KVM over IP or Sliced Bread?

June 14, 2007

I’m spoiled. Really, really spoiled. I have a test lab full of servers to play with about thirty paces away from my office. Most of them have KVM over IP on a daughtercard. When I need to jam an OS on a server or manage to lock myself out by screwing up a network config, do you think I stand up and take a short walk? Nope. I fire up the KVM/IP and take care of business from my comfy office chair.

Let’s see how old the audience is. Raise your hand if you ever had to yell into a phone telling a datacenter tech what to type.

“'S' as in Sam, 'H' as in Harry, 'O' as in Oscar, 'W' as in Wally, SPACE, 'D' as in David, 'E' as in Edward, 'V' as in Victor, 'I' as in Isabel, 'C' as in Charlie, 'E' as in Edward, ENTER” (extra credit to whoever can name the OS without using a search engine or reading ahead).

For some of you this is a recent event, but there will come a day when our IT generation can regale the youngsters with stories of “When I first started in IT, we didn’t have this fancy KVM stuff you kids have today…”.

KVM over IP isn’t exactly brand new. It has been around for a few years starting with external devices hanging off the back of the server. But it is becoming much more common to find daughtercards from your favorite motherboard manufacturer with this capability. The motherboard suppliers have already added other server control technologies like IPMI and iAMT to the motherboard. I wonder how long until KVM over IP makes the jump from the optional daughtercard to coming standard on the motherboard? I’ll bet we’ll see it before you can spell VMS.

-@nday91

Comments

June 15th, 2007 at 12:02am

First off, Nathan, I love the reference to VMS. No, I really do. I felt like I was in the 1980s for a minute there.

Unfortunately, my attempts with communication with datacenter staff has been more successful than what you describe. When I'm inside a datacenter, screaming becomes a natural thing.

I really love the integrated KVM over IP technology and I really like the fact that SoftLayer has this (or either remote console) implemented into every server. It's simple and cheap things like these that make all the difference. I hate datacenters which make people rent a KVM over IP device for a period of X hours.

In fact, I'd like to share a story with everyone. I had recently ordered a server in Seattle for some more localized service for my customers. The datacenter's servers were pathetic. These guys shamelessly posted the exact hardware specs of the machine on the control panel. The machine contained a cheap unknown brand motherboard which could be found on NewEgg's special deals page. Apart from this, they give absolutely no control of the server to the customer apart from SSH and whatever software you can run yourself. No power port control, no IPMI, no KVM and even no remote console. I had the server's SSH daemon hang on me once. I had to request a manual reboot by hand to log back into my server. I'm happy that I cancelled the server within two months.

You're spoiled, Nathan. I wish that I had access to my servers within walking distance. Luckily, the local datacenter is only a ten minute drive away and SoftLayer is simply a ticket away.

I would really wish that manufacturers would implement these features standard on the board. These KVM modules for Supermicro boards cost around $70, but I'm betting that it costs them only a few dollars to manufacture these chips.

I'm happy that I can thank SoftLayer for being a datacenter which has a foot in the future and is proud to give customers what they want. You guys don't hesitate to spend an extra few hundred dollars per server box to avoid headaches. And I still can't stop thinking about the genius of having two networks. I'm happy that it's not a proprietary thing, as two networks is exactly what I'm planning in my future installations and my home network.

Keep up the great work Nathan!
Sincerely,
Paulius

June 16th, 2007 at 12:22am

One thing I noticed about IPMI is the fact that it always reports my server's temps wrong. I know you keep the datacenter cold, but surely not below freezing. :)

I really like the idea of KVM over IP. I recently decided to try out IPMI on my server, and was saddened to see that it doesn't support KVM over IP.

But what really interests me is the "Virtual Media" feature. I'm taking a wild guess that it lets you mount filesystems or disk images over the IPMI card as a virtual drive? If so, it would have definately been useful for me in the past.

