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Low-Bandwidth, Truly Remote Management?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the going-old-school dept.

Wireless Networking 215

kaiser423 writes "I'm looking to integrate some highly critical solutions into what would essentially be a remote, moving datacenter. No operators will be allowed at the site, and we may be able to have a high-speed INMARSAT data link. As a backup, we're planning to have multiple redundant low-speed Iridium data links. Essentially, we're looking to be able to power up/down and reboot some computers, and be able to start/stop some programs. We're willing to write the terminal interfaces necessary for our programs, and possibly do the remote desktop thing with some of our 3rd-party programs. But what is out there that would give us this type of access, work robustly over a high-latency, low-bandwidth stream, and would be tolerant to intermittent network outages? Please hold the pick 2 of the 3 jokes, I know they're contradictory goals; I'm looking for a compromise here! These boxes would regrettably nearly all be running Windows (with some VxWorks). Does anyone out there remember those days, and have any solutions that they preferred?" Read on for a few more details of this reader's requirements.
We've been looking at remote in-band and out-of-band management solutions, and really have found a ton of products. However, the "low-bandwidth" solutions still exceed our potential Iridium bandwidth (~10Kbps). Even if we have the INMARSAT link (192Kbps sustained, higher burst), a number of these solutions would hit that limit. We're starting to look at going old-school with some terminal-style applications, but haven't found much of a market for it; it seems to be a market that died with 56k modems. PC Weasel looks kind of like it might work, but the demo doesn't work for Windows.

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215 comments

IPMI + DRAC or similar? (3, Insightful)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632583)

you can do an aweful lot with IPMI, i.e. power cycle, and a remote access card that supports ssh can do the rest, alternatively a TTY terminal and pipe your consoles to serial ports

oh, windows? nevermind

The ONLY Correct Answer (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632653)

It's no joke. Embedded remote access cards like iLO from HP or DRAC from Dell are the only real solutions.

It would be painful to use their console viewing features over a low speed satellite link but, it would be no problem to power cycle, collect statistics and more. You can even forgo the web interfaces and use ssh on many of them.

Re:The ONLY Correct Answer (3, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633073)

Agreed.

I remotely manage 50+ ProLiant servers this way, mostly via SSH to the iLO. Unfortunately since you want/need to run Windows on them you'll have to go graphic mode (via web interface and a Java app) to the OS. (I manage Linux servers so I can do it all via CLI.) You can even do remote installs via virtual media that mounts your local CD/DVD drive (or ISO image) on the remote, although that'd be painful at your speeds.

Re:Windows Command Line Interface (1)

killmenow (184444) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633307)

While I would never suggest windows offers the same features and flexibility as a Unix/Linux/BSD command shell, with some work, there is no reason a Windows server cannot be administered via a command line SSH session.

Re:IPMI + DRAC or similar? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633577)

Windows 2003 server actually has serial console.

Just do
BOOTCFG /EMS ON /PORT COM1 /BAUD 19200 /ID 1
and reboot:
shutdown /r /t 0

RDP (5, Informative)

Malc (1751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632613)

There's a surprising amount you can do from the command line within Windows these days. For UI access, RDP beats the common alternatives hands down, even if you log in just to use a command prompt remotely and thus have console state stored between sessions if the connection goes down. Have you actually tried this?

I wonder if anybody can put some numbers on the latency and bandwidth? I spent four months in China maintaining Windows servers in California via RDP. With latency often around 600-750ms and packet loss, it was painful but still usable. I was even contending with nested RDP sessions (RDP over the VPN to a machine in an office in CA, and then RDPed from there to a colocation facility).

Re:RDP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632891)

RDP ran *good enough* over my ~56kbps dialup I had a few years ago. It generally connected at 48kbps, sometimes lower than that. It was mostly unusable below 36kbps though, unless you have lots of patience.

Re:RDP (1)

initdeep (1073290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633639)

i use RDP every day to manage and work on servers in a datacenter.

and the ISP that supplies my bandwidth at my office is terrible and will usually have between 200 and 900ms ping times at various times throughout the day.

RDP works, sort of, in that it halts, waits for the information, and then tries to catch up.

Most of the time it's successful, but sometimes it does do some weird things.

and the remote access cards or remotely controlled PDU's would be a good addition to RDP.

Linux would be better for this, but.... (0, Offtopic)

fwittekind (186517) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632633)

If you would be willing to reconsider your choice of OS, you might be able to get what you need very easily. Nearly everything on a Linux server can be managed via a SSH connection.

If Windows is a must, you might still be able to get the advantage of the unix terminal interface via CygWin, and manage the servers via SSH.

Re:Linux would be better for this, but.... (2, Insightful)

mpapet (761907) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632903)

I wouldn't fight the jokers defending ridiculous specs like low-latency low-bandwidth remote windows implementations. Use telnet, only call it secur-link 2008 in the specs. The joke is right back at them.

There are plenty of commercial ssh implementations for windows.

Re:Linux would be better for this, but.... (2, Interesting)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633013)

Why would people do this when powershell is available for Windows servers and has all the same advantages and then some? Why not use the software that is already there, it's low bandwidth and you can do whatever you need to from it. Of course you'll want SSH as your interface to it as VPNs would be too bandwidth intensive to maintain.

