Intel Strikes Up The 'Out-Of-Band'

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant is developing what it calls Active Management Technology (AMT), which promises to give developers more ways to leverage out-of-band system controls, according to Frank Spindler, vice president of Intel's corporate technology group and director of industry technology programs.

Traditionally, out-of-band technology has provided an extra layer of administrative control to IT networks by taking advantage of alternate paths around standard network connections--paths such as serial ports, KVM and console switches, and power distribution units. Using these common, alternate control methods, network devices can be rebooted via out-of-band products even when the devices have crashed their operating systems and can no longer can be guided by in-band software management products.

Intel's AMT will give out-of-band vendors such as Cyclades, Avocent and Raritan a way to add hardware troubleshooting, inventory management and other control features that can be accessed whether or not the operating system is up and running, said Spindler.

"This puts out-of-band management right on the chip," said Spindler. He declined to give a time frame for the arrival of AMT.

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Intel's AMT project is driven by a realization that the avenue of network control offered by out-of-band hasn't been fully realized, said Spindler. After all, if IT can use out-of-band to reboot a server after it's failed and gone out of reach of the primary in-band management platform, why not go the extra step of adding even more advanced management across all existing out-of-band connections?

This realization is what drove Cyclades to recently unveil an AlterPath Manager appliance that centralizes the management of out-of-band network control systems while adding functionality such as event logging, enterprise security integration and event notification, said Charles Waters, vice president of global marketing at Cyclades, Fremont, Calif. With the AlterPath Manager, Cyclades even added the intelligent platform management interface to its checklist of supported out-of-band protocols, said Waters.

While out-of-band technology has commonly supported high-end network environments in financial and engineering verticals, the increasing popularity of clustered server environments and utility computing in business networks has created a promising new market for out-of-band products, said Doris Yeh, director of sales at Mirapath, a data center solution provider in Cupertino, Calif. Yeh said the opportunity clustered servers represent for out-of-band is what whet Intel's appetite to develop silicon for out-of-band technology.

"In every single cluster that has been built by us, people want out-of-band management," said Yeh. "That's why Intel is so into it. Clusters are difficult to manage, and [out-of-band technology] can not only help manage a cluster, but reduce IT spending. I personally think out-of-band management is something that will really take off in the near future, and you can tell by the investment that Intel is making."

By adding out-of-band functionality to its silicon with AMT, Intel may level the playing field for out-of-band vendors that currently compete based on their particular strengths in managing specific out-of-band protocols, said Spindler.

For example, Cyclades' strength currently lies in the console management environment, whereas Avocent plays more to the KVM-centric environment, said Matt Kaveney, president of Kelly Communications, a VAR in Mountainside, N.J., that sells products from both out-of-band vendors. "But either way, there's a big market for out-of-band management, particularly in networks that run truly mission-critical applications, like financial companies," Kaveney said.

Challenging such a market opportunity is the lack of awareness of out-of-band technology, said Yeh.

"We run into customers all the time who haven't heard about [out-of-band technology]," said Yeh. "But we have been educating people about it."