DataPower and Terminal Servers…

DataPower has a serial port console that is used during initial bootstrap of the appliance, recovering from problems, and certain configuration changes.  Having access to the serial console is the only feasible approach to resolving certain issues that arise with any appliance (or piece of network equipment).

Depending upon the model, the serial console may be either a DB9 serial port or an RJ-45 port.  See the XI52 Installation and User’s Guide for further information or other appliances’ information at the DataPower WebSphere Infocenter.

There are two basic approaches to using the DataPower serial console: hook up a terminal server or make sure someone has physical access to the Data Center, a laptop, and appropriate cables.

A Terminal Server is a piece of equipment attached to the network that provides remote access to the console ports of various technologies.

The latter tends to lead to extended down time when things go wrong late at night.  The definition of futility is trying to talk a non-DataPower resource through the process of troubleshooting over the phone or just getting the the laptop null modem serial connection functioning properly at 2am on Sunday morning.  At least, this has been my experience.  Likewise, it is often the case that the group which owns operational support of DataPower appliances do not have physical access to the datacenter.  This presents certain logistical challenges to getting close enough to the appliance to hook up a serial cable.

I recommend the approach of hooking all DataPower appliances up to a terminal server.  This can be the same terminal server that the network group uses for switches, routers, and other network appliances.  The hard part is getting them to share.  Another observation has been that there tends to be a single generic userid/password protecting these low-level systems.  And, they aren’t ready to give it out to the DataPower Administrators just yet.

If an agreement cannot be reached that allows the DataPower Administrators to access the DataPower console via the existing terminal server, then it would be a wise investment to purchase your own terminal server.  If production and non-production appliances are not located near one another (same server rack row), then you will probably be buying more than one.

Remember, even with a terminal server, if the appliance needs to be power cycled (something happens to every piece of network equipment at some point in my experience), someone has to walk up to the appliance and hit the power button-i.e., someone needs physical access to the Data Center.