Whether you have a rack of 3 Cisco routers and switches or 30, it is always nice to be able to easily and quickly get to the console of each device. This is especially true if you do much reconfiguration. By using a Cisco router with async ports as a terminal server, you can very quickly go to a single device and configure all your Cisco router and switches (in that rack) from a single device. Let's find out how to do it...
Console ports are not Ethernet ports
All too often, new Cisco admins confuse Cisco's console port to be an Ethernet port. However, the console port on Cisco routers and switches is a SERIAL port (not Ethernet). That means that it is designed to connect to the COM port (serial port) on your PC. Although the cable that connects to it has an RJ45 on the end, just like an Ethernet cable, an Ethernet cable will not work to connect these two together. What you need is a serial "rolled cable" if you are going to directly connect the router to the PC.
What's a Terminal Server?
A "terminal server" is also called an access server. This is a device that commonly provides access FROM dumb terminals TO the network. However, you can turn this around and also use it to allow a single device to allow access TO the device, FROM the network.
The most well known Cisco access servers are the 2509 and 2511. While these are discontinued models, they are still used today at many companies as access servers for the network equipment (see Cisco's overview of the 2509 and 2511 for more information). These devices have 8 and 16 asynchronous serial ports, respectively. That means that I could take up to 8 or 16 devices, connect their console port to the access server, and control those devices by just going to the console port or telnetting to the access server. Note that the 2509-RJ and 2511-RJ are the same as the 2509 and 2511 but the RJ models have RJ45 jacks built on them instead of 68 PIN SCSI ports that go to octal cables.
Graphic Courtesy of Cisco Systems
On more current models of Cisco routers, you can also buy async network modules that are inserted into routers, providing the same access server/terminal server capabilities but in a card. Those cars are called NM-16A and NM-32A cards and you must have a router that has a NM (network module) slot.
How can I use a Cisco Router as a Terminal Server?
To be able to telnet to the terminal server / access server, you can either stick with the IP address of that device or you can create a loopback adaptor. To create a dedicated loopback adaptor for this purpose, do this: Router(config)# interface loopback0 Router(config-if)# ip address 192.168.1.1 255.255.255.255
Now, add the devices, as IP aliases, that are connected to each of the async cables (your routers & switches), with their respective cable/line number: Router(config)# ip host host1 2001 192.168.1.1 Router(config)# ip host host2 2002 192.168.1.1 Where it says "2001", for example, the "1" is the cable/line number that that device is connected to.
This means that you could either telnet to the console of the connected "host1" by just telnetting to 192.168.1.1 2001 OR You could first telnet to the access server, then just twohost1 to telnet to that host.
Once connected to the device, you can switch between active sessions by using ctrl-shift-6-x to bring you back to terminal server. You can use show sessions to display the active sessions, and to go back to your session just press enter for the last session or the session number of that session.
To disconnect a session use the disconnect command.
This terminal server / access server functionality is very useful for controlling a large rack of routers and switches. This is especially true to CCNA, CCNP, CCIE test candidates who need to reconfigure multiple routers and configured from the command line. However, this is also true for a production rack of routers where you may need to quickly get to the console of those routers to troubleshoot a networking issue.
Do you have questions about security, network design, or network implementation? Or what about the Cisco IOS? If so, please visit our Cisco Router discussion forums.