Thursday, January 30, 2014

Groundhog Day for network configuration

Every year, on February 2nd, crowds in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania gather at dawn to witness a rodent pass judgment on just how much longer winter weather will torment the country.

The Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day combined the weirdness of this 127-year tradition with a time loop/karma story where an unpleasant TV weatherman relives the same day until he finally learns his lessons. Each morning he wakes up and the world is exactly the same. Day after day.

This movie meaning of Groundhog Day is similar to an interesting application for Uplogix.

One customer uses Local Management to automatically power down and reset equipment to a baseline configuration on a nightly basis. At night, specific systems are shut down through the CLI and powered off by Uplogix. Then in the morning at a specified time, the systems are powered up and pushed a baseline configuration so they start up the same each morning regardless of changes tested the previous day.

It's the Groundhog Day of network configuration.

Set up by the customer using the rules engine in the Uplogix Control Center and utilizing direct connections to managed devices and a smart PDU, the case study shows a proactive application for Local Management.

For more information, check out the Power Management Solution Brief, available in the Uplogix Resource Center.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When an "air gap" isn't enough

The remote nature of offshore drilling platforms used to ensure the safety of their networks from the world wide web with three W's of another sort: a physical barrier of waves, wind and water. On-board, the "air gap" between vessel control systems, process control systems and data networks is shrinking as these become increasingly linked to the outside world over common communication lines. High speed satellite connections, underwater fiber links and cheap cellular meshes have made offshore platforms into mere branch offices from an IT perspective.

Bringing rigs into closer contact also means that they are more susceptible to the dangers of mainstream IT.

A recent Digital Energy Journal article entitled "Cyber attacks to drill rigs - understanding the threats" takes a look at where old school thinking opens up new world risks:
On conventional data networks (for example in your office), information security and data protection take a significant priority over system up time and availability.
The exact opposite is true of a control system. System uptime is paramount. Any downtime is effectively Non Productive Time (NPT), and prohibitively expensive. This polar variation in business drivers is important to recognize as it drives funding and security solution fit.
And in the past, control systems were isolated and relatively safe. Years might go by between software updates. As these systems become more sophisticated and precise, data is pumped onshore for analysis, and changes are sent back. In some cases, a few experts onshore control systems on number of vessels at sea.

Manufacturer patches face a double edged sword -- installation might mean downtime and testing, but not installing patches on these now networked systems could mean vulnerability. Think Stuxnet. "PLC level attacks are a slightly different animal than a typical data network attack... PLCs do not typically have viruses that impact operation in the same way that Apple OS is relative virus free. PLCs can however, be the subject of targeted, focused and damaging attack."

So, as drilling platforms become remote offices from an IT perspective, they'll lock down data systems against common viruses and Windows OS attacks. In this case, better connectivity means better ability to download current virus definitions and software. For the control systems, PLCs have not been targets of hackers, but that seems to be changing for drilling platforms and the energy infrastructure as a whole. In recent months the US Department of Homeland Security has raised warning levels and is asking companies to be prepared.

Drilling platforms are familiar environments for Uplogix Local Management. While commonly used in the communications stack for management of satellite and networking gear, the next logical step might be serving as a secure gateway to control systems. With strong security features for granular access, multiple options for out-of-band, and configuration management capabilities like SurgicalRollback, remote experts can maintain rig systems with the confidence of being out there on the high seas.

For more information, please visit the Uplogix website:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Even if it ain't broke, you might fix it

Some of the famous last words in IT are, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." They define the two sides of a coin toss: one side keeps idle hands from causing problems messing with things that should be left alone, while the other side can often perpetuate ______ (software, hardware, processes...) that end up costing the company more to avoid dealing with them than a solution.

Examples include that server standing off in the corner of the data center hardwired with a mess of cables running some old application on an aging OS. You know the one. Maybe it's that laser printer that has faded to that olive-tan color unique to vintage computing equipment. The one that with the toner you can only find on eBay. Sure the toner doesn't last as long as it used to, but it's fairly cheap. Right?

Writing in Information Week, Peter Waterhouse of CA says that running an outdated IT strategy and managing to the status quo is a recipe for IT disaster. To avoid the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it mentality," Waterhouse suggests four things to keep in mind:

IT needs to watch over the business
IT touches all aspects of a company. IT strategists should use this vantage point to go beyond technical improvements to looking for wider processes and attitudes that might be broken.

Invest in continuous change
Successful businesses can remodel themselves when necessary. IT needs to enable the enterprise to be agile by being agile themselves.

Ruthlessly prioritize and consolidate
The old statistic about maintaining the status quo consuming 70% of IT's budget applies here. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" can leave a company without options for moving to newer technology. Seek out places to find savings to implement new innovations.

Stop meeting and start thinking
Rigid brainstorming sessions prevent real innovation and usually result in traditional outcomes. For well-understood problems, this might be alright, but new challenges might require stepping outside the organization to find external developer networks and customers that can provide some innovative viewpoints.

At Uplogix, we confront "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" thinking everyday. As an innovative solution that impacts a variety of traditional networking areas, it's not uncommon to find resistance to change. But for those with the understanding of the true costs of the status quo, Local Management can inspire a new mantra -- "if it's broke, let Uplogix fix it!"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Don't fight the power, manage it

Power management is a critical part of network IT and has two main components: managing and monitoring power throughout the infrastructure, and having the ability to control outlets and groups of outlets.

For Uplogix, managing power to devices is a key component of Local Management. Some of the key functionality includes:

Power utilization monitoring | Collecting power draw from the power unit at regular intervals and immediately alerting administrators when pre-defined thresholds are hit

Executing complex procedures | Automating hardware-specific tasks that often require specialized commands and interactions during the power-on self test cycle to facilitate complicated recovery interactions

Remote access | Eliminating the need for direct human intervention by providing always-on connectivity to the power units

Independent control and redundancy | Independently controlling outlets on power units to provide power management for specific devices

A quick power management case study:
Automating smart power for a nightly shutdown

We have customer that uses One Uplogix customer uses Local Management to automatically power
down and reset equipment to a baseline configuration on a nightly basis.

At night, specific systems are shut down through the CLI and powered off by Uplogix. Then in the morning at a specified time, the systems are powered up and pushed a baseline configuration so they start up the same each morning regardless of changes tested the previous day.

Set up by the customer using the rules engine in the Uplogix Control Center and utilizing direct connections to managed devices and a smart PDU, the case study shows a proactive application for Local Management.

So, don't fight the power, automate it! For more information, check out the Power Management Solution Brief