Should I select servers with lights-out management hardware, or will third-party management tools work?
Bigelow: As virtualization permeates the enterprise and consolidation levels increase, IT professionals increasingly rely on systems management tools to control physical servers, allocate resources to virtualized workloads, monitor workload performance, help with capacity planning and numerous other data center tasks. In many cases, lights-out management – a platform that gives IT professionals the ability to remotely monitor and manage servers – can help ease these administrative demands. This means new server purchases should include an evaluation of interoperability within existing systems management tools. Although tools should provide some level of interoperability, just how much interoperability they offer poses a serious concern.
The perennial challenge for systems management platforms is breadth versus depth. It is extremely difficult for any one systems management platform to provide detailed management insights and capabilities to every possible hardware device; the result is a wide breadth but narrow depth. Conversely, dedicated systems management tools, such as integrated Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) or Hewlett Packard's Integrated Lights-Out (iLO), can often provide extremely detailed control, but only over a limited range of vendor platforms or product families. These tools offer narrow breadth but deep depth. Some management tools, combined with distributed agents, can strike a balance between breadth and depth, but these are usually complex and expensive third-party systems management frameworks.
Generally speaking, an organization that is already invested in lights-out management platforms (like iDRAC or iLO) will continue to select systems that are compatible with the current platform. If the business is using a systems management software tool or framework, it's important to test the prospective new server to verify that the current tool will provide adequate support for the new systems – otherwise the business may forego the purchase or select an alternate server that is more compatible with current management. It is rare to mix multiple lights-out management platforms because this poses a second management expense and learning curve for IT staff.
Selecting next-generation servers for virtualized data centers involves a combination of technical decision-making, a careful review of interoperability with management platforms, actual performance assessment through proof-of-concept testing and a healthy dose of solid business planning. But, every IT professional must remember that there is rarely one answer for server questions. In many situations, an organization can select several different servers during a technology refresh in order to ensure adequate resources for varied workload demands.
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