Swiss full service provider Quickline introduces new out-of-band management with failover to cellular backup for centralised management of IT infrastructures
The comprehensive service offered by Quickline Group, with its head office in Nidau in the canton of Berne, covers internet, telephony and digital TV through to digital workspace and business cloud hosting. So for Quickline, ensuring seamless network connectivity for business continuity was absolutely critical. The company has been using out-of-band management since 2008 for permanent monitoring and remote maintenance of critical IT infrastructures in its data centres and remote sites and ensuring high availability, even if the primary in-band network were to fail.
“Because our networks are distributed all over the country, reliable remote access to critical infrastructure devices is essential for our support staff so we can act immediately and precisely and resolve possible faults remotely and as quickly as possible”, explains Simon Koch, Head of Network Operation, Quickline. “The quality of our customer service is of prime importance for us. That is why we have been using OOB technology for the last ten years across all of our business divisions. However, the time had come to replace our previous OOB solution, which only offered a conventional modem-failover connection, with a state-of-the-art solution.”
Latest generation OOB solution with high-speed failover to cellular
As the second largest cable network provider in Switzerland we have a large number of sites scattered all over, even in the Alps. Since it’s difficult to get copper connections there, we were looking for an alternative which could also offer us an out-of-band management solution” Koch continues. “We looked at several manufacturers and finally decided on Opengear. The decisive factor was the integrated 4G solution for devices. Its functionality and the whole package with centralised software management met our needs exactly. That’s why we decided to replace our previous out-of-band management system generally with the new wireless OOB solution, with 12 or 48 serial ports at large sites and 4 ports at smaller sites.”
Implementation of the first 80 or so OOB devices began in autumn 2017. In addition to a conventional modem failover, the Opengear console servers offer an integrated solution via a high-speed cellular connection (3G/4G LTE). Opengear IM7200 OOB infrastructure managers are now being used for remote maintenance and proactive monitoring in Quickline’s data centres. Opengear ACM7000 resilience gateways are used for the points of presence (POPs) spread across the country; as compact solutions they are tailored to smaller remote sites.
“We are planning to change all our sites successively to 4G OOB technology” Michel Renfer, IT Manager Strategy & Network at Quickline, explains. “In the next three to five years we will probably upgrade a total of 200 to 300 sites.”
The integrated wireless option offered by the OOB console servers also scored highly in terms of operating costs:
“Apart from the hardware, another factor was that the costs for our previous out-of-band access system vis DSL weren’t scalable” Michael Renfer reveals. “As well as selecting a new OOB management system we have found a wireless access solution which is so much cheaper in terms of operating costs than the previous wired DSL access.”
Simon Koch adds “wireless give us much more flexibility because copper wires are no longer laid in many new sites, particularly in new buildings; they only use fibre optics which means that wired OOB access isn’t available anymore.”
Centralised management of the whole OOB infrastructure
“With the large number of sites that we have, a centralised management system with automatic configuration for simple scalability and device provisioning is very important. That’s why the new OOB solution had to have a software management platform” Simon Koch explains. “The new out-of-band management software tool allows our administrators to keep an eye on all installed OOB console managers and connected devices from a central location. In addition, new devices can be configured and provisioned very simply.”
Quickline is using Opengear’s Lighthouse OOB management software. As a central management platform for remote access gateways, the solution is implemented as a virtual software appliance and implements OpenVPN encrypted tunnels to gateways for all LAN, WAN and wireless remote access connections. Lighthouse can be installed on any VMWare sessions and also has a RESTful API interface, allowing the platform to be integrated easily in other management tools already installed.
Devices can be grouped according to users, sites or manufacturers, making for clear and simple management. The management software gives a status overview over all access gateways or nodes. Nodes are declared to the software tool and the process is simplified using enrollment bundles. These bundles combine a unique registration token with user-defined tags such as a geographical location, a department or even a rack position. In addition, specific strict access authorisation can also be defined.
Zero touch provisioning (ZTP): Rapid preconfiguration and provisioning
“Time-saving provisioning of devices was another factor in our decision” Simon Koch adds. “Our administrators use the management software to integrate new devices into the existing network structure quickly and without local intervention on site. They have the option to automate node configuration and the provisioning process for new devices.”
Once the console servers have been preconfigured, they only have to be hooked up on site (ZTP, zero touch provisioning). Several units are preconfigured at the same time. This reduces provisioning costs and sources of human error.
Out-of-band management means a fast and targeted response
“Out-of-band management helps our engineers enormously with general maintenance work on our backbone”, Michel Renfer explains. “If something isn’t working as it should, which can always happen, our technical staff can see immediately the status of the particular device. They can intervene directly without having to go on site. It is especially important to be informed at all times of the status of devices, for example, when we are carrying out maintenance work on a core router, such as a software update. Since in-band connectivity is interrupted at times, which is inevitable, we can monitor the status of devices permanently out-of-band.”
Around one year after introducing the new out-of-band management solution, the view at Quickline is positive throughout. Simon Koch sums up:
“We are very satisfied with the new OOB solution, particularly since we can avoid on-site intervention which means considerable savings in time and hence costs. We can reduce unnecessary downtime, guarantee quality support for our customers and we can act quickly and precisely to resolve any network failures or technical issues. And should a visit on-site be necessary at any point, our support staff can use the OOB remote maintenance solution to identify in advance which spare part is needed.”