Monday, 29 August 2011

HP Microserver: Remote Access Card

Remote access functionality, sometimes called "Lights Out" management, is a standard feature on mid- and high-end servers. It allows a system administrator to remotely access the console of the server as well as performing power on, off and reset operations. Most implementations also allow for remote media management, allowing the administrator to remotely connect CD-ROM or floppy images across the network to the server.

Low end servers, including the original ML110 and ML115 G5 servers, and the newer Microserver do not come with this functionality. However, it can be added as an extra.

I was out of spare slots on my KVM, so when I bought the Microserver, I included the Remote Access Card (RAC) in the purchase. The Microserver has a PCIe 16x and PCIe 1x slot. The RAC fits into the 1x slot, leaving another card free for upgrades.

The easiest way to configure the card is to initially use a keyboard and monitor.

The back of the card has a standard RJ45 Ethernet connector and a VGA port. The monitor needs to be connected to this port and not the onboard VGA port. Once connected, the machine can be powered on.

When prompted, press F10 to enter the ROM setup. From here, select the Advanced page and IPMI Configuration:

Select Set LAN Configuration:

Set the BMC LAN Configuration option to Static and then enter and IP address, subnet mask and default gateway:

While in here, it's also worth tuning the VGA configuration. Since this server isn't running anything graphical, I dropped the VGA RAM allocated down to the minumum. From the Advanced page, select PCI Express Configuration:

Under VGA Memory Size, select 32MB.

Exit the ROM setup and save settings. Reboot the server. If everything has been configured successfully, you can now disconnect the monitor and keyboard.

Once configured, open a browser to the IP port and you should get the login screen:

The default username is admin and the default password is password.

I've had problems sometimes getting past the login. My username/password is accepted, but I'm returned to the login page. To avoid, I always go to the index.html and not the login.html, and I use Firefox's Private Browsing mode. I assume a cookie is getting set incorrectly sometimes and this process seems to work around it.

Once logged in, the RAC presents a menu down the left hand side, with the main content on the right. Most is pretty self-explanatory.

Email settings

Remote power control

SNMP trap configuration

 The most interesting are at the bottom and provide access to the virtual media and virtual KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse):

Virtual KVM and Media configuration

The Virtual Media is a Java application (loads through Java Webstart) and allows either the local CD/DVD drive, or an ISO image to be connected remotely to the server:

The Virtual KVM is also a Jave Webstart application and provides access to the server console. Special keystrokes such as CTRL-ALT-DEL can be sent using the Macro menu. The following screenshot shows ESXi 5.0 running on the Microserver:

The only problem I had with the Java applications is when I attempted to access them with my Mac. For some reason it had problems opening the file. So I used Windows instead.

So how good is the RAC? While it's probably true to say that I won't be using it all that often, it's a very useful addition to the Microserver, especially if you want to put it somewhere out of the way like the garage or loft.

Unlike the more expensive ILO cards, the RAC does not have an onboard battery, so if the Microserver loses power completely, it's not possible to connect to it. However, if power is connected to the Microserver, you should be able to connect.

** Update 12-FEB-2013: My thanks to Tom Hall who commented that there is a 1.3 firmware for the RAC that fixes a problem where it becomes unresponsive to the network. I've seen this problem a couple of times and it's a pain as it basically makes the RAC useless. The new firmware should resolve this issue. **

Saturday, 27 August 2011

HP Microserver: BIOS upgrade

Despite my attempts to resist, the HP Microserver (with £100 cashback) was too tempting a deal, and I've recently taken ownership of a small server, Remote Access Card (RAC) for ILO functionality and 2 x 4GB memory sticks.

The Microserver comes with 4 internal SATA drive bays. Disks are mounted in the brackets and then slide into the server vertically. There is another drive bay on top for an optional optical (DVD) drive. A USB port on the motherboard can be used for installing a hypervisor like VMware ESXi.

