Hop on the High-Speed Bus

The first general purpose computer known as ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer – circa 1946) was heralded as the “Giant Brain”. It was literally larger than a dozen passenger buses and weighed as much. It was made of tens of thousands of vacuum tubes and relays, hundreds of thousands of resistors and capacitors and millions of hand-soldered joints. It operated at lightning speed, a whopping 0.1 MHz.  Skip forward 67 years, when the average computer is more than ten thousand times faster and one hundred thousand times smaller.

Every computer since then has employed a system known as a “bus” for transferring signals and data both internally and to peripherals. For the past 60 years these computer buses were mainly parallel wires or circuit board traces that could contain hundreds of signals. In the heyday of mainframes and early minicomputers these buses were proprietary, highly guarded designs, and specific to particular models or families of computers. It was only in the 1970s-1990s that the proprietary nature of buses was turned on its head spurred on by the advent of the microprocessor (Intel, Texas Instruments, Motorola, Zilog and others) and availability of a wide range of general purpose integrated circuits (led by Fairchild).

A number of minicomputer vendors (including Digital Equipment Corporation – now part of HP) started documenting their computer bus architectures (Unibus, Q-Bus, LSI-11 bus). A whole circuit board or multiples could be dedicated to the CPU function, other boards for memory, still others for disk controllers and so on. These boards were often 19”x19” in size and connected by an expansion bus with gold plated fingers that slotted into a multi-connector backplane. Many third parties quickly developed massive add-in cards to supplement the vendors’ selection of peripherals.

As the general purpose microprocessor (8080, Z80, 8086, 68000) effectively replaced proprietary minicomputer CPUs during the 1980s, vendors building those systems immediately released their expansion bus specifications (S100, Multibus I & II, VMEbus 1-10 MHz) and the open-architecture add-on card industry began. However it was only after the release of the IBM PC in 1980, which was IBM’s first open architecture computer with an ISA bus (5MHz), did the add-on card industry (memory, video, network, disk, comms) grow to billions of dollars in that decade.

During the 1990s the popularity and power of the PC architecture (80286/386/486/Pentium, etc.) and follow-on improvements to the ISA bus (EISA and MCA) paved the way for more sophisticated buses which allowed 32-bit operation, higher speeds, multi-processor support, CPU independence and so on. So in 1993 Intel released the PCI bus (Peripheral Component Interconnect) which supported 32/64-bit transfers at 33 and 66 MHz and dominated for a decade.

Post 2000 we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the performance, miniaturization and transformation of computing devices. Most modern CPUs used in these systems have absorbed discrete functions into a 2 or 3 chip-set or a single System on Chip (SoC) so those old buses make little sense. However the need to add high-speed peripherals, storage, displays, and communication devices still exists. The PCI bus was found wanting and its physical attributes made it impractical. In 2004 the PCI bus evolved into PCI Express which was an ultra high-speed serial bus that implemented the nearly 100 pin PCI bus on a handful of wires on a board or on a cable to an external device. Not only that, it introduced the concept of lanes so that you could aggregate up to 16 channels into one for 256 Gbps transfers. Most modern systems support at least a “one-lane” PCIe interface. Add-on cards are palm-sized or smaller. Some are also available in a mini-card format such as wireless modules.

At Opengear our engineers have significant design and business experience that covers the major “open architecture” buses spanning the last 30 years. Many of our products and future products employ these popular buses. That’s the high-speed side covered. An article summarizing some key medium and low-speed serial buses, which are also industry stalwarts, will follow, so “don’t miss the bus”.

Opengear Plunges into the Deep Pacific to Help Researchers Bring Internet to the Ocean Floor

Sixty miles north of the Hawaiian island of Oahu and three miles down to the ocean floor sits the ALOHA Cabled Observatory (ACO). Providing real-time oceanographic data through a retired and donated AT&T HAW-4 submarine fiber-optic cable, ALOHA station is the deepest working observatory of its kind, as well as the deepest power node on earth and the deepest location that’s connected to the Internet (so bring your laptop if you’re SCUBA diving around there). Utilizing Opengear technology to safeguard the continued availability of this unique underwater connection, the station includes a hydrophone and pressure sensor, along with instrumentation for measurement and communication of temperature, salinity, currents, acoustics, and video.

