Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wrapping up, looking forward

It's that time of year - people are publishing their year-end recaps and prognostications for the year to come, office junk is being collected and wrapped for white elephant exchanges, and (some) folks are burning off vacation before the end of the calendar year.  We'll cover each of these topics in this post. You can also check out some of the photos of Uplogix employees in action.

Looking back

New hardware, new software

2013 at Uplogix started off with the announcement of the fourth generation of Local Management hardware and the release of the Uplogix 5000 and 500 Local Managers (LMs). These purpose-built devices are the most reliable and durable hardware yet.

Both feature no moving parts and have more than double the anticipated service life of most enterprise class servers. When you consider many of these devices are serving in hard to reach locations like oil platforms, forward operating bases in battle zones and lights-out data centers, our customers want to know they can rely on the hardware.

Another aspect of the new hardware is that it is all built in the United States, in fact, it's all assembled in the home state of Uplogix - Texas. Uplogix has partnered with Creation Technologies in Plano, one of the top electronic manufacturing services companies to build the Uplogix 5000 and Uplogix 500.

In November, Uplogix announced the release of a DC version of the Uplogix 5000. Designed for data centers, the DC Uplogix 5000 was built to accommodate the DC power that is commonly used in facilities with high power requirements.

New software releases throughout the year have added additional functionality to the Uplogix Local Management Software. New or additional advanced driver support is now available for TracStar satellite antennas, Comtech satellite modems, IBM Flex System SAN Switches and RackSwitches, APC and ServerTechnology PDUs.

Virtual Port capacity was increased for both 500 and 5000 platforms. Previously, the 500 allowed up to four virtual ports and the 5000 allowed up to eight virtual ports. The v4.7 release increases the maximum number on both platforms to 16 virtual ports. Virtual ports allow users to manage a device with an Uplogix LM through an IP interface instead of a console connection.

New customers

In 2013, Uplogix more than doubled the number of new customers over 2012. These customers continue to expand on the diversity of the existing customer base with more federal agencies, satellite communications users, school districts, managed service providers, the energy industry... the list goes on.

Also exciting is that Local Management continues to expand in the United States and around the world with new customers coming online in Europe, Africa, South America, Australia and Asia. There has even been some interest from the US Antarctic Program, which would make Local Management a truly global product. Stay tuned.

Looking forward

Just recently an agreement was announced with Uplogix partner, CenturyLink, that could expand the use of Local Management in the federal government. Available on CenturyLink's GSA IT Schedule 70 contract, as well as the the Networx contract, Uplogix products will be accessible to more agencies looking to increase network availability while reducing support costs through the unique combination of secure remote access and intelligent local monitoring and response.

New partnerships are taking off that should expand the awareness of Local Management, especially in some developing markets where network infrastructure reliability is critically needed.

Reading the predictions of others in the industry, the key themes look to continue to be big data, cloud and increasingly M2M as a real thing - not just talk of billions of devices in the Internet of Things, but M2M starting to have impact on people's lives. On this last topic, at Uplogix we're pretty interested because we've been M2M since before it was cool. Local Managers collecting data and taking action to automate the management of devices is not only M2M, it's M2M Management. Look for more on this in the new year. If we have billions of devices all connecting to each other, M2M Management is going to be critical. M2M^2? We'll see if that name catches on, but in the meantime, just remember it's Local Management.

Right now - the white elephant gift exchange

They are common in many workplaces, and this year, Uplogix was no different. The Uplogix exchange in the Austin headquarters featured a number of unique items, some clearly perceived as valuable, others less so. Hot items included a Bluetooth keyboard, a set of desktop speakers, and a chicken that played and danced to The Chicken Dance song. Moderately valuable gifts were a set of three margarita glasses and an Ikea light-up star decoration. Gifts not "stolen" after their unveiling included a bottle of non-alcoholic wine, a strange back-massage device, and the box of chic-flick movies chosen by Uplogix CEO, Tom Goldman. All on VHS.

