Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) is one of the most used acronyms in server management. IPMI became popular due to its acceptance as a standard monitoring interface by hardware vendors and developers.

So what is IPMI?

The short answer is that it is a hardware-based solution used for securing, controlling, and managing servers. The comprehensive answer is what this post provides.

What is IPMI Used For?

IPMI refers to a set of computer interface specifications used for out-of-band management. Out-of-band refers to accessing computer systems without having to be in the same room as the system’s physical assets. IPMI supports remote monitoring and does not need permission from the computer’s operating system.

IPMI runs on separate hardware attached to a motherboard or server. This separate hardware is the Baseboard Management Controller (BMC). The BMC acts like an intelligent middleman. BMC manages the interface between platform hardware and system management software. The BMC receives reports from sensors within a system and acts on these reports. With these reports, IPMI ensures the system functions at its optimal capacity.

IPMI collaborates with standard specification sets such as the Intelligent Platform Management Bus (IPMB) and the Intelligent Chassis Management Bus (ICMB). These specifications work hand-in-hand to handle system monitoring tasks.

Alongside these standard specification sets, IPMI monitors vital parameters that define the working status of a server’s hardware. IPMI monitors power supply, fan speed, server health, security details, and the state of operating systems.

You can compare the services IPMI provides to the automobile on-board diagnostic tool your vehicle technician uses. With an on-board diagnostic tool, a vehicle’s computer system can be monitored even with its engine switched off.

Use the IPMItool utility for managing IPMI devices. For instructions and IPMItool commands, refer to our guide on how to install IPMItool on Ubuntu or CentOS.

Features and Components of Intelligent Platform Management Interface

IPMI is a vendor-neutral standard specification for server monitoring. It comes with the following features which help with server monitoring:

  • A Baseboard Management Controller – This is the micro-controller component central to the functions of an IPMI.
  • Intelligent Chassis Management Bus – An interface protocol that supports communication across chasses.
  • Intelligent Platform Management Bus – A communication protocol that facilitates communication between controllers.
  • IPMI Memory – The memory is a repository for an IPMI sensor’s data records and system event logs.
  • Authentication Features – This supports the process of authenticating users and establishing sessions.
  • Communications Interfaces – These interfaces define how IPMI messages send. IPMI send messages via a direct-out-of-band local-area Networks or a sideband local-area network. IPMI communicate through virtual local-area networks.
diagram of how Intelligent Platform Management Interface works

Comparing IPMI Versions 1.5 & 2.0

The three major versions of IPMI include the first version released in 1998, v1.0, v1.5, and v2.0. Today, both v1.5 and v2.0 are still in use, and they come with different features that define their capabilities.

Starting with v1.5, its features include:

  • Alert policies
  • Serial messaging and alerting
  • LAN messaging and alerting
  • Platform event filtering
  • Updated sensors and event types not available in v1. 0
  • Extended BMC messaging in channel mode.

The updated version, v2.0, comes with added updates which include:

  • Firmware Firewall
  • Serial over LAN
  • VLAN support
  • Encryption support
  • Enhanced authentication
  • SMBus system interface

Analyzing the Benefits of IPMI

IPMI’s ability to manage many machines in different physical locations is its primary value proposition. The option of monitoring and managing systems independent of a machine’s operating system is one significant benefit other monitoring tools lack. Other important benefits include:

Predictive Monitoring – Unexpected server failures lead to downtime. Downtime stalls an enterprise’s operations and could cost $250,000 per hour. IPMI tracks the status of a server and provides advanced warnings about possible system failures. IPMI monitors predefined thresholds and provides alerts when exceeded. Thus, actionable intelligence IPMI provides help with reducing downtime.

Independent, Intelligent Recovery – When system failures occur, IPMI recovers operations to get them back on track. Unlike other server monitoring tools and software, IPMI is always accessible and facilitates server recoveries. IPMI can help with recovery in situations where the server is off.

Vendor-neutral Universal Support – IPMI does not rely on any proprietary hardware. Most hardware vendors integrate support for IPMI, which eliminates compatibility issues. IPMI delivers its server monitoring capabilities in ecosystems with hardware from different vendors.

Agent-less Management – IPMI does not rely on an agent to manage a server’s operating system. With it, making adjustments to settings such as BIOS without having to log in or seek permission from the server’s OS is possible.

The Risks and Disadvantages of IPMI

Using IPMI comes with its risks and a few disadvantages. These disadvantages center on security and usability. User experiences have shown the weaknesses include:

Cybersecurity Challenges – IPMI communication protocols sometimes leave loopholes that can be exploited by cyber-attacks, and successful breaches are expensive as statistics show. The IPMI installation and configuration procedures used can also leave a dedicated server vulnerable and open to exploitation. These security challenges led to the addition of encryption and firmware firewall features in IPMI version 2.0.

Configuration Challenges – The task of configuring IPMI may be challenging in situations where older network settings are skewed. In cases like this, clearing network configuration through a system’s BIOS is capable of solving the configuration challenges encountered.

Updating Challenges – The installation of update patches may sometimes lead to network failure. Switching ports on the motherboard may cause malfunctions to occur. In these situations, rebooting the system is capable of solving the issue that caused the network to fail.

Server Monitoring & Management Made Easy

Intelligent Platform Management brings ease and versatility to the task of server monitoring and management. By 2022, experts expect the IPMI market to hit the $3 billion mark. PheonixNAP bare metal servers come with IPMI, and it gives you access to the IPMI of every server you use. Get started by signing up today.