI which stands for Intelligent Platform Management Interface and was developed by Intel Corporation. There are also other vendors who provide their own proprietary remote management hardware and software such as Dell’s DRAC; Dell Remote Access Card which is a controller with its own processor and network connection but is also based on the IPMI system and using Dells software, OpenManage. Other popular manufacturers of this type of out-of-band hardware include IBM and HP.
What KVM over IP and IPMI have in common and their main attraction is the ability to still access a dedicated server even if it has become unresponsive such as failed hardware, power outage, Operating System loading errors etc. This is basically due to IPMI and KVM using an out-of-band management protocol. Without this vital feature it would not be possible to access a server if it was down. Instead of a remote server administrator waiting for an onsite tech at the data center to investigate the reason for the server being down, this can be done more quickly by accessing the server immediately. It is also possible to receive notification via email if there is a problem with a server. IPMI can also be used to monitor server temperature, power, intrusions etc.
Another means of remote server access and management is SSH but the drawback to this is that the server must first be fully booted up into it’s Operating System before SSH can be used. This means that the SSH protocol cannot access BIOS, install an Operating System or perform hardware monitoring. One of the main reasons for using IPMI and KVM over IP is to investigate why a dedicated server is not booting which again, SSH cannot do.
Sometimes a simple remote reboot device works fine for the occasional downtime. Once the server is rebooted the administrator can investigate as to why the server went down by looking at logs. Web based control panels can also perform reboots on a server but this would only be possible if the server is currently running. Web based control panels such as Cpanel can issue restarts via it’s easy to use Graphical User Interface on certain services running on the server such as Apache, MySQL, and even SSH.
The other deciding factor on determining whether an administrator should be using additional hardware or software is cost. Hardware will come at an added cost as opposed to SSH which is included with a free Linux or Unix based Operating System. Microsoft Windows has it’s own remote access; Remote Desktop included with the Windows license.
Usually more knowledgable dedicated server administrators will use IPMI or KVM over IP hardware. Some dedicated server providers will provide all the hardware replacements, hardware tests or troubleshooting that is required depending on the amount of technical support that is being provided. Generally speaking, administrators that would rather not reveal root access to Data Center technicians and prefer to trouble shoot on their own (requiring more experience) will be utilizing IPMI or KVM over IP. Many servers run fine without this added hardware while some Data Centers will offer technical support that covers these incidents should your dedicated server provider offer this level of support. Renting KVM hardware may also be an additional expense that is not in a server administrator’s budget. A cheaper alternative could then be a remote reboot port.