Other employee events and fun in 2013 revolved around food. There is the annual Cookie Week, which some would say was tarnished this year in what can only be described as Gingersnap-gate. The tradition is strong enough to withstand the controversy. Over the summer, Waffle Day was a big hit, which was no surprise, because who doesn't like waffles?

In an opposite direction, the Uplogix Tough Mudder team left no man behind as the intrepid group of eight braved mud, ice and electric shocks to prove they were tough and muddy.

Happy Holidays from Uplogix

We'd like to wish all of our customers, vendors and employees a happy holiday. Our offices will be closed on December 24 & 25, and January 1, but our intrepid and highly-praised customer support will be available as always. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

What's in the new LMS v4.7 release?

The newest release of the Uplogix Local Management Software (LMS) is now available, delivering support for a DC version of the Uplogix 5000 targeted at data center applications, new hardware support and several new advanced drivers for third-party products.

The DC-powered Uplogix 5000 Local Manager (LM) has dual 48V DC power supplies, but otherwise has the same specifications as the AC-powered version. Designed for data centers, the DC Uplogix 5000 was built to accommodate the DC power that is commonly used in facilities with high power requirements. DC systems reduce the number of times power is converted compared to AC power, increasing efficiency and lowering electricity costs.

The DC Version of the Uplogix 5000 Local Manager

Other software updates for both the Uplogix 500 and 5000 in the v4.7 release include a new fiber Ethernet option card and mini-USB console port support. Placed into the LM’s Option Slot, the fiber Ethernet card has a SFP interface that can be used to connect the LM to the network via multimode and single mode fiber. The mini-USB console port on the LM is enabled in v4.7 for the Windows operating system (Windows 7).

New advanced driver functionality delivers local management for several new devices and products from IBM, Comtech, APC and Server Technology:
  • IBM Flex System SAN Switches
  • IBM RackSwitches
  • Comtech CDM-840 Satellite Modem
  • APC AP8900 Switched Rack Power Distribution Units
  • ServerTechnology 48V DC Power Distribution Units
The v4.7 release also introduces a Push/Pull SFTP and SCP action for all drivers. Using the CLI, scheduler or rules engine, administrators can initiate the transfer of a file between a managed device and the Local Manager file system using SFTP/SCP.

Virtual Port capacity was increased for both 500 and 5000 platforms. Previously, the 500 allowed up to four virtual ports and the 5000 allowed up to eight virtual ports. The v4.7 release increases the maximum number on both platforms to 16 virtual ports. Virtual ports allow users to manage a device with an Uplogix LM through an IP interface instead of a console connection. While dependent on a network connection, it is useful for cases where the device does not have an available console port (or one at all), situations where the device is physically too far away for a serial connection, and when the number of devices needing management exceeds the maximum number of hardware serial interfaces on a Local Manager.

LMS v4.7 is available now on all new Local Managers and the Uplogix Control Center. For more information and customers wishing to upgrade, visit Uplogix support at uplogix.com/support.

Friday, December 13, 2013

M2M Management Case Study: ATMs

Increasingly, automated teller machines are the “brick and mortar” point of contact for customers with their bank. For decades, these M2M systems have been popular with customers and increasingly reliable as the technology has advanced, but also complicated and expensive to support.

One Uplogix customer has an aggressive plan to deploy ATMs and chose to include Uplogix in the systems to ensure that the increasing number of cash machines doesn't come along with a increase in support costs that will, well, break the bank.

Putting Local Management into ATMs

ATMs are complicated, secure machines with a variety of devices that interact with the physical world—cash input and output machines, card readers, and screens and other inputs. In addition, they have a fair amount of communications technology with routers, redundant modems, cameras and storage. Managing these components can involve multiple technicians and all of the security concerns that come along with access to distributed and unstaffed machines full of cash.

The Uplogix Local Management platform provides the equivalent of an IT administrator in-the-box monitoring devices 24x7, taking initial run-book recovery actions when needed, and serving as an onsite toolbox for remote technicians to investigate and recover issues as if they were onsite.