Re:Linux would be better for this, but.... (1, Flamebait)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633365)

Because windows is an insecure POS that's still only attempting to catch up with unix now (vista), and still failing at it?

Re:Linux would be better for this, but.... (1)

initdeep (1073290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633659)

ah yes, the rational explanation.

of course!

Everyone will bow to your wisdom now....

or not.

What he is trying to say is ... (0)

vigmeister (1112659) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633087)

If Windows is a must, you might still be able to get the advantage of the unix terminal interface via CygWin, and manage the servers via SSH.

No one ever got TERMINAL for buying Windows

*rimshot*

Cheers!

DTMF (5, Informative)

Ganty (1223066) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632655)

"Essentially, we're looking to be able to power up/down and reboot some computers, and be able to start/stop some programs."

Dial in using the telephone system and use a sequence of DTMF tones on your telephone keypad to carry out a task. This will be low bandwidth (about 2,700 Hz) and low cost.

Ganty

Sat DTMF (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632839)

Right idea but if he's using sat links? Then that tells me that phone lines may not be an option. Now shortwave or some other form of wireless however...

Now for the OP I'd recommend asking himself what exactly needs to go over the link and what can stay local? Power up/down and reboot can stay local. Service start/stop? That depends.

Re:Sat DTMF (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633097)

Right idea but if he's using sat links? Then that tells me that phone lines may not be an option. Now shortwave or some other form of wireless however...

Now for the OP I'd recommend asking himself what exactly needs to go over the link and what can stay local? Power up/down and reboot can stay local. Service start/stop? That depends.

His low-bandwidth link is Iridium - i.e., satphone. I'm sure with one of those things a regular voice call works. BTW, last time I checked, the datathroughput of Iridium was around 9600bps or so. There is a higher-speed packet option, I believe, but I don't have any details on that.

To which, DTMF works very well, and can be used to kick-boot a Linux machine that's connected via serial port into answering the data call. Maybe you can do it such that if the phone rings without anyone picking it up for 5 rings, reboot the linux machine and try again to have it pick up the phone and establish a dialup link with serial command prompt. That Linux machine can then gateway into the management functions of the other machines...

Re:Sat DTMF (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633415)

Better to use Iridium's data service, where you could use data packets to send commands, versus their phone service, where you have to wait for coverage (which can be spotty at some points) to execute commands.

Re:DTMF (1)

TVmisGuided (151197) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632857)

It's an option, yes, but likely not a viable one unless the admins are looking at the very simplest of tasks, e.g. warm-booting servers.

Here's a question that might prove relevant. How does NASA handle very similar requirements for their interplanetary missions? This might be a good time to open some dialog with the good people at Goddard or JPL and see what sort of ideas they might have.

Re:DTMF (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633323)

I'd bet they make extensive use of micro-controllers and custom firmware, not exactly applicable to this situation. There's plenty of options given control of the hardware that hooks up to the sat-phone, and the software installed there in, but significantly less when you're on a tight budget, lacking in the programming talent needed to write customized micro-controller code, and forced to support specific vendor supplied applications that only run under a particular version of Windows. What he's really looking for is an "off the shelf" solution, so anything requiring customized software or hardware is pretty much right out.

Critical solutions on Windows? (-1, Redundant)

Stephan Schulz (948) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632659)

Sorry, but "highly critical solutions" and "Windows" does not really go together. If you go to Unix, run headless and ssh in. Or write some simple message-oriented control programs if the connection is not fast enough for proper TCP. "/etc/init.d essentialservice restart" does not require much coding.

Re:Critical solutions on Windows? (1)

Zaatxe (939368) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633349)

Sorry, but "highly critical solutions" and "Windows" does not really go together.

You don't seem to be heard of "Project Managers" in all their variety...

Re:Critical solutions on Windows? (1)

mnslinky (1105103) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633395)

Why must everyone bash windows? There are good uses for it, and it's not going to go away. Linux is NOT the answer to everything. I'm not a huge fan, and chose not to use it where I don't have to, but come on. There are a lot of quality applications available for Windows, and like it or not, Microsoft has been getting their act together when it comes to Windows Server.

If only they had better command line support, on the level of *nix OSes.

TerraTerm (1)

NervousWreck (1399445) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632667)

The main name in terminal emulator programs if I understand what you're saying (only had time to skim, sorry) is TerraTerm or VersaTerm, one UNIX one Windows. I don't think they died with 56k modems. I would be really interested in any progress you make in this.

RS-232 Serial Port (4, Informative)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632677)

Good ol' RS-232 let's you do a lot. Run one very low power board that can sit there listening to RS-232 input and act on commands. It can then toggle the power of other equipment plus route messages from them however you choose.

nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632683)

You will need to develop your own hardware to power on and off the devices. Just make a little embedded device who's only job is to stop/start the machines. Make all of the machines wol and use that to start them. Just cut the power when you want to shut things off in case of unresponsive systems. Everything else is straight forward.

remote power management? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632707)

how about some of the remote power management hardware that offers telnet/ssh admin access?

Not many options (5, Informative)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632717)

Tivoli Management Framework had configurations designed to work with satellite links as slow as 16k. That solution was for monitoring and configuration management though -- not what you want.

Your big problem here is your expectations. Remote Desktop over a slow-speed, high latency link just isn't viable. Anyone paying the megabucks required to support a field-deployed solution will not be happy with the crappy service you'll ultimately provide.