Several times previously the server host I'm with didn't copy the i386 directory off the cd on Windows servers, which made it hard installing extra options on the server. I had to figure out which files it needed and upload them to the server individually as setup asked for them. Sending the entire CD was a bit too much for my 256 Kb uplink. Needless to say it took much of my time then it should have.

Virtual Media, if it works how I understand it, would have made it so much easier. [As would have simply setting up a network share off my pc over vpn, now that I think about it.]

But what would be the real killer is using virtual media for OS installs. Don't like the OSes softlayer provides? Install your own! No need to send a CD to the datacenter, guide techs through the install, etc.

It's too bad my server doesn't seem to support either. I'd really want to test them out.

Anyways, awesome stuff. Keep it up!

June 18th, 2007 at 1:34pm

IPMI can certainly report odd information sometimes. I've seen that here and at other places.

I'll pass this onto someone with more IPMI knowledge than myself.

June 18th, 2007 at 5:19pm

Paulius,

1980s for VMS? Now I feel old. Why, it seems like it couldn't have been any earlier than 1991...

We appreciate the positive feedback. We try to put ourselves in our customer's shoes as much as we can and give you the tools we would want to have.

--Nathan

June 18th, 2007 at 5:27pm

micksam7,

There are a couple different things that can cause odd temperature readings. The most common causes can be cured with an IPMI firmware flash. If this bugs you, go ahead an open up a ticket and we'll take a look.

The virtual media works pretty much the way you described it. I've used it locally and even over a DSL line. It isn't quite as good as having a local drive, but it sure beats waiting for Fed-Ex to deliver a CD to the datacenter. You can even use the KVM at the same time as the virtual media. No need to talk a tech through the install, just do it yourself!

Like I said in the post: "spoiled".

--Nathan

June 21st, 2007 at 12:18pm

Also a huge fan of KVM over IP.

I just wish there was a slightly less clunky client, though the new version is loads better then some of the initial ones. To get the connection to survive through reboots you need to increase the timeout, and well, more frames per second would be fantastic.

That said, the existing solution has probably saved softlayer a lot of money from folks playing around with different boot options who don't need to call support.

June 29th, 2007 at 9:17am

When we help our clients look for server providers the availability of KVM over IP is up there with facility and server specifications.

There have been many instances at various server providers where we waited up to 36 hours to get a KVM over IP deployed. In one horrendous case, not at SL, we waited 36 hours for a KVM. We had the server up and running within 15 minutes after getting the login information. The issue: grub needed to be reset.

I've even seen cases where we were told a restore was necessary only later to find out via the KVM that a simple fix was needed.

We have some 40+ servers we manage in a co-location facility in NYC. In 3 years, there have only been 3 emergency trips to the DC. Why? KVM over IP, PXEBoot, and Remote PDU control let us fix nearly anything remotely.

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Comments

June 15th, 2007 at 12:02am

First off, Nathan, I love the reference to VMS. No, I really do. I felt like I was in the 1980s for a minute there.

Unfortunately, my attempts with communication with datacenter staff has been more successful than what you describe. When I'm inside a datacenter, screaming becomes a natural thing.

I really love the integrated KVM over IP technology and I really like the fact that SoftLayer has this (or either remote console) implemented into every server. It's simple and cheap things like these that make all the difference. I hate datacenters which make people rent a KVM over IP device for a period of X hours.

In fact, I'd like to share a story with everyone. I had recently ordered a server in Seattle for some more localized service for my customers. The datacenter's servers were pathetic. These guys shamelessly posted the exact hardware specs of the machine on the control panel. The machine contained a cheap unknown brand motherboard which could be found on NewEgg's special deals page. Apart from this, they give absolutely no control of the server to the customer apart from SSH and whatever software you can run yourself. No power port control, no IPMI, no KVM and even no remote console. I had the server's SSH daemon hang on me once. I had to request a manual reboot by hand to log back into my server. I'm happy that I cancelled the server within two months.

You're spoiled, Nathan. I wish that I had access to my servers within walking distance. Luckily, the local datacenter is only a ten minute drive away and SoftLayer is simply a ticket away.

