UPDATE: Get-Console noticed my blog article and contacted me to offer my readers 10% off using coupon code JJGH667QS on their orders.
I realized I hadn’t done a WhatsInTheBag post in awhile, and I wanted to share with you a really cool device I recently picked up – the Air Console Mini.
I work with a lot of different data center equipment. If you do, you know a means to connect via serial to equipment is an absolute must in some cases, or far more convenient in many. All Cisco networking gear requires this pretty much for initial configuration at least to the point of getting it on the network for you to remote into to finish the configuration. Data Domains are often initialized via serial. Cisco UCS C-Series server and CIMC cards, as I’ve mentioned before, can be configured via serial as well. Cisco UCS Fabric Interconects, too…
You get the idea – you need a serial connection. And most laptops these days don’t have serial ports, either.
I started out lugging a Trendnet Serial USB adapter, a long serial cable, and a Cisco console cable. This for all intents and purposes worked, it was cheap, didn’t need special drivers for Windows, easy to use, but man was it bulky and added weight to my already heavy bag, mainly due to the really long serial cable. After all, with this solution, I was tethered to equipment I was working on by the length of the cable, so that pretty much required a long serial cable.
I tried a bluetooth to serial adapter, for the sheet simple reason that I wouldn’t be physically chained to the equipment, but it didn’t work, despite having the ability to have serial communications settings that could be changed to work with the equipment. I quickly gave up on it, and resigned to using the wired cheap solution.
But then, I found the Air Console! I don’t want to go extensively into all the features and models of them. You can get that info easily from their site. I elected to go with the Air Console Mini, which is similar to their other models in functionality, but it doesn’t have an internal rechargeable battery. I did this to eliminate one extra thing that could fail that might be hard to fix, and reduce the size of the device for my already loaded backpack. Besides, I carry a power bank, and I stuff a micro-USB cable in the bag I carry it in, which is used to provide it power. Usually, there’s a USB port nearby from some equipment I can use to power it up, but if not, I got my PowerBank ready.
The Air Console Mini (top left) comes with the blue Cisco Console cable (bottom left), and the white micro-USB cable as well (bottom right). The adapters adapt the console cable to serial or null modem. I throw all this into a small draw string bag to keep it together. I need to throw a mini-USB cable in the kit at well, which allows you to plug the Air Console Mini directly into the front USB console port on applicable Cisco network gear. The Air console itself has several ports.
The micro-USB port provides power to the device. The holes to the left are to hard reset the device back to factory default, and the other is an indicator light or activity and troubleshooting the device itself.
The RJ45 port allows you to wire the Air Console into an ethernet network to access its web portal and for Serial over LAN access. Internally, as I’ve mentioned before, is a WAP and wireless network client, allowing you to join its non-routed wifi network, or you can access it to configure it to connect to an external wireless network.
The USB port plugs into the Cisco Console cable to enable connectivity to the serial device with which you wish to connect. You can also use a mini-USB cable as mentioned before for Cisco network gear with a USB console interface.
The console cable is also very adaptable.
The USB end plugs into the USB port of the Air Console, and doubles as a USB wired console cable to your laptop you can use when you need that hard wired connection. Note you need to download and install their included drivers to do that. The Cisco console RJ45 end can be adapted to serial or null modem, but those are not included. On the side, the object protruding on the right side is the Bluetooth receiver for the device, allowing you to connect with mobile bluetooth enabled iOS or Android devices, or your PC using Bluetooth over serial.
There’s a lot of connectivity options here, just to review. You can connect it serially to Cisco and other serial devices and then access it:
- Wired over a LAN
- Bluetooth using their proprietary apps
- Serial over Bluetooth (yay, use putty if you want!)
- Via joining it to a wireless network, and then connecting wifi via Serial over LAN
- Joining its non-routable wireless network, and connecting via Serial over the LAN
- USB-Hub-Serial cable it comes with if you must be wired only, just install the drivers, plug it up, and you don’t need the network piece of it
For client options:
- Standard Serial terminal applications via Bluetooth Serial
- Connect to its web portal that has a terminal web app built in
- IOS and Android apps
All the typical serial settings like baud rate, stop bits, flow control, parity, and data bits can be customized to work with whatever you need within the IOS app, the web portal’s terminal application, or of course your terminal app on your PC, although with the Cisco and Data Domain gear I tried, the defaults were fine, except Cisco C-Series servers, which use a 115200 baud rate.
I have an iPhone and iPad, as well as a Windows work laptop. Note that you do have to pay for their IOS app as an additional charge to the device itself. I tried every option above except using their Android app (I don’t have a suitable device to try that), and every option worked. I will say the IOS Get Console app did crash anytime I tried to switch to a different app and switched back, which is annoying, but overall, this product worked reliably. I have tried it with Data Domains, various Cisco switches and routers, UCS Fabric Interconnects, and UCS C-Series servers. All worked great!
Via bluetooth wireless connectivity, everything is great except that it cannot do baud rates equal to or higher than 38400 due to technical limitations of Bluetooth. Cisco UCS C-Series servers‘ console ports by default to 115200, just heads up, so in these cases you should connect via Wifi/LAN, not bluetooth.
It is also firmware upgradeable to address bugs and to add additional features, and they do release updates for it, so it seems well supported.
The Air Console Mini runs about $70 USD, and the regular model is $10 more with a built in LION battery, so you don’t have to worry about powering it for quick initial configurations. They also have an additional XL model with a larger battery.
I love this thing, quite honestly. It hardly adds any weight to my bag, and I have an extremely flexible device for all things serial. Who wouldn’t want to do a quick initialization of a Cisco UCS FI cluster with their iPhone?