What is IPMI? Benefits and Drawbacks?Publisher: Psychz Networks, January 05,2015
Internet servers are the “backbone” of any company’s online presence. Making sure that they remain fully operational is crucial to maintaining website uptime and functionality. The current industry standard for monitoring and managing a server installation is known as Intelligent Platform Management Interface, and commonly referred to as IPMI.
What Is IPMI?
Generally speaking, IPMI is a standardized set of specifications for a hardware system, which allows a web host or data center to centrally monitor and control all of the servers it is managing. It was originally developed by Intel with support from Hewlett Packard, Dell and NEC, and is now supported by most of the industry.
IPMI works in tandem with two other standard specification sets, IPMB (Intelligent Platform Management Bus) and ICMB (Intelligent Chassis Management Bus), which handle the management functions within a computer and between the machines being managed. Communication is usually handled through a direct out-of-band LAN, but it’s also possible to use a sideband LAN through a NIC card which is a less expensive approach.
Most of the key factors in a server’s hardware operation can be monitored via IPMI, including the health of the power supply, chassis security and fans. It also tracks power levels, temperature and other important environmental factors. Additionally, the interface can check each machine’s hardware logs, can receive pre-defined alerts, and can send messages to a server to reboot or power down. It even allows remote adjustment of BIOS settings.
The front-end of an IPMI system is extremely user-friendly. Keyboard, mouse and video access to individual servers functions in the same way they would for an engineer or technician working directly on the machine. In the event a server is inaccessible, the error is clearly displayed on the monitoring console and the user may login directly from IPMI to modify specific network configurations.
A modified and simplified variant on IPMI, known as DCMI (Data Center Management Interface), is often used by data centers because it includes some functions important for their systems (such as capping power to a server) while eliminating others which aren’t needed for their purposes.
Benefits Of IPMI
There are a number of reasons IPMI is superior to more traditional software used for server system diagnosis. Most of them are based on the facts that IPMI is able to manage machines in multiple physical locations, and that it is able to monitor machines “from without” rather than “from within”; that is, it is firmware running on a machine’s motherboard and is not dependent on a machine’s operating system. The major benefits:
- “Agentless” management with remote functionality: no management agents are needed for a server’s OS, and machines can be rebooted and managed off-site.
- Recovery independent of computer state: IPMI can issue commands to managed machines whether or not they’re powered on, as long as they are plugged in.
- Functionality before booting or after operating system failure: IPMI is able to facilitate adjustment to BIOS or other settings regardless of OS status, as opposed to traditional methods which require OS access or SSH login.
- Predictive monitoring: server health is constantly monitored, to provide advance warning of possible system failures.
- Advance diagnosis: IPMI often allows diagnosis of system issues before repairs are initiated, saving time and money particularly if a machine is off-site.
- Simple use: control is centralized so that system configuration changes or power up/power down can be handled with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
- Universally supported: IPMI is supported by almost all hardware vendors, and is often included in the price of server purchase.
Drawbacks Of IPMI
There are only a few major drawbacks to IPMI, and in almost all cases, they are far outweighed by the benefits.
- Initial configuration can sometimes require several attempts, although clearing network configurations through the BIOS can usually solve the problem.
- Networking may fail after switching ports on the motherboard or after installing IPMI patches. These issues are usually easily solvable by rebooting; occasionally, reconfiguration is necessary.
- Some analysts claim that IPMI isn’t as secure a system as it could be. They believe that design weaknesses in protocols and configuration make IPMI installations vulnerable to attack or compromise despite patches.
Despite these few issues, IPMI has been almost universally adopted by data centers and web hosts as the most efficient and economical way to monitor and manage their networks.