This year while at Cisco Live, I had the opportunity to join the Tech Field Day crew for a mini Networking Field Day round table event. At the event, we heard from Opengear, maker of advanced and highly-capable in- and out-of-band serial console management products.
Traditionally, most of Opengear’s products have been smaller form factors with 2, 4, or 8 serial ports. One reason the networking community loves Opengear, though, is the open nature of their platform. Opengear boxes run the uClinux distribution, and root access is available. This allows a variety of scripting or application installation to be done on these devices. This scripting capability, along with an available array of built-in sensors such as temperature/humidity, power condition, and others, make Opengear a powerful platform that can do much more than simply provide serial access to network devices and servers.
After hearing a bit from Opengear CEO Rick Stevenson about the company’s history, Sr. Sales Engineer Jared Mallett told us all about a new product line that Opengear is introducing this summer, the IM7200.
(photo from Opengear’s website)
This blog post isn’t meant to be a press release, so I encourage you to head on over to the IM7200 product page to learn all the juicy details, but I will point out that this thing is a beast of a console server. Available with up to 48 serial ports (with software selectability between straight-through and roll-over pinouts), it is available with an integrated 4G LTE modem, WiFi, dual AC or DC power supplies, two dual-media Ethernet ports, and a 1 GHz processor that Opengear told us could support 100+ SSH at once. Pretty robust compared to most console servers I’ve worked with.
I’m not going to sit here and gush about how awesome Opengear products are because, well, I’ve never used one. Instead, what I really took note of was just how much the company’s representatives (and remember, this included the CEO) really embraced that word “open.” Opengear gives you root access to the Linux distro that runs on their devices, so you can write your own scripts or even install software packages. Imagine using your console server to run iperf tests against. Or hacking up some scripts to monitor the consoles of your devices and fire off an email alert based on a bit of console output or when a WiFi-connected environmental sensor crosses a threshold. And then having the console server close some GPIO pins to activate a relay of some sort after sending the email alert. You’re not confined by an alerting or action framework that Opengear provides — if you motivated enough to do some scripting for yourself you can do just about anything. Opengear even provides tools to roll your own custom firmware image for deployment to multiple Opengear devices!
During the session, we peppered Jared with questions about the platform. Blake Krone asked about an ultra-low cost single or dual-port cellular-modem equipped console server to deploy on mesh APs, preferably with solar power. I seconded this request for a low-cost cell flavor for my many customers that have very small remote sites where even a $700-ish remote console appliance is a tough sell when the customer only spent $800 on the entire network infrastructure for the site. Rather than a blow-off response, the Opengear guys asked “What price point would make this work for you?” A little later on, the always brain-melting Colin McNamara asked about using an Opengear unit to automatically deploy network switches by pumping config down to their console ports after automagically pulling details from a Puppet script or some craziness like that. Initially, Jared from Opengear seemed a bit lost on an answer to that one, but a few minutes later he circled back and offered Colin a couple of ideas on how he might pull it off. I like seeing that sort of commitment to helping a customer come up with a solution.
The Opengear team was eating up the feedback from the Tech Field Day delegates, and to me that really showed that they take their customers’ ideas to heart. As I said, I’ve not used Opengear in the past but after speaking with them at this event and seeing their passion for producing best-in-class products that give their customers ultimate flexibility I’ll definitely be looking to work some of these products into future deployments. Especially if they come up with that ultra-affordable 2-port model!
You can watch the recorded Tech Field Day round table session here to learn more about Opengear and the IM7200: