October 16, 2003, 12:00 AM — Servers crash. Who ya gonna call? Unfortunately, Ghostbusters isn't the
right answer. At least not this time.
When a server crashes, it's a network administrator who gets the call.
Day or night, rain or shine, he (odd, it's almost always a he) must have
hands-on access to the ailing server in order to diagnose and repair the
problem, and then restart the system.
Of course, this is not a problem when the administrator is in the
office. Just mosey on down the hall, with coffee mug in one hand and
cheese Danish in another, to the server room. In a somewhat more
advanced environment, he can just log on to the enterprise KVM
(keyboard, video, mouse) system from his desktop. In a really advanced
enterprise environment, where KVM over IP is running, that administrator
can take full control of the suspect server from any Internet-connected
computer from here to Timbuktu. As Louis Armstrong said, "What a
But what happens when that administrator isn't parked in front of a
networked PC? He might be in his car, waiting at an airport, lounging in
a hotel, riding that last train to Clarkesville, or sitting in a
riveting technical training seminar. What then?
Here's what usually happens: Typically, that administrator might get a
pager or phone text message informing him of the downed server. Placing
a phone call back to the office, he talks with someone onsite, and, from
memory, attempts to guide the second person through the admin screens to
solve the problem and reboot the system. It may work; it may not.
Certainly it doubles the manpower requirement, is prone to delay, and
could even compromise a carefully formulated server password scheme. But
it's the best we've been able to do. So far.
From what I hear, that could change, thanks to our friend, the 802.11b
wireless network. Imagine sitting in a Starbucks somewhere, anywhere
(well, they are everywhere after all) and logging onto their public
fee-based Wi-Fi network with a handheld Pocket PC as you sip your grande
mocha latte. Through a secure VPN, imagine logging into the corporate
network and then accessing the ailing server's console screen to manage,
administer, and reboot. No second person needed, no compromised
security, and no delay. Even better, that Pocket PC carries a price tag
of only a few hundred dollars, a whole lot less pricey than a full-blown
laptop that wouldn't otherwise be needed on the trip. And the Pocket PC
is a lot easier to tote around.
I was initially skeptical of this idea, not because the technology might
not work, but because I wasn't sure about the adequate availability of
wireless access points around the world. I needn't have worried.
Research firm Gartner projects that more than 100,000 hotspots will be
operational worldwide by 2006.