You need to extensively model how your application works and develop appropriate procedures, runbooks for your remote operators and a toolset of programs or script to provide support for this "critical" solution.

Two simple words (5, Informative)

Groo Wanderer (180806) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632719)

Two words will get you far in this situation, Command Line. Low bandwidth, latency tolerant, and generally asynchronous. If you can get any tools with a command line option, embrace them.

GUIs suck, and they suck more over the conditions you describe. Avoid them like the plague. Also, think about mirroring the files you need to manage and editing them locally, then uploading them when you are done. Not always possible, but if it is doable, it can make your life a lot easier.

Scripting is your friend here.

              -Charlie

One simple acronym: "ssh" (1)

Idaho (12907) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633063)

Two words will get you far in this situation, Command Line. Low bandwidth, latency tolerant, and generally asynchronous. If you can get any tools with a command line option, embrace them.

GUIs suck, and they suck more over the conditions you describe. Avoid them like the plague.

Came here to post this.

The article has by now been tagged "ssh", which should be the obvious answer indeed. Even in Windows server editions this is a perfectly fine option these days - you should be able to do mostly anything that matters from the command line.

Re:Two simple words (1)

srollyson (1184197) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633379)

GUIs suck [...snip...] Scripting is your friend here.

If you're using some proprietary something-or-other that has a GUI but no command line interface, you could try wrapping it with a command line GUI test tool. I've done this with Perl and Win32::GuiTest [cpan.org] . I'm sure your language of choice has something similar.

Maybe we need more details? (2, Informative)

dracocat (554744) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632721)

Perhaps I am not understanding what the issue is with using the standard console servers and PDUs out there? All serial access is pretty darn low bandwidth.

http://www.avocent.com/products/serial-consolemanagement.aspx [avocent.com]

http://www.raritan.com/products/serial-console-switches/ [raritan.com]

Plug one of these in, then connect a serial cable to your servers. Many include a modem if you have a pair of copper wires for a phone line so you can keep it out of band.

Re:Maybe we need more details? (1)

faloi (738831) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632827)

Uplogix is another company to look into, they've got some built in hooks to non-TCP/IP power controllers and offer some more monitoring tricks.

Re:Maybe we need more details? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633533)

AH! There it is, I was wondering if someone might bring up Raritan. We were using a product of their's that basically gave out of band screen shots feeds from any one of their newer KVM Switches. Very cool and worked well over various links from dial up to 1Mb Cable Modems. And since it was out of band you REALLY could reboot a machine and watch the entire post if you were troubleshooting some startup issue unlink RDP you can't watch a machine post.
The client you utilize to hit the device serving the extended video had some level of encryption and security built into it, as well as auto-bandwidth sensing which would do cool things like strip off color, backgrounds, and enable differing default resolutions for really packing down what was being sent over the wire. Overall a really sweet solution for our needs. I'd recommend it.

Some possibilities... (2, Interesting)

nweaver (113078) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632723)

a: Remote management cards often have command line interfaces for resetting, system health, etc, through SSH. True, SSH with 800ms RTT times is a pain-in-the-ass, but if scripted, should work fine.

b: Once you can power cycle/machine health remotely, now you use SSH to connect to a command line shell on the system itself (yes, even windows) and do all further tasks from the command line.

Control the power. (2, Insightful)

chazd1 (805324) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632733)

I think it is important that you have all the equipment you can on IP addressable Ethernet Power strips so you can physically cycle the power remotely independent of higher level computer control. Something like this: Power Strip [leunig.de]

There is no substitute for the ability to toggle the most significant bit--for sure.

It sound like this is for Science in Antarctica.

SSH or stunnel? (3, Informative)

mpapet (761907) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632749)

http://www.bitvise.com/winsshd [bitvise.com] It does the job connecting all kinds of platforms/client implementations. It does PKI too.

HP's Compaq line of servers has **excellent** remote admin capabilities.

Push the whole thing over an stunnel and you are good to go.

Implementation is another issue. Publish an email if your budget supports consultants. Errmm. Well, it looks like slashdot is taking the place of a qualified expert, so good luck with that.

A couple of things... (4, Interesting)

maz2331 (1104901) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632757)

You may be able to run RDP across even the low speed links - choose the bare minimum screen resolution and color depth possible. It will still be pretty frustrating and slow, but you could use it with enough patience. Or you can run VNC, though I believe its performance will be less than RDP.

For CLI access, install an SSH server on the Windows box. If your code runs as a service, you can interface to it through a CLI client. It's some development work, but possible.

For power, I like APC's smart power strips. They support HTTP and SSH access.

Whatever solution I used, it would have to be run over an encrypted satellite link.

VNC/RDC/NetOP (4, Informative)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632769)

We use VNC and NetOp with our satellite sites. It works decent. It is slow (maybe 2 minutes) to authenticate with AD when you initially log on (if you log in locally, it is faster), but once you are authenticated, things work pretty good. There is definate latency between when you click the mouse and action happens, but it is definately usable.

As for the iridum setup, you might want to check those speeds again. When we looked into it, they were only able to offer a 2400 baud serial connection over the Iridium system. That is REALLY slow, and with high latency. We decided against going with the backup.