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Physical + cyber security in a converged IT + OT world

Enterprise and governments are struggling to maintain their complex IT infrastructure in the face of ramping security pressures and rampant attacks. The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to magnify this complexity, introducing billions of connected devices that sense and control the physical world. The resultant convergence of IT and operational technology (OT) infrastructures will significantly expand the threat landscape.

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Out-Of-Band Management Delivers Business Resilience

Network downtime is frustrating and very costly to millions of businesses all over the world. Recent network outages at the NYSE, United Airlines and the Wall Street Journal highlight opportunities where out-of-band systems might have helped mitigate the costs and frustrations of network downtime.

Opengear developed this infographic to help illustrate the issues involved and the potential risks that can be mitigated with a solid out-of-band management strategy: Continue reading

Smartly connected products are transforming competition

You may have seen the recent Harvard Business Review article in which Michael Porter and James Heppelmann describe How Smart Connected Products Are Transforming Competition. These smart connected products (a.k.a. the Internet of Things) are seen to be unleashing the third wave of IT-driven transformation and a new era of competition. Porter and Heppelmann say that the first two waves (the IT automation of the 1960s/70s followed by the Internet wave of 1980s/90s) radically reshaped competition and strategy, and delivered huge productivity gains and economic growth. Continue reading

In a cloud-centric world is your “Out-Of-Band” solution up to the task?

Out-of band (OOB) access to critical infrastructure for reconfiguration or repair was pioneered more than 30 years ago. It began as a DIY solution where engineers used terminal servers, repurposed server computers or routers with serial ports to access their infrastructure. Reverse telnet (later reverse SSH) functionality allowed serial over Ethernet redirection and command line/terminal access to the device console.

Fifteen years ago, OOB experienced a massive transformation resulting from the growth of crammed data closets, machine rooms and sophisticated data centers. Due to the density and wide array of critical IT, networking and power infrastructure, tens, hundreds and thousands of serial consoles needed to be accessed and monitored to keep the corporate IT engine running. To cope with this, Continue reading

Opengear and “IT Resilience” at ITExpo in Miami, FL

Opengear participated in the ITExpo conference in Miami, Florida at the end of January. This was the first large event of the year showcasing our Smart OOB™ and Failover to Cellular™ (F2C) solutions. Together, Smart OOB™ and Failover to Cellular™ provide our customers with a high level of IT resilience — the ability to not only recover efficiently from faults, but also prevent these disruptions in the first place. We received an enthusiastic response to our solution.

To better understand what these customers saw and liked, here’s some simple math. Continue reading

What Retail Networking can learn from the Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby is an annual tradition of young boy scouts around the world, where they build motorless racecars from a block of wood and become pit crew chiefs for an evening of grand prix excitement. I recently helped my son build his very first pinewood derby car. Together, we picked out the design, cut out the block, sanded and painted it. After a good amount of effort, I dare say our car — which was more of a custom truck — looked pretty sweet, especially since we had made it from a rectangular chunk of wood with really no guide other than a picture of something similar found on the Internet.

When it came time to put the wheels on the truck, I decided it was time to take over and make it as fast as possible within the rules. I made a stop at our local hobby shop where I found pre-polished axles and some graphite powder lubrication, both of which promised to send my boy’s pinewood truck straight to the podium. I snatched them up and headed for the check-out counter.

