Cisco Configuration Meets iPad, iPhone
I have met what seems like a few hundred field techs over the years I've spent in IT, and the one thing they all have in common is a desire for lighter, more portable diagnostic tools. Mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad offer the potential to be an excellent platform for such use, and, fortunately, service tools are reaching the point where they are becoming practical to implement on these devices.
For an example of this phenomenon, look no further than the Get Console app from Amix Capital of New Zealand. Get Console works on iPad and recent iPhone and iPod touch devices and provides more than just a vanilla console connection to Cisco routers and switches.
Get Console is only $9.99 in the iTunes App Store but requires a somewhat pricey cable to connect the Apple device's Dock Connector to the Cisco hardware's console port. Redpark Product Development of Emeryville, Calif., offers that cable for $69. Its 6-foot length allows the user to comfortably access console ports on Cisco gear no matter where in an equipment rack it may sit.
I spent the better part of a month with a prerelease and an "official" version of the software, and although some people may prefer using Telnet or SSH to access devices, I found this to be better in almost every way. Release 1.3 includes the ability to use the Apple Wireless Keyboard-a Bluetooth device that works with iPad, iPhone and iPod touch-as an input device that comes in handy in cramped quarters.
Get Console includes a number of nifty features that field techs can use to make their lives simpler. This includes the ability to send a break signal during the Cisco device's boot sequence, logging of session output and the ability to edit templates on the mobile device and paste them into the console session.
One feature that could prove quite useful is the ability to securely share the console session over the mobile device's WiFi or 3G connection with a remote user. They say two heads are better than one, and this allows a field tech to consult with a more experienced tech when needed. This can be for observation or remote configuration, and because the console session is taking place out-of-band, it doesn't require any connectivity on the part of the device being configured.
Currently, Amix hosts the remote sessions on servers in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Far East. For those instances where a private session server hosted on the customer's network is preferred, licensing of the backend server is available as well.
Amix's other plans for Get Console include expanding its range to other devices that can be configured through a serial console, but that's not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, Apple's policies for App Store approval appear to be an issue. For another, there's no standard pinout for RS-232 serial communications through an RJ-45 plug or jack. According to the company, Fortinet, HP and Juniper support are the first priority, as these devices share the Cisco pinout.