I'm not sure where you are planning on deploying these setups, but maybe a cellular modem would fit your needs more. They are fast, low latency, and comparable in price. The only hitch with them is that there is no SLA; just best effort. If you are out of coverage area, try to hook up a high gain antenna to the cell modem and try again.

I would just use remote desktop tools to manage your servers. VNC especially works quite well with low bandwidth, high latency connections.

One thing to let you know though. Make sure that you have someone that can go to the site and has access to the network equipment. We have almost 20 sites like this, and about 2 go down a month. The sat-modems or sat-controllers sometimes need to be rebooted, and having someone near the site to do that can save you guys A LOT of money. When we have to send out a tech, it costs around $2,000.00 due to driving charges.

Re:VNC/RDC/NetOP (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633449)

It sounds like the intended use is on the ocean (container ship, cruise ship, etc). Cellular service is out of the question than. If it's land based, some sort of EVDO service would work great for them.

Re:VNC/RDC/NetOP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633453)

I'm not sure where you are planning on deploying these setups, but maybe a cellular modem would fit your needs more. ... Make sure that you have someone that can go to the site and has access to the network equipment.

Erm... Read the message? "remote moving datacenter", "INMARSAT", "No Operators On Site".

Put those together and what you have is a data center on a ship or other free floating platform. INMARSAT is specifically for isolated ocean communications, including some very isolated islands. In those conditions, no cellphone is going to work. Satellite links are your only hope.

On the operator side, I'd guess that either:

* It's a very small ship with no room for spare wheels that might only be needed once on the voyage.

* It's not a ship, but a deployed device that has no crew at all.

* There's no money in the budget to cover a spare wheel.

* Or there's some sort of security issue.

You first need to clarify what you're trying to do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632789)

It's kind of unclear whether you want to actually access these machines or run tasks on them (or both). However, Windows supports remote scripting [microsoft.com] and you can install an SSH server for interactive terminal access (or perhaps tunnel the script execution over the SSH connection if you're ultra paranoid).

go for redundancy (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632809)

Apart from whatever control systems you choose - or are forced into, you can improve the odds by having redundant servers.That way, if your data links are too slow, or suffer an outage your primary will fail-over to the redundant system. Of course, you will need to test the possible failure modes first and assure yourself that you've thought of everything, but if the systems really are highly critical you will be willing to spend the time and money to do this.

IP aware KVM (2, Interesting)

RetroGeek (206522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632833)

Get an IP aware KVM.

Using these you are separated from the operating system completely. You can see the machine boot, get into its BIOS, do a power reset (with a compatible power strip).

They have encryption and use a Web interface. Some have a fat client.

And try to run things from a command line as much as possible. Have the machine start a full screen command session upon boot, and hide the task bar. That should minimize the initial screen scrape.

Its the next best thing to being there...

Re:IP aware KVM (1)

Deadplant (212273) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632939)

"Its the next best thing to being there..."

except for when you are on a low-speed link in which case it is the worst possible solution.

Re:IP aware KVM (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633241)

I've connected to mine over a 9600 cellphone DUN link and while it was pretty slow, you could get things done. I wouldn't want it as the ONLY option, but it's worth looking into as a backup.

Re:IP aware KVM (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633005)

+1 on the IP KVM. The one I have uses VNC, and if you have USB cables hooked up & your BIOS supports it, you can actually boot from remote media (ie, point your client to your CD drive, and the KVM emulates the bootable media on the other end). That would be painful over a sat link, but it would be nice to know it was an option if needed. The nice thing is it doesn't mean that you can't have other ways to connect to the individual boxes, it's just another option, which is always good.

Peppercon eRIC boards (2, Informative)

neuroxmurf (314717) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632837)

We've been extremely happy with the eRIC [daxten.com] remote management board from Peppercon for all our lights-out remote-datacenter Windows machines. We use it over landline dialup modem (33.6) but it will work fine over any serial link you can throw at it, as long as you're patient. Full graphical remote console, remote IPMI, remote reboot, remote poweron, indepdent power supply (optional), it's great. They're a little hard to track down in the US, but I believe Raritan distributes them now. They're not cheap, but if you're paying for INMARSAT and Iridium, you don't care.

Your Sinister Plan, Sir? (4, Funny)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632851)

Without knowing what you're trying to accomplish, it's hard to give any real advice. Automated spy van? Unmanned laser plane? Knight Rider style service truck? Continually running train with nuke launcher? There are only so many things you can do with an intelligent roving unmanned platform.

Re:Your Sinister Plan, Sir? (4, Informative)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633309)

He's one of Santa's elves. Santa's trying to get into the 21st century here. He's tired of having to do all this work. He's deploying unmanned present delivery machines. This elf is just freaking now because santa gave him all year to work on it but he spent it drinking cocoa and snorting candycane and now he's got less than a month left before he needs to demo it.

www.baytech.net (1)

commuter676 (991745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632871)

www.baytech.net (".net" not ".com") has remote terminal servers, which include banks of rs232 ports and remotely controlled Power outlets. I think they are what you are looking for. Their terminal servers can either be dialed into, or network accessed, and have secure connections. You have telnet access and control of all terminal server functions, as well as the ability to control through SNMP. http://www.baytech.net/ [baytech.net]

RealWeasel? (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632915)

The folks at RealWeasel [realweasel.com] have a cute little device. Plugs into a PCI slot and emulates a VGA card. It then outputs, over rs-232, a serial console approximation of whatever the system is displaying on the VGA device. Also has watchdog, manual reset, and keyboard functions. Those, plus a bog standard serial terminal server, and you are all set.

