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With Puget System's recent launch of the Summit series of servers, we have begun to discover a whole new series of computer accessories. One of the more exciting is hardware-level remote management chips that are available for use on a select number of server-class motherboards. These chips allow for remote management of the server (including KVM functionality over LAN) without the need to be at the physical computer for anything short of hardware replacement. The iKVM functionality is much like remote desktop software (like Window's Remote Desktop or TightVNC) except that it has the advantage of being on a hardware level rather than a software level. What this means is that you do not need to install any software, or even have an OS loaded onto the server, in order to use it. As long as the chip is installed and configured for access over LAN, you are able to fully control the server as if you were physically there (even remotely power it on if it is currently off).
The Intel AXXRM4LITE is the second remote management solution we have looked at, having recently examined the Asus ASMB5-iKVM module. That module is compatible with five Asus motherboards – most notably the Asus P8B-M and P8B-E/4L. The Intel AXXRMM4LITE is currently more limited in terms of motherboard support, being supported only on the Intel S1200BTL. For us, this limitation is not a large problem since the Asus P8B-M is currently in use with in the Summit S1-2U, S1-3U and the S1-T. At the moment we are not offering the Intel S1200BTL in any of our preconfigured systems, but given our very positive impressions of the motherboard in a recent qualification article, that motherboard is a very high contender for use if the need for a single cpu, full-ATX motherboard comes up.
The major difference between the Intel and Asus modules is that the Asus ASMB5-iKVM requires a dedicated network adapter while the Intel AXXRMM4LITE can share bandwidth with the primary NIC on the motherboard. For those who want a dedicated NIC, there is another version of this Intel remote management module that includes a dedicated NIC (AXXRMM4).
In this article, we will only briefly cover the installation and setup of the remote management module. While we could go through everything in fine detail, the documentation for this device is very good and includes very detailed instructions for installation, setup and usage of this device. The manual can be downloaded from Intel's driver download page, or directly accessed here.
Physical installation of the chip is very simple. Just align it with the socket, and push it in. The chip is very small since the chip itself is not actually doing much. All of the remote management hardware is already built into the motherboard, and the chip is just a "key" that activates it.
There are two ways to configure the remote management device. The first is to install the Intel Deployment Assistant and configure it using the setup wizard. Documentation and instructions for this method can be found in chapter 4.2 of the instruction manual. The second is to locally access the server's BIOS and assign a LAN IP address and enable user account(s) for remote access. These options can be found in the Server Management section of the BIOS. Once configured, the server can be fully conrtolled remotely and any further setup/installation from this point on can be performed by using the Web Based Interface.
Web Based Interface
Installation for the Web Based Interface is essentially non-existent. All that is needed is a supported web browser with Java installed. The current supported browsers are Internet Explorer 7,8 and 9 and Mozilla Firefox 3.0, 3.5 and 3.6. To access the Web Based Interface, simply input the IP address of the server into the browser's address bar. On our test machine for example, this address is https://192.168.0.64.
The first screen that will come up is the login screen. After logging in with the username and password that was setup during the initial configuration of the device, you will gain full access to all the features available through the Web Based Interface. Some of the key features are:
|General system information
|Hardware sensor repots (including temperature)
|Custom alerts for various events
|Custom keyboard macros for when using the remote KVM functionality
|Power on/off and power cycling
When using the remote KVM functionality, we were very pleased to find a feature that was not present on the Asus ASMB5-iKVM: customizable keyboard macros. When using most remote desktop software, certain keys or combination of keys do not get passed on to the remote system. For instance, Alt-Tab will usually cycle through the active application on the local system, rather than get passed through the remote desktop connection to the remote system. By having customizable keyboard macros, you can simulate these key combinations at the click of the mouse. While not as convenient as being able to just hit the keys on the keyboard, it is an acceptable workaround.
|Media redirection through the remote KVM as seen from the server's BIOS
We expected this module to work almost identically to the Asus ASMB5-iKVM, but were pleased to find that it kept all the good points without any of the quirks of the Asus model. Most notably, we liked that it doesn't require a dedicated network connection and that it includes customizable hotkeys in the iKVM interface. The iKVM functionality for both modules requires the use of the onboard graphics however, so neither chip is ideal for use in systems that need more than the onboard GPU.
There are many features that we did not cover in this article (such as media redirection) so for a more in-depth analysis of the various features, we recommend checking out the user guide from Intel.
Overall, we were very pleased with this product. It is very easy to install and setup, and you only need a supported web browser and the IP address of the server to use the Web Based Interface. This type of accessibility means that it can be used off-site through the use of port forwarding. The responsiveness of the iKVM would be noticeably more sluggish, but just having the option of remotely setting up a machine rather than having to be on-site is very attractive.
This technology is still fairly new, which is why Intel is still requiring a separate purchase of a hardware-based key to activate it even though it is already fully integrated onto the motherboard. There are still some limitations present that we hope will be overcome in the near future, but even with those shortcomings, this type of product is very attractive for almost any type of server.