My plan was to put 4 SATA disks into the internal bays and mount the SSD in the "ODD" (Optical Disk Drive) bay which would be used as a cache. The SSD is an OCZ Vertex 2 and is a 2.5" sized drive (as most SSDs are). To fit into a 3.5" bay, an adapter is provided. Another adapter was then required to fit the 3.5" bracket into the 5.25" bay.

The Microserver has six SATA ports. The four internal drives are connected to the Microserver's mainboard via a "MiniSAS" connector. The remaining two ports are configured as the internal optical port and an external eSATA port.

Unfortunately, the ODD SATA port and the external eSATA port are configured in "IDE Emulation" mode instead of the faster AHCI mode. This means that it will be limited to a maximum bus speed of 132MB/sec, significantly less than the 3Gbps that SATA can theoretically handle, and you lose some advanced features such as Native Command Queuing (NCQ). It's obviously not ideal to take your fastest disk and put it on the slowest port!

As I'm running VMware ESXi Hypervisor, this can be seen in the vSphere client. The four SATA disks appear on the SATA controller but the CD drive appears under the separate IDE controller as can be seen here:

Image courtesy of the excellent Techhead Microserver review and used with permission.

A fix appears to exist, courtesy of a Russian hacker, who has patched the Microserver BIOS to enable an option that allows the user to turn off IDE Emulation mode and change the port mode to standard SATA.

I was initially reluctant to install this hack in case it caused problems (and set my BIOS language to Russian; it doesn't!), but there are plenty of people who have used the hack without problems. To install, do the following:

Important: This worked for me. Apply at your own risk. I'm not responsible if this bricks your server! You probably won't be covered under warranty if you have problems.

Download the latest HP Systems ROMPaq Firmware Upgrade. (it doesn't matter what release you download as the modified BIOS will replace the version with its own).

To get started, open the start.htm file in the download and follow the instructions on writing the upgrade to a USB key.

Download the modified BIOS. You can get a copy of it here.

Once the USB keyhas been written, replace the *.ROM file with the modified BIOS, renaming it so that the original filename remains. The provided ROM on my system was called O41040211.ROM and the modified ROM was called O41_AHCI.ROM. I removed the O41040211.ROM and renamed O41_AHCI.ROM to O41040211.ROM.

Insert the USB drive in the Microserver and boot it. The firmware should apply. Once this returns the C:\ prompt, remove the USB drive and reboot.

Enter the BIOS when prompted to press F10.

Select the Chipset menu item and then SouthBridge Configuration (this is new functionality provided by the hack):

 Select SB Sata Configuration:

Set SATA IDE Combined Mode to Disabled:

Exit and save the BIOS changes. When ESXi boots, the Storage Adapters should now look like this:

All SATA ports are now running at the optimal AHCI mode allowing for up to six disks to be connected at full speed and with no legacy overhead.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Mac OS X Lion and CUPS printing

When I originally setup my Mac Mini a few years ago (with Leopard), I had some issues getting the printer setup on my network using CUPS. Having upgraded to Lion a couple of weeks ago, the printing problems returned.

The first problem I had was that my printer, an HP Deskjet 5150, was not on the supported list of Apple printer drivers. HP were similarly useless in not providing a driver.

The answer was found in the open source community. A quick download and install of Ghostscript, Foomatic-RIP and HPIJS make the correct driver available (along with many other printer drivers).

This allowed me to add my printer, but upon trying to print, the print queue window would report that it was "Unable to get printer status". Not helpful.

The remote printer is connected to my Netgear ReadyNAS Duo which runs an embedded Linux distribution and uses CUPS as the print server. Despite trying to dig into the debug options, I was not able to fix the printing error.

The default method of setting up a printer on a Mac is to use Bonjour for auto discovery. This uses the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) under the hood but was failing. Attempts to setup the IPP queue manually also failed.

The fix that worked for me was to set up the printer as an SMB (Windows) printer. This uses the ReadyNAS's Samba install and printing now works! Not ideal, but does the job.