What is IPMI?

Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is a set of standard computer interface specifications for monitoring hardware and their operations. It basically provides platform management for system temperatures, fans, power supplies, control of these components, and logging. IPMI is simply a hardware solution for controlling and managing servers. Built exclusively for out-of-band management, IPMI allows remote monitoring and doesn't require system OS permission. IPMI v1.5 and v2.0 are considered the stable versions. IPMI is supported by different vendors including Cisco, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, NEC, and Intel.

Why do we need IPMI?

IPMI allows access to servers even when an OS is not installed or isn't functioning. It also provides a means to manage a system that's powered off or is facing network connectivity issues. Remote installation of custom OS is also facilitated by IPMI, which saves time since admins don’t have to be physically present when installing an OS on a machine.

Components of IPMI

IPMI is primarily comprised of:

  • A baseboard management controller (BMC).
  • An Intelligent Platform Management Bus (IPMB).
  • An Intelligent Chassis Management Bus (ICMB).

A BMC is the most crucial part of IPMI, as it connects the system management software and the platform hardware that's being monitored. An IPMB is a serial bus that connects various boards inside a chassis and establishes a connection between the management controllers. An ICMB provides a standardized interface for communication and control between chassis.

The other components include IPMI memory and communication interfaces. Sensor data records, the system event log, and field-replaceable units form a part of the IPMI memory. System interfaces, modem interfaces, and LAN interfaces are communication interfaces.

How does IPMI work?

IPMI runs on a BMC. The BMC receives data from the sensors connected to the hardware and acts on this data. IPMI uses this data to monitor system functioning. It also coordinates with the IPMB and ICMB to ensure that the system performs optimally.

Benefits of IPMI

IPMI provides the following benefits:

  • Multiple remote locations:

    IPMI can monitor servers at multiple locations remotely, without the need to access them physically.
  • Server health monitoring:

    IPMI constantly keeps track of server health and performance and notifies admins of any possible failures well in advance.
  • Independent operation:

    IPMI can access and monitor a server, even if the OS has crashed or hasn't been installed. It can recover a server from failures and is always accessible.
  • Vendor-neutral approach:

    IPMI can access servers from different vendors and is a universal protocol.
  • Agentless:

    IPMI doesn't require admins to install an agent on the server to fetch monitoring data.

Disadvantages of IPMI

Despite its numerous advantages, IPMI has disadvantages from a security perspective.

The protocol is prone to loopholes for cyberattacks due to its remote access capabilities. However, this has been fixed in the latest versions. But still, it is recommended to place the IPMI management port on a dedicated management LAN or VLAN with access restricted to select admins only.

IPMI is more useful for system admins who monitor a large number of servers, and it enables admins to be proactive and avoid potential issues.

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