After waiting in line behind one other customer for 10 minutes, it was finally my turn to pay. Now, I pride myself in my fiscal responsibilities, so one can imagine my shock when the clerk handed back my card and asked for a second form of payment, citing a decline from the credit card company. In the confusion, I offered a second card only to have it be declined as well. At this point, the store owner happened to walk by as I asked the reason for the declines, which made him stop and check the register. As I suspected, the declines weren’t my fault. Instead, it was a retail owner’s worst nightmare — his network connection had failed and he was now unable to process my, or any other credit card. The owner scurried off to see if he could figure out what went wrong with his network muttering something about losing a half an hour of his time in the middle of the day.

How an Opengear solution with Failover to Cellular™ could have saved the day.

Regardless of the size of a retail shop, troubleshooting a network connection issue is the last thing a store manager wants — or should be asked — to do. All too often, the store manager simply calls a centralized support group and then acts as their remote hands and eyes as they manually cycle power on routers or firewalls and report the status. But wouldn’t it be nice if the store manager could be cut completely out of the loop, left to do what they do best?

With an Opengear device, such as an ACM5508-2-Lx-I, serially connected to the in-store networking equipment, this is a reality. As soon as the primary network goes down, the Opengear device starts performing a variety of actions. First, the Opengear device automatically and transparently fails over to a cellular connection so the retail business can resume as if nothing ever happened. In truth, the secondary cellular connection ensures that for customers and employees alike, nothing has happened.

At the same time, Opengear’s Smart OOB™ kicks in sending off SMS alerts to the centralized support group — or business owner’s tech guy — alerting them of the outage and informing them of critical out-of-band network information such as the IP address of the Opengear device where they can establish a VPN connection and access CLIs of any networking equipment connected to the Opengear unit. Automated responses may already be cycling power on affected devices or performing any number of pre-configured actions depending on the fault detected. By the time the out-of-band connection is established between support and the Opengear device, remedial action is well underway and the network is significantly closer to returning to normal operating conditions — all with no noticeable interruption to customers or employees.

Once support has performed any remedial actions — anywhere from simply cycling power on a locked-up router to completely re-configuring a device from an IOS image stored locally on the flash storage of the Opengear unit — the primary Internet connection is gracefully restored with a transparent fail-back.

In case you were wondering about my in-store experience, out of pure coincidence, I happened to have just enough cash in my wallet to pay for my transaction and leave. But it truly was a coincidence as I am like most people today who tend to rely more and more on plastic cash than the paper version. As for the race? Let’s just say that Opengear is much better at making out-of-band management solutions than I am at making chunks of pine go fast.

Failover to Cellular: Another example of customer-driven innovation at Opengear

The productivity loss due to Internet downtime in an enterprise or at remote sites can be staggering making a “failover” Internet connection a necessity for most businesses. A research study conducted by the Aberdeen Group estimated that the industry average cost of downtime was about $110,000 per hour in 2010 and about $212,000 per hour in 2012!

As we head into 2015, that cost is guaranteed to be significantly higher for most organizations, be it retail, healthcare, education, financial services, transportation or any other business. Until very recently, building in redundancy to avoid downtime could easily cost a fortune, making it uneconomical for all but the largest enterprises. However, high-speed 4G LTE cellular technology has been a disruptive technology in this space. A high-speed 4G LTE cellular connection can easily serve as Continue reading

LISA 2014 Experience

Large Install System AdministratorsScreen Shot 2014-11-24 at 5.41.24 PM (LISA) show is one of my favorite events and this year it was in one of my favorite cities, Seattle. Seattle is home to Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Costco, Nordstrom, Outerwall, F5 and so many others. The 1,110 attendees were the most since 2007. They are smart and as diverse as any crowd I have been around. No one at this show cares if your hair is green, red or purple nor do they care if you are wearing a full-length fur coat or kilt with combat boots. The people here run the largest networks in the world and they do it with precision and efficiency.

There was a broad list of interesting topics at LISA 2014, however Opengear also created quite a stir with the release of the CM7100, an ideal product for large data centers and labs looking for performance at a great value. It doesn’t hurt any of these hacker’s feelings that it is also Continue reading