Built into Windows? (1)

W2k (540424) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632929)

You may not need to purchase new software at all. I believe the Remote Desktop Protocol [wikipedia.org] (RDP), works reasonably well over slow links, down to modem speeds (<30kbps). According to Wikipedia you would have many times that with INMARSAT and Iridium might at least be fast enough to be tolerable, especially so if you can use multiple links.

The advantages of using RDP are several: it's included with Windows so there are no additional costs (meaning no money is wasted on licenses if you decide it sucks and want to go with something else.) It's been around for a long time so it is reasonably stable and secure, and you get a full remote desktop where you can do most things you would be able to do at a "real" desktop. RDP is also cross-platform; there are clients for plenty of OS besides Windows.

As for a console-based remote management solution, it is apparently possible to use PowerShell [wikipedia.org] over SSH using Cygwin [hivearchive.com] . Microsoft also claims that the next PowerShell version will have remoting built-in. Of course, nobody knows when that'll be released or if it will work well for your needs.

As for power-cycling servers, there is no shortage of rack-mountable power strips that can be controlled via USB or Ethernet. Everything else you mentioned can be done via RDP and/or PowerShell.

Cygwin + ethernet powerstrip (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632935)

as long as the system BIOS is configured to restart when the power goes off, ethernet powerstrip is the way to go for power control.

i see no reason why you can't do everything else you need with Cygwin.

And for the zealots, telling someone who is required to use Windows that they should switch to Unix/Linux/etc is getting to be fucking old news.

you have obviously never worked in a corporate environment.

Highly critical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632937)

Windows? Really?

Use webfolders (1)

Quatermass (579087) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632965)

You don't need remote desktop to start/stop programs, reboot, poweer down in XP. Just have a folder you can dump files into. Webfolders will do this and just needs an Internet link. Then you set up a local script that looks in the folder every 5 mins and runs any .bat file placed in there. You can start, stop, reboot programs in there. Alternatively use psexec by sysinternals to run a remote command. Though this will need a vpn link. I can stop/start USB devices, run/stop programs, reboot, find out what is running on it all 3000miles away. Very easy. I do it over a 56K modem.

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25632969)

Essentially, we're looking to be able to power up/down and reboot some computers, and be able to start/stop some programs.

Absolutely trivial. The "market" may have died with 56K modems, but the tools are still there, in every distribution. But then:

These boxes would regrettably nearly all be running Windows

That is a hell of a punch line. It's one of those things that makes you ask, "if it's so important ('highly critical solutions'? c'mon!!), then how did Windows get snuck into this?"

Integrated Lights-Out Management (1)

eric2hill (33085) | more than 5 years ago | (#25632989)

You want gear with integrated lights-out-management. Any gear that supports SSH and SNMP should be perfectly usable over a shitty connection.

Most (all?) of the Sun servers come with an embedded ILOM [google.com] that supports remote KVM through a web browser with Java as well as SSH. The SSH access gives you full out-of-band power control over the server, and can be used to look at system part numbers, power supply voltages, fan speeds, etc. Additionally you can configure SNMP monitoring/traps through the ILOM no matter what OS is running on the box.

We've used the x2200 M2 [sun.com] , x4200 M2 [sun.com] , and x4540 [sun.com] servers and the ILOM in each of them means I never have to go down to our data center to physically touch a box.

Ironically, some of the HP DL series have integrated out-of-band management called iLO [hp.com] , but they charge an additional few hundred dollars to gain features [hp.com] such as KVM or authentication. I don't like paying extra for features that should just be available out of the box.

The other thing you want is remotely managed online battery power. You want your power to be clean, going through a dual transformer conversion [wikipedia.org] so no matter what kind of crappy power you have at the site, your gear is getting a nice clean voltage. Get something that has a good network-management interface on it. I've used MinuteMan Endeavor [minutemanups.com] , Liebert GXT2 [liebert.com] , and one from APC that was online, but I can't seem to find it now. Each of these supports SNMP and web-based management.

Why? (1)

Andy_R (114137) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633009)

It's really difficult to get a feel for this question without knowing why anyone would want a 'remote moving datacentre' that isn't well connected to anything else. Why can't the computers be sited somewhere less troublesome? Would virtualising the machines to get round the booting/power on/off issues help, or is there some reason that this can;t be done?

Re:Why? (1)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633353)

Unmanned fembot bunny farm in Nevada. It's in the middle of the stinkin' desert so of course it's not very well connected. He needs to be able to reboot the 'bots between clients... don't ask why.

SNMP (1)

hax4bux (209237) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633101)

NetSNMP works even on windows. It is readily extended using shell scripts (to support your frequent reboots).

Of course, SNMP also provides remote monitoring as well.

I hope you have the ability remotely power cycle unresponsive boxes.

Virtual Machines (1)

Bender0x7D1 (536254) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633135)

You could run Windows as a virtual machine on a Linux box and use the command line tools to manage it.

