The first company presenting at NFD27 was ZPE. They talked about their Gen 3 Out-of-Band Management systems and the Zero Pain Ecosystem.

In an interesting revelation, ZPE stands for Zero Point Energy, not Zero Pain Ecosystem. Clever bit of marketing.

OOBM is old news. It’s “table stakes”. So what makes ZPE’s OOBM something to look at?

First Impressions

Honestly, the presentation started out a bit of a mess. We circled the journey three or four times, regularly rehashing the same information. However, they have a few unique features that set them apart – for a time. While many network engineers think of OOBM in terms of the rollover serial cable, there are other things that don’t use serial but still need OOBM. Cisco comes to mind with things like CIMC for UCS or Meraki’s Local Status Page. A more traditional console server, like OpenGear’s CM line, doesn’t support out-of-band access to these sorts of interfaces. While an operator could deploy a VPN to the site, ZPE actually supports this out of the box in the same device as the traditional serial console. How long will this remain a differentiator? Probably not long – even with OpenGear, the OM line has an x86 CPU and can run Docker, which means you could run OpenVPN on it and connect to those web interfaces. The ZPE also has an x86 processor, which means that it can do anything that the OpenGear OM can. The value with ZPE, though, is how integrated features are when compared to the do-it-yourself approach you’d have to take with OpenGear (or some other competing OOBM vendor).

Perhaps a more interesting feature is that ZPE will run Java plugins for you. This lets you get away from those pesky Java-based OOBM interfaces, but it raises the question of support and security. Some of those really annoying interfaces are old and require ancient versions of Java with tons of vulnerabilities..

ZPE has a host of other features, like running Ansible playbooks to help automate initial provisioning. Unfortunately, though, so much of the presentation was spent on the OOBM story that we didn’t really get to dive into these sorts of use cases.

Final Thoughts

Overall, ZPE’s offering is solid, but their ability to frame it was lacking. Competitors will eventually catch up in the areas that become table stakes, and the differentiators will end up being niche uses or integrations (such as environmental smoke detectors or actuators).

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