USB – the Serial Killer

We’ve seen vast changes in the USB world since it first appeared on personal computers over a decade ago – displacing serial and parallel ports as the standard interface for connecting printers, keyboards and other peripherals. Today USB ports pervade way beyond the world of computers.

USB provides the standard charging mechanism for my phone, my camera, my mp3 player et al … and for powering many of my household and desktop appliances. In Europe the use of USB as the charger for all cell phones is mandated. And for years now, I never went anywhere without a USB stick (1) in my wallet – embedded with secured password lists, recent ppt/odf presentations, contact lists, data files or music for my car stereo.

Such USB mass storage class devices have benefited immensely from the evolution of the USB spec from its humble USB 1.0 origins to the mighty multi-gigabit USB 3.0 standard that we are now starting to see in the market. And these powerful features have seen USB increase in popularity such that today there are more USB ports than there are people on this planet!

In Opengear’s world of system administration and network management, we similarly see growing USB port usage. Most computers and network equipment today is capable of booting from USB mass storage class devices, and a portable USB storage device can prove invaluable in a recovery or system update event. Opengear’s advanced console server lines (2) also all support external USB flash drives – used for logging, configuration backups and local updates.

However in the quieter world of the USB console communications we see a slower evolution. Today some classes of networking equipment (particularly branch and edge routers) are equipped with both serial and USB consoles; and network engineers increasingly are using the USB ports to connect their notepad to the command line at the rack side. It’s a simpler plug-n-play connection than RS232 – without the need for serial port configuration or for any USB-to-serial converter (as USB killed laptop serial ports many moons ago).

But aside from higher “serial” speed – which is generally if little value if you are conversing with a Cisco router using IOS commands – the advantage of USB here is that it is a simple stable standard . So it is refreshing to see the specs are not changing rapidly – to give the standard an opportunity to slowly pervade.

ACM5500 USB ports

Note 1: I probably should have admitted here that most of these files have now migrated to the SD storage in my smart phone or to an online portal …. but that would detracted from the story 🙂

Note 2: Opengear advanced console servers (IM42xx, ACM5xxx) have two USB2.0 ports that support connection to Cisco USB consoles.So you can ship an ACM to a remote site; have it plugged it into the Cisco USB console; then when it connects back to you -using call-home- you can begin configuring network at the site from the command line– all using a browser connection at your favourite coffee shop. And you can arm the ACM auto-response facility so it will monitor IOS messages over the USB console and send you alerts. Or you can send it SMS messages to have the ACM send local IOS commands.

Posted in Industry Trends