Re:Virtual Machines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633497)

>You could run Windows as a virtual machine on a Linux box and use the command line tools to
>manage it.

You can even bring the entire VM "home", work on it, and replace it completely.

The main issue, remote install.. (1)

bubulubugoth (896803) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633147)

You need windows, ok, then go for windows, virtualized with xen or vmware over Linux.

Your proyect sounds a lot similar to one "not so long ago" proyect I had...

The solution was. Use Linux as virtualization plataform. So, when a reinstall is needed, for some strage reason, you can use a previously saved image. You will waste a little more space, but even that, is an issue. Our solutions also used a stripped down version of windows, so we can fit them in 8 Gb Compact Flash. The Linux image server, had our 8 different windows images via usb ports. Because even with linux and cf, you might get a flash card crash, which is more remotely than a hard disk crash. So everything was redundant, whit equipment and information sources...
So, when we need to reload a windows, we just copied the image to the right server or flash, and everthing was ok.

For administration of the windows machine, we used ssh to access and the console and since we were using xp, we used the pslist.exe and pskill.exe commands.

For hardware, we used via fanless hardware with cf2ide adapters.... Now we could use those new solid state disks...

Right now, I would go the same way.. and I will add it a vpn to a specific site using 3G, or something similar, and I will search for a dialin by celular option...

The solution wasn't even so expensive. Most of the cost is at the server hardware like blades and so on, we solved the lack of powercomputing of the via hardware with multiples hardware. Even there are automotive psu for the via hardware, and we mounted an array of 6 batteries and a little gasoline charger.

So, as an abstract:
linux+xen/vmware+windows xp with pskill/pslist + cywin for ssh + 3g or dialin modem

BTW, we used this setup at the jungle of Mexico, so we got high levels of humidity, lot of heat, lack of proper electric installations... it worked with out serious failure for over 1 year.

Mos failures where at the networking componentes, from cisco switches dying to tripped cables yanked...

At the end, we solved the networking issue using elcheapo 8 ports solid state, no fans networking equipments costing 1/10 of the original Cisco equipment...

Make sure you specify RSA or ILO on the servers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633151)

If you are running truly remotely you'll need to be able to access the base system (power on, console etc) - which can be a real pain.

Make sure you look in to either RSA (IBM) or ILO (HP) cards as part of the server spec. Having a network connection even when the machine needs a hard reboot is worth it's weight in gold.

cygwin + ethernet powerstrip (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633159)

yah mod down probably the best suggestion so far...

Remotely Diagnose and Fix IT Problems (0, Flamebait)

kamran1919 (872201) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633181)

Take a look at www.FreeMyIT, it has a lot of built in tolereance for the environment you are talking about. You can sing up free and try it. FreeMyIT is the practical solution for managing your or your customer's IT from a smartphone or PDA. With over 60 built-in interactive commands, FreeMyIT robots perform real-time, background and scheduled tasks at the push of a button. Restart services, reboot servers, run database commands, custom scripts and much more!

Some hints (1)

pehrs (690959) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633187)

First of all, the majority of what you are looking for is already implemented in hardware if you have a look at commercial grade equipment. We use eLOM systems (SUN is surprisingly good at this) that lets us reboot servers, change settings and start up a simple remote console. HTTP based and very low bandwidth for normal management. SUN servers are not cheap, but they work.

Any sort of graphical interface will be terrible over satelite links, due to the combination of low bandwidth and high latency. As far as possible I would recommend going the CLI route. But I am pretty sure you knew that already.

By using correctly set watchdogs you can avoid most of the "I need to get there and reboot" issues. I have no idea how well watchdogs works under windows, but I assume it's not a major issue.

If you must live on a software only solution consider placing a virtualization layer such as VMware ESX(i) under the operating system to allow you some management once the OS goes to hell. That way you can reinstall the system remotely or store a fallback copy allowing you to boot up a clean OS.

VxWorks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633245)

Typically computers don't "run" VxWorks like they do Windows or UNIXes. Vxworks is an embedded operating system that typically runs on specialized hardware.

True, there is an i386 port of VxWorks but it is meant for embedded architectures built around an x86 architecture (not necessarily a PC-based x86 architecture).

It is very common for devices running VxWorks to have custom remote-management software written in them (i.e. a webserver like WindWeb, Seminole, or GoAhead) or to have a custom CLI type shell sitting on a TCP port somewhere (or the serial console).

If the system must be administrated by people who don't desire a command-line style interface you could always have a local server providing a web-based interface and have it proxy the necessary commands.

Start with the hardware... (2, Informative)

Xibby (232218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633279)

Start with your server hardware. Most Dell servers have a Dell Remote Access Card which allows you to get a full console (including BIOS and power on options) via web page. Performance of the full GUI over a slow link is marginal however. I'm sure other server vendors have similar options.

Also or alternatively, look for BMC controllers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baseboard_management_controller) and IPMI interfaces (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_Platform_Management_Interface).

From there address further needs with RS232, Telnet, SSH, etc. Step up to RDP and VNC for GUI needs.

Forget about a GUI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633283)

As already noted, forget about a GUI at those speeds. Use OpenSSH, like http://sshwindows.sourceforge.net/ or the built-in Windows telnet server .