Automated, lower cost installation

Installation of ATMs can be expedited using Uplogix. With configuration files pre-installed, or automatically downloaded to an Uplogix Local Manager (LM), the LM can perform pre-defined tasks such as updating the OS on the ATM’s router, checking cell modem signal strength, and establishing a secure out-of-band connection back to the NOC.
This means that setup takes less time, and potentially doesn’t require a technician or technicians with as much detailed knowledge of each component.

Fewer truck rolls needed

Most network and communications issues can be detected and recovered automatically, ensuring that the ATM is up and running, providing customers with expected levels of service. Issues can be reported directly into trouble ticketing systems, ensuring that the NOC is aware of any issues, including those that were resolved.
Before sending out a truck, administrators can connect into the ATM securely and remotely over an out-of-band connection that gives them access as if they were onsite.

Simplified management

It’s not uncommon in the banking world for an institution to have a wide variety of ATM platforms in operation, the result of mergers with other banks or just technology changes over time. Uplogix offers management flexibility thanks to the console-level connection with managed devices and the fact that it manages from a local perspective that is not dependent on a network connection.

Managing automatic tellers with another machine

The M2M (machine-to-machine) trend is just starting to put a name on what the ATM has done for years. Similarly, Uplogix Local Management is already proven in other high-security applications like financial institution data centers, in the field with deployments on battlefields managing satellite communications links for the armed forces, and in remote locations like oil platforms. Adding Uplogix to ATMs is the next step toward M2M management, with greater reliability and functionality at lower cost.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Amazon's PrimeAir faces the automation checklist

In a 60 Minutes interview that relatively few people actually saw, but many are now reading about, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos showed off a couple of Amazon delivery drones. The idea is that at some point in the future, one of these eight-rotor robots would fly a <5 lb. Amazon purchase to you in 30 minutes or less. While the pilot-less copters have been a PR coup for Amazon, it's an example of how automation can capture the imagination without actually delivering the goods. This is something all too familiar in the network management world.

Bezos said that he didn't want anybody to think the drone delivery service was just around the corner, but implied it's the law that's really holding things up. While it is currently illegal to fly a bunch of autonomous drones carrying packages, the FAA is working on drone rules, with first limited approvals potentially due out in 2015. Full-blown certifications aren't expected until maybe 2020.

So perhaps PrimeAir will be an option some day, but a lot of boxes will need to be checked first. Search "Amazon drone" and click on most any of the 436+ million hits for all kinds of scenarios that the little drones would need to successfully navigate. Check out the FAA's UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Roadmap for a few hundred reasons why this will take time from the Fed's perspective.

Still, it does look pretty cool in the Amazon video.

When we talk to potential customers about the automation capable in the Uplogix Local Management Platform, they start going through their own checklist of what it would take for them to have any confidence in network automation. Here are a few with parallels to PrimeAir:

Autonomy

  • Uplogix: Can't rely on the network for device access
  • PrimeAir: Large numbers of delivery drones need to fly themselves to be practical
Resiliency
  • Uplogix: Provides an alternate management access path if the primary link is down
  • PrimeAir: Needs to be able to find an alternate drop-off point if the primary is unexpectedly blocked, say by the kids playing football in the front yard
Intelligent, and reliable
  • Uplogix: Recognizes specific devices states and follows specified procedures when there are issues
  • PrimeAir: Large numbers of drones will need to be aware of the airspace around them and follow specific rules of the road like piloted aircraft
Security
  • Uplogix: Needs to be secure to ensure that only the right people have access to the right equipment, and document everything that happens to know who, did what, and with what impact
  • PrimeAir: It will probably take more than a tracking confirmation number that shows the 5 lb. parcel was dropped in your driveway and not on your roof. Maybe a video showing the delivery? 
Anyway, you get the idea. New ideas are easy to shoot down, but good ones fire back with good answers to tough questions. At Uplogix, we've been doing this with our network automation for years. We'll see how Amazon does with their newest automated plans.