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Product Reviews
April  2000


MasterSwitch plus

American Power Conversion (APC) Corporation
132 Fairgrounds Rd.
West Kingston, RI 02892
Ph: 800-800-4272
Web site: www.apc.com

Price: $999

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: 3.75
Features: 5
GUI: 4.5
Overall: A

APC's MasterSwitch plus is a remote power distribution unit (PDU) that allows users to individually control power to connected devices. The MasterSwitch plus allows users to either locally or remotely shutdown or reboot up to eight connected servers of different operating systems. MIS or IT personnel no longer need to carry a pager on weekends or on a hard-earned vacation. Either via a telnet connection or even over TCP/IP via a browser, computer gurus can remotely restart or shutdown servers. More often than not, a reboot usually solves the problem. Of course MIS personnel may still need that pager after all in the event of a more serious problem. Nonetheless, remote power distribution units do allow MIS personnel to more quickly respond to a failure and do it without having to drive to the office.

Setting up the MasterSwitch plus was fairly easy. We took it out of the box and connected several PCs to the eight available outlets on the back of the MasterSwitch plus. Next, we connected a serial cable from the MasterSwitch plus to one of the PCs. Next, we connected an RJ-45 cable from a 10/100 Base-T hub to the network port on the unit. Finally, we installed the software that shipped on the CD-ROM.

From the software we connected to the PC via a serial connection so as to be able to set the IP address on the MasterSwitch unit. After setting the IP address, we opened our browser, typed in the chosen IP address, and were prompted to enter our username and password. The default username and password is �apc� which we actually guessed, although it is written in the documentation. From the browser interface, we were able to add users, change passwords, assign users to outlets, and set other options.

The documentation consists of a single booklet that is 26 pages long. It includes instructions on how to mount the unit on a 19-inch rack with the included brackets. What is unclear in the documentation is how to "power protect" the MasterSwitch plus. That is, with eight electrical outlets on the MasterSwitch plus, the unit should no doubt be connected to a UPS. However, on page eight of the documentation, it clearly states, "Connect the power cord of the MasterSwitch plus unit into a single-phase, 120-VAC, 15-amp outlet."

This contradicts our assumption that the MasterSwitch should be connected to a UPS to protect the eight MasterSwitch outlets. For our tests, we connected the MasterSwitch to a UPS anyway rather than a standard wall outlet. But we were concerned that if we simulated a power failure, the power drain from eight PCs connected to the MasterSwitch Plus might damage one of our lab UPSs. We've read in many UPS manuals that you should never connect a laser printer to a UPS due to the high spike in power consumption that laser printers have when printing. We were concerned this was also applicable when having eight PCs connected to the MasterSwitch, which in turn is connected to a UPS. We weren't sure if this was safe or not and the documentation didn't address our concerns. Also, the manual states that you can connect a serial cable to an APC brand UPS for communication between the two. Again, the documentation does not state to what extent the two communicate. For instance, can the MasterSwitch control the UPS's outlets via the serial connection? We did research this further and found out via APC's Web site that the MasterSwitch can detect when the UPS has entered "on battery" state and will automatically shut down connected servers followed by shutting off the attached outlets after the shutdown has been confirmed.

In any event, the rest of the documentation was well organized and contained step-by-step instructions for various configurations, including daisy-chaining multiple MasterSwitch units.

Other than the two aforementioned omissions, the documentation was good. Nonetheless, TMC� Labs expects thoroughness and complete documentation, which is why the documentation grade only earned a 3.75 rating.

Administrators have the ability to assign individual outlets or groups of outlets to specific users. Password protected user, administrator, and device manager accounts ensure restricted access to system, device, and outlet level services. The MasterSwitch plus allows for automatic shutdown of connected servers attached to an APC UPS when the UPS enters �on-battery� state, and for the attached outlet to be turned off after the server has confirmed shutdown. Another nice feature is a "graceful" reboot. That is, the system will shut down servers before cycling power to the equipment. The unit can manage connected devices via a Web-based interface through a built-in Ethernet connection and telnet, and utilizes MD-5 security.

Other features include the ability to:

  • Control eight on-board power outlets for complete and flexible management of connected equipment;
  • Use MasterSwitch plus to power down connected equipment on an outlet-by-outlet basis to conserve battery backup power;
  • Configure (as a user) the sequence in which power is provided to individual receptacles upon startup;
  • Connect up to three units serially to one unit, providing control of 32 connected devices with one IP address; and
  • Upgrade firmware via Internet downloads for future enhancements.

Testing the MasterSwitch plus was fairly straightforward. After logging onto the unit via Internet Explorer, we proceeded to examine the user interface for adding users and assigning users to specific outlets. Adding a user is fairly simple, requiring a username, password, authentication phrase, user description, and account status. In addition, you can choose which outlets the user can control simply by placing a checkmark in the appropriate checkboxes. Overall, the browser interface for adding users was very easy to use and we were quite pleased with it. We also liked the usage of a tree-like structure on the left border, which expands as you click on a particular feature.

Also, from the browser interface you can change from using a static IP address to using BOOTP (DHCP) for automatically acquiring a TCP/IP address. The browser interface also allows you to configure SNMP, TFTP, FTP, and telnet. We also noticed from the Web interface that we could configure the restart delay, power on delay, power off delay, and reboot duration on an outlet-by-outlet basis

Our major test involved seeing if we could remotely shut down servers. We put the MasterSwitch unit on our testing network, though we could have put it directly on the Internet, but that would require futzing with our firewall settings. Thus, for the sake of simplicity, we used our test network. Then we logged onto the MasterSwitch across the Internet via Internet Explorer. Next, we told the MasterSwitch plus to shut down outlet number 3. Immediately, we could hear a click in the MasterSwitch, indicating that the circuit had been tripped off and the green LED for that particular outlet turned off. Also, the PC we had connected to that outlet immediately shut off, albeit less than gracefully.

To test the "graceful shutdown" feature, we next chose "shutdown," which communicated with the PC via one of the eight serial connections on the MasterSwitch plus to tell the PC to shut down. This test passed without a hitch.

As previously stated, the manual is unclear on how this product integrates with a UPS. Thus, we would like some clarity in the documentation. Although the MasterUnit plus supports SNMP, we would like to see support for paging and e-mail notification of any event conditions (such as a power failure) natively in the unit itself. This might require a modem added to the unit for sending a message to pagers and support for SMTP service for sending out an e-mail.

TMC Labs was very impressed with the functionality of APC's MasterSwitch plus product. The ability to remotely reboot a server or cycle power on any of the eight MasterSwitch outlets is something that most MIS & IT departments can certainly use, especially to save emergency trips to the office on a nice sunny Saturday afternoon! TMC Labs gives high marks to the MasterSwitch plus and we highly recommend it.

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