Google around, there are a few books on managing Windows from the CLI, and Perl has a bunch of WMI modules. I swear there used to be a book on managing Windows via Perl/WMI but last time I looked I couldn't find it. I'd guess that Monad or Powershell or whatever they call it this week might be useful too.

Of course, it's utterly insane to use Windows under these circumstances, it was never designed to be a true server, or to run unattended or headless (consider who brought us the concept of a "preventative reboot!). But you probably already know that and are stuck. Sorry, and good luck--you'll need it...

RDP Will work (1)

Eristone (146133) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633291)

Those of us using RDP (and ICA - but a Citrix installation just to get the ultra-low bandwidth for ICA might be overkill) back in 1998/1999 can tell you that it can work over a 9600 bps connection. Just set it for 16 color. You can also (as other posters have mentioned) do PowerShell for a lot of things. You can stop and start services and restart a Windows box from the command line (net stop [service]/net start [service] and shutdown /r respectively) and depending on the data may be able to transfer it across using ftp with auto-resume or (scary enough) set up a terminal program that supports IP and do a zmodem connection back to your main office to pass files.

HTTP? (1)

renelicious (450403) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633299)

I will probably get yelled at, but the simple answer to me seems to be writing a web app. It was stated that they are willing to write terminal applications, so there is obviously some programming ability present.

So why not write web apps. If you write your HTML well, then you can run it over pretty low bandwidth and all the work can be done by the server. There are still sites that work with 56k modems so it is possible to create low bandwidth sites (although most have stopped bothering).

There isn't a strong definition of what exactly the goal is and some projects don't lend themselves to being web based, but with a little work most things that can be done through the terminal can be done through the web server with far less bandwidth needed.

What is the budget? (1)

Cowmonaut (989226) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633301)

While this is more for clients than anything else, we use Kaseya where I work. Wouldn't be my first choice based on the price tag but it IS pretty nice for Windows based setups.

Allows you to easily create vbscripts and push them. You can do quite a bit with it, including uninstalling and installing applications. Couple that with what you can do from command line windows and you'll almost never have to physically be at the machine (well, at least so long as it is able to check in).

Oh and if you want to see what is going on there there are several ways to remote in to the client PCs, including the capability for it to install VNC and auto connect you, even through firewalls and the like.

Pretty much its great so long as you are on Windows, have access to a web browser, and the machines are checking in. You can also change the port they use to whatever the hell you want and setup a secondary server.

Oh...and it lets you control patching of applications and Windows.

Like I said, expensive. But still pretty damn useful.

More at their site: http://www.kaseya.com/ [kaseya.com]

IPMI and RDC (1)

mnslinky (1105103) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633339)

Although many here are anit-Microsoft folks, I've got to admit Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol is *very* robust over high-latency, low-bandwidth networks. We've had many employees use it over satellite (DirecPC, usually) without any issue at all, when ssh or OpenVPN would fail.

As far as remote reboot, etc, IPMI is your friend. Most modern server hardware includes at least a rudimentary support for it on the baseboard, with more capable optional cards available. One example is that Dell servers have a IPMI-enabled baseboard management controller, and you can buy a Dell Remote Access Card (DRAC) as an add-on. Very powerful and intuitive.

VxWorks (1)

sohp (22984) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633347)

I don't know about Windows machines, but I heard that certain robotic probes [cmu.edu] run VxWorks and are remotely controlled via a low-bandwidth, high-latency connection. Those devices have a lot of programmed autonomy and fail-safe built in. And they don't run Windows.

You could try... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633377)

Soap, perl, VNC, Remote Power Control units, and if necessary a TCP/IP controlled relay; the ADAM-6060 Data Acquisition Module. Look it up.

Asterisk or TelAlert ? (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633381)

Hook your Iridium phone (and/or INMARSAT link if possible) up to a Linux box running Asterisk or TelAlert and use it as a login platform and/or use DTMF (or voice commands).

NoMachine NanoX (1)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633393)

Your use of windows is unfortunate. A company called NoMachine makes a fantastic product called NanoX, which is a caching, compressing proxy server. Your remote system has to be X windows based, but your local system be one of several supported platforms.

This is where X really shines. Where Windows has no alternative to ship you bitmaps over the wire, the X protocol is quite nice at making use of data updates that your client then renders. An old modem link (33kbps) was adequate for most software. As soon as you get past the 56k barrier, it gets very usable.

So if you have a choice, get those things running X windows!!!

If you're going to all this expense to

HP ILO and ILO2 solutions (1)

Tiber (613512) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633401)

HP servers come with ILO and ILO 2 solutions which scratch your itch. Power management is controlled through a web interface via a chipset that stays live so long as the server has power. It's got it's own IP, and it requires a separate network connection from the server. You can power down, power up, hit the power button, press and hold, etc all from a web interface and it has a "virtual status light" thing going on. They also have a remote console, and over my terrible VPN often routed over a cellular modem, it's passable. I wouldn't want to have to make serious reloads of the entire OS off of it, but it works. It also allows you to have "virtual floppies" and "virtual CDs". It all works well in both Windows and Linux. We're a linux shop, so primarily I use it to power cycle linux boxes remotely when our developers do something very very bad.

Be truly innovative (2, Funny)

CdBee (742846) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633409)

Get a very long network cable. Plug one end in at your principle location. Send the other end by mail to your secondary location. Wait for it to arrive

This may take a while as threading the mail system tends to cause kinks that have to be sorted autonomously by remote postman protocol.