I would really wish that manufacturers would implement these features standard on the board. These KVM modules for Supermicro boards cost around $70, but I'm betting that it costs them only a few dollars to manufacture these chips.

I'm happy that I can thank SoftLayer for being a datacenter which has a foot in the future and is proud to give customers what they want. You guys don't hesitate to spend an extra few hundred dollars per server box to avoid headaches. And I still can't stop thinking about the genius of having two networks. I'm happy that it's not a proprietary thing, as two networks is exactly what I'm planning in my future installations and my home network.

Keep up the great work Nathan!
Sincerely,
Paulius

June 16th, 2007 at 12:22am

One thing I noticed about IPMI is the fact that it always reports my server's temps wrong. I know you keep the datacenter cold, but surely not below freezing. :)

I really like the idea of KVM over IP. I recently decided to try out IPMI on my server, and was saddened to see that it doesn't support KVM over IP.

But what really interests me is the "Virtual Media" feature. I'm taking a wild guess that it lets you mount filesystems or disk images over the IPMI card as a virtual drive? If so, it would have definately been useful for me in the past.

Several times previously the server host I'm with didn't copy the i386 directory off the cd on Windows servers, which made it hard installing extra options on the server. I had to figure out which files it needed and upload them to the server individually as setup asked for them. Sending the entire CD was a bit too much for my 256 Kb uplink. Needless to say it took much of my time then it should have.

Virtual Media, if it works how I understand it, would have made it so much easier. [As would have simply setting up a network share off my pc over vpn, now that I think about it.]

But what would be the real killer is using virtual media for OS installs. Don't like the OSes softlayer provides? Install your own! No need to send a CD to the datacenter, guide techs through the install, etc.

It's too bad my server doesn't seem to support either. I'd really want to test them out.

Anyways, awesome stuff. Keep it up!

June 18th, 2007 at 1:34pm

IPMI can certainly report odd information sometimes. I've seen that here and at other places.

I'll pass this onto someone with more IPMI knowledge than myself.

June 18th, 2007 at 5:19pm

Paulius,

1980s for VMS? Now I feel old. Why, it seems like it couldn't have been any earlier than 1991...

We appreciate the positive feedback. We try to put ourselves in our customer's shoes as much as we can and give you the tools we would want to have.

--Nathan

June 18th, 2007 at 5:27pm

micksam7,

There are a couple different things that can cause odd temperature readings. The most common causes can be cured with an IPMI firmware flash. If this bugs you, go ahead an open up a ticket and we'll take a look.

The virtual media works pretty much the way you described it. I've used it locally and even over a DSL line. It isn't quite as good as having a local drive, but it sure beats waiting for Fed-Ex to deliver a CD to the datacenter. You can even use the KVM at the same time as the virtual media. No need to talk a tech through the install, just do it yourself!

Like I said in the post: "spoiled".

--Nathan

June 21st, 2007 at 12:18pm

Also a huge fan of KVM over IP.

I just wish there was a slightly less clunky client, though the new version is loads better then some of the initial ones. To get the connection to survive through reboots you need to increase the timeout, and well, more frames per second would be fantastic.

That said, the existing solution has probably saved softlayer a lot of money from folks playing around with different boot options who don't need to call support.

June 29th, 2007 at 9:17am

When we help our clients look for server providers the availability of KVM over IP is up there with facility and server specifications.

There have been many instances at various server providers where we waited up to 36 hours to get a KVM over IP deployed. In one horrendous case, not at SL, we waited 36 hours for a KVM. We had the server up and running within 15 minutes after getting the login information. The issue: grub needed to be reset.

I've even seen cases where we were told a restore was necessary only later to find out via the KVM that a simple fix was needed.

We have some 40+ servers we manage in a co-location facility in NYC. In 3 years, there have only been 3 emergency trips to the DC. Why? KVM over IP, PXEBoot, and Remote PDU control let us fix nearly anything remotely.

Leave a Reply

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