Closing back doors to your data

Axeda's new service-monitoring app puts IT managers back in control of remote datacenter access

Storage vendors often brag that their systems "phone home" in the event of malfunction, often before something breaks. "We call you before you realize there's a problem, telling you a component is about to fail and that the replacement part has already been shipped," goes the refrain.

Some might dismiss these claims, calling them marketing hype. But in fact, many modern storage systems and servers come equipped with self-checking mechanisms to predict failure before it happens or raise a flag at the vendor's site when something breaks.

The little-known industry secret, however, is that many of those systems use the same service-monitoring system -- Axeda's ServiceLink -- and that having so many service entrances to your datacenter could pose significant security risk.

ServiceLink provides vendors with an infrastructure to manage features such as secure, remote connectivity; incident tracking; and behavior monitoring. Axeda also offers an SDK so that customers can integrate ServiceLink with their own software.

To better understand how ServiceLink works, listen to customer testimonials, but don't be surprised if Axeda is not mentioned in those clips. Check out the online product materials for EMC Secure Support Gateway and Quantum Storage Care Guardian, for example.

Even if we discount the marketing hype in those clips, it's hard to deny that proactive device monitoring and prompt malfunction reporting are worthwhile features.

Yet imagine a diversified datacenter with products from a wide array of vendors, each of which requires a separate telephone line or VPN connection to its support center. Managing that connectivity spaghetti could consume a significant amount of resources -- resources that tend to shrink every year. Worse would be the security risk all those back doors would create for your data.

Of course, most companies don't have to imagine that scenario; they are already dealing with it. Fortunately, Axeda last month announced a way out in the form of ServiceLink for Datacenters, which it is offering, as the name suggests, to you rather than to your vendors.

"Large companies are trying to discourage using modems and individual connectivity paths," explains Brian Anderson, vice president of marketing at Axeda. In fact, the new version of ServiceLink offers vendors a single Web-based portal that they access only after using individual, IT managed authentication.

From that portal, vendors can access reports of incidents with their products and can connect to the affected devices for further diagnostics using their built-in interface.

The new application from Axeda offers obvious benefits, such as simplifying and consolidating remote access into a more manageable structure, and putting IT staff in control of those connections. But those benefits don't come cheap: Pricing starts at US$50,000 per year and grows based on the number of devices managed.

Nevertheless, companies should come out ahead, according to Anderson, because the additional cost is offset by decreased complexity -- and more than made up for in terms of reducing the risk of data disclosure.