When it arrives, plug in and use normal LAN remote control technology. Thanks to XKCD [xkcd.com] for the idea

Scalent, Cassat, Egenera (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633417)

Scalent, Cassat, Egenera all have software products in this space. How many servers, how sophisticated do you want to be? Roll your own or buy a product?

SMTP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633419)

Well if turn-around time isn't a big issue SMTP (e-mail in instructions, e-mail out reports) can actually be used to manage something like this.

Plus lots of SMTP gateways exist for all sorts of mobile network interfaces.

Proprietary VNC server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633473)

Several others suggested VNC as an option.

To deal with your low bandwidth you could implement a simple VNC server that serves a proprietary interface instead of the conventional desktop. Based on interactions with that interface you can have that server initiate the desired actions.

rshell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633521)

maybe Windows Remote Shell would help, not very familiar with it but sounds intriguing http://support.microsoft.com/kb/555966

Am I missing something, or... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633523)

Is SSH not your answer? There are commercial SSH servers for Windows, or there's the free Cygwin. Starting and stopping both Windows and individual programs is easy.

GUIs are a poor choice over a high latency network, protocol optimization (which help mostly the low-bandwidth aspect) or not. So you better give up on that. Command line is the only way to go.

Another poor choice is Windows, which depending on the particular version your using, has limited remote admin capabilities when there is an error during boot.

I'm not sure if I'm missing something, but the problem sounds truly trivial. People have been using dial up for remote administration for years. I routinely do remote admin over GPRS connections, which are just about dialup speeds but with higher latency. Have you actually looked hard enough?

Unix, Unix, Unix (or Linux, Linux, Linux) (1)

bradbury (33372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633535)

What you need is the solution which was popular back in the old days (circa 1974-1980). The minicomputer (DEC PDP-11/45) at the undergraduate science center at Harvard used a DH-11 (16-RS232-lines) to allow a dozen or so terminals and even a few extremely low bandwidth teletypes to connect to the computer running Unix. A similar solution was adopted at Time Inc. in the early 1980's to allow a PDP-11/34 to communicate with all of the far-flung correspondents allowing them to submit stories every week (also running Unix). These types of solutions were quite popular at that time frame.

But PCs which commonly have only 2 serial ports (if that in the USB age), with Windows (which was essentially designed as a "personal" workstation and assumed high bandwidth connections) -- you have me ROTFL.

Better to run Linux, get the hardware which will support the low bandwidth connections, and then use Xen (or equivalents) to provide VM support for windows if that is absolutely necessary. Then, also do the world a favor, take the people providing the windows only software out in the backyard, beat them a little bit, then bury them alive.

iLO + network aware PDU + managed switch (1)

blumpy (84889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633545)

With those 3 items, you should be able to do almost ANYTHING remotely.

Citrix ICA plus Terminal Server (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633569)

Take a look at Citrix's products along with Windows Terminal Server. Their ICA protocol is better than RDP over low bandwidth connections and can handle running even over an old POTS line. Plus they have great management tools to let you do or configure anything about the Terminal Server. Citrix's stuff is designed for exactly what you want to do.

Tried and tested (1)

jmoen (169557) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633571)

You lucky bastard, we work with 128Kbit/s links (C-band)((ok, most of them are 256Kbit/s now)). You can a lot with 128Kbit/s links and up, we run whole offices with 5-20 people on that bandwidth.

All management is done from HQ using telnet/ssh/rdp and server management cards so as long as we got ip connection we are good.
We also do weekly backups from offshore to onshore as a disaster recovery using vmware, wan optimizers and deduplication. Works quite ok, as long as there is not massive amounts of unique data created offshore and stored on the vm's. As this is manned offshore units we do not need to ip enable utillity power controls, but they are available in many forms and shapes.

750-850ms latency is no problem, you get used to it in a couple of years but it's a real death blow for applications with a lot of small requests and replies like SQL.

There's is one problem you will get and that is your precious innmarsat/iridum links. You will need service personel on your unit when that fails, not if, when. A solution used on our units is a innmarsat-b/fleet terminal connected with a serial port or ip to equipment onsite, so at least if you mess up a router config you can dial in the backdoor.

VMWare and / or Inverted Management (1)

GeekMarine72 (897842) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633615)

I would look to running all Windows systems inside a more stable platform like vmware. In general we found VNC to be much lighter than RDP, perhaps a model using it could be possible? Find a way to invert your management such that you can introduce jobs and / or reporting that can detect and execute maintenance tasks for you with the ability to inject a request for an action to be taken. There are so many better remote telemetry / command / control options than RDP.

gn44 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25633621)

they are Come on corpse turned over have left in a BSD Box that fun To be again. and executes a Shout the loudest Reaper Nor do the operating systems

UUCP (1)

unix guy (163468) | more than 5 years ago | (#25633645)

It meets all your requirements. it was designed to work robustly over a high-latency, low-bandwidth streams, and would be tolerant to intermittent network outages. Back in the early 80s I maintained a 'network' of disconnected machines via 2400 & 9600 baud modems and the programs in the UUCP package - worked quite nicely.. If it still exists 'waffle' is a uucp implementation for DOS - I have no clue if it will run on current the hardware/OS

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