R.G. Keen's Blog

Lights-Out Management For Home Servers

Posted in Opensolaris Server, Remote Management by rgkeen on May 15, 2010

I find that there is a term for what I’ve been developing in the back of my head: Lights-Out Management. This is the idea that you can reset, power on/off, and in general tinker with and get back on line your servers. It’s a big deal at the commercial data centers, of course.  I managed to back into the concept because I want a server in the attic and/or garage and am too lazy to climb/walk to it to reset/power/tinker with it.

I have a friend who is a professional data center administrator. He’s on call 24/7/365, and is always getting pages to fix a problem with the hundreds of servers in their center. To him, Lights-Out Management (or LOM  as it’s called in the data biz) means the difference between fixing the problem from his home office and driving an hour each way to fix it.

Full LOM for a server includes power on/off and resetting the server as I’ve bumbled into, as well as remote access to low-level/BIOS setup, remote console support, and other things. This is so valuable that most real servers in the server world have some degree of it built in, perhaps for a fee.

But us home hobbyists can have some of that. I’ve outlined some of it in the Remote Button Pushers article. I’ve dredged up some additional info.

There is a card designed to add quite a lot of the LOM functions to an ordinary PC. It’s the PC Weasel Card. This thing gives you much of the LOM stuff, but to my way of thinking it misses a couple of them. HP/Compaq makes a similar card (google “RILOE”) that may work in other PCs.

First and foremost, it misses LAN connectivity, and it seems to not have a way to cut off/turn on the AC power.  I think LAN manipulation is necessary (for me at least!) because I by definition already have LAN wires going to the server. I don’t necessarily also have RS232/phone wires going there. Sure, complete out-of-band control is nice, but it’s a home server and if I really had to, I could walk/climb to the server and mess with it even if the LAN is down.

In my mind, a good compromise for my home server would be to have a LAN connected card that could (a) “press” the reset button, (b) “press” the power button, (c) toggle AC power on/off if neither a nor b did what I needed. That’s how I stumbled into the IP Power thing – which by the way, works nicely.

There’s another option. I’ve recently found some ethernet-connected I/O servers.  These are widgets that have an ethernet port at one end and some combination of digital I/O lines, RS232, analog I/O, USB, etc. on the other side. Most have some kind of embedded minimal web server so you can get to them by http and read/write the I/Os. The only problem seems to be that the producers of this ilk seem to want about $300-$1000 for them, a price comparable to a whole new server.

However, there are some that are under $100 if you’re willing to hack your own hardware. Here are two examples.

To make the PC Weasel card really useful, I could get to the RS232 port by using an ethernet-to-232 converter. Several of these exist. I think the makers of the Weasel are missing a bet here. And an ethernet to 232 that had digital I/O could then control AC power locally via an optoisolator  controlling a relay, either magnetic or SSR.

I don’t really need the BIOS/frame buffer stuff that the Weasel has. I’m happy with remote power on/off and attachment to an SSH session. So what I need is a button pusher. I have one a suitable one on order.

A Korean company by the name of Wiznet makes an ethernet-to-232 card (WIZ107SR) and an ethernet-to-digital I/O card (WIZ220IO). What’s novel here is the low price: The WIZ220IO is $35 and the WIZ107SR is $22. I ordered the WIZ220IO and will be talking about how it works here. I don’t really need the serial interface, as I’d rather use the SSH session, but the serial interface would really neaten up the PC Weasel.

So, I’m hot on the trail of LOM for my home server. More later!

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6 Responses

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  1. Steve Conner said, on May 17, 2010 at 4:05 am

    Hey RG! 🙂
    You could make your own I/O server using an Arduino with the Ethernet shield.

    • rgkeen said, on May 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm

      Hi, Steve!
      Yes, actually I did run into those. I found the Arduino and Ethernet Shield while looking for a solution for a friend who wants to be able to remotely operate his observatory roof opening and the movement of his telescope remotely. The Arduino is US$30, the ethernet shield is US$50 for a total of $80, and then you get to write the software, although that’s not too stressful.

      I spent quite a while flogging google over the ethernet I/O stuff. The Wiznet line is the lowest cost one I found, although its documentation leaves something to be desired. The WIZ20IO seems to be the simplest solution for my needs. I … think… that it will let me turn its output pins on/off as is, and will let me modify the inbuilt web pages by simply redoing the HTML inside as text and then repackaging the uC binary plus modified HTML. Most of the low end web-server boards require programming in Javascript, then running what amounts to a compile. Again, not all that arduous, but it’s another layer of stuff to learn and get running when what I want to do – and worse yet, what most readers here want to do – is simply to tell it to turn a bit on/off.

      We’ll see. The WIZ220IO is on its way here. I see this as a US$35 bet that I can make it work… 😎

  2. champcity said, on June 30, 2010 at 4:50 am

    Hi RG

    Thanks for the interesting write up, I would like to find out more … pls keep me posted

    • rgkeen said, on July 1, 2010 at 9:42 am

      I’ll do that. I got the Wiznet in, and it does do the button-pressing job neatly. I’m in testing on my smaller server now. I’ll post the results when I get them into some order.

  3. Mike said, on December 9, 2010 at 9:32 am

    hi,

    Good article and interesting stuff. Have you made any progress with WIZ220IO? I’ve found comments that customising your own web page for it can be a bit problematic due to cgi probs but a default one works great. I’m looking at using it as remote home monitoring system together with LOM for cctv server.

  4. Matt said, on May 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I’m curious to know how the Wiz220IO has been working out for you. I just received mine, I’m finding the documentation incomplete/lacking and it references files and features that I can’t find on their site. Their forum is also plagued with spam. Has anyone found a good source of information for these units?

    Otherwise, the factory web page works well (not sure how to secure it) and this device has a lot of promise. It was quick and simple to get up and running. I’d like to figure out yet how to get it to read 1Wire temperature sensors. I may need to rewrite the W7100’s program.


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