Whether in a co-location centre or at a remote site, looking after a server when you aren’t there in person can be a challenge, particularly if you are conscientious and update your servers regularly – updating a Windows server almost always requires reboot, updating a Linux server will require reboot if the kernel has been updated. What happens if the server doesn’t come up after said reboot? This happens more often than might be expected, so I find it desirable to have a way of accessing the server even if the operating system isn’t available. Traditionally this would be provided by a KVM over IP switch, which redirects Keyboard, Video and Mouse input/output via a web server integrated into a box. KVM over IP switches are expensive (the cheapest one I could find at time of print was €250 and doesn’t work well with mice IMO). However, there is an alternative which is elegant and affordable …
Dell have recently started selling all their servers (including entry level) with built in BMCs (Baseboard Management Controllers). This allows console redirection over the network of BIOS and any text screens, which is ideal when you are looking after a Linux server without a GUI installed. Using the BMC you can access any part of the boot up process and therefore fix any boot problems. If you are using a Windows server you are out of luck, go and get a decent operating system!
The basic recipe for this is as follows:-
1. Buy a Dell Poweredge T110 server or above (I purchased one for €461 with 4 GB of RAM)
2. Install Linux operating system of choice (without GUI)
3. Configure BMC network address and console redirection
4. Install a boot loader which supports console redirection (Grub Legacy or Lilo, I went for the latter).
5. Configure console redirection of the operating system.
6. Redirect IPMI traffic to the IP of the BMC.
ipmitool -I lanplus -U "user you set earlier" -P "password you set earlier" -H "public IP of remote site" sol activate