Thursday 22 June 2017

Disaster Preparedness: KVM/IP + USB Flash = Recovery. Here’s a Guide

One of the lessons the school of hard knocks taught us was to be ready for anything. _Anything_

One client space had such a messed up HVAC system that the return air system, which is in the suspended ceiling, didn’t work because most of the vent runs up there were not capped properly. We had quite a few catastrophic failures at that site, as the server closet’s temperatures were always high but especially so in the winter. Fortunately, they moved out of that space a few years ago.

Since we began delivering our standalone Hyper-V solutions, Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) Hyper-Converged or SOFS clusters, and Scale-Out File Server and Hyper-V clusters into Data Centers around the world, we have discovered that there is a distinct difference in Data Centre services quality. As always, “buyer beware” and “We get what we pay for”.
So, what does that mean?

It means that, whether on-premises (“premises” not “premise”), hybrid, or all-in the Cloud we need to be prepared.
For this post, let us focus in on being ready for a standalone system or a cluster node failure.

There are four very important keys to being ready:

  1. Systems warranties
    1. 4-Hour Response in a cluster setting
    2. Next Business Day (NBD) for others is okay
  2. KVM over IP (KVM/IP) is a MUST
    1. Intel RMM
    2. Dell iDRAC Enterprise
    3. iLO Advanced
    4. Others …
  3. Bootable USB Flash Drive (blog post)
    1. 16GB flash drive
    2. NTFS formatted ACTIVE
    3. Most current OS files set up and maintained
    4. Keep those .WIM files up to date (blog post)
  4. Either Managed UPS or PDU
    1. Gives us the ability to power cycle the server’s power supply or supplies.

In our cluster settings, we have our physical DC (blog post)  set up for management. We can use that as our platform to get to the KVM/IP to begin our repair and/or recover processes.

This is what the back of our (S2D) cluster looks like now:


The top flash drive is what we have been using for the last few years. A Kingston DTR3 series flash drive.

The bottom one is a Corsair VEGA. We have also been trying out the SanDisk Cruzer Fit that is even smaller than that!

The main reason for the change is to remove that fob sticking off the back or front of the server. In addition, the VEGA or Fit have such a small profile we can ship them plugged in to the server(s) and not worry about someone hitting them once the server is in production.

Here is a quick overview of what we do in the event of a problem:

  1. Log on to our platform management system
  2. Open the RMM web page
  3. log on
  4. Check the baseboard management controller logs (BMC/IPMI logs page)
    1. If we see the logs indicate a hard-stop them we’re on to initiate warranty replacement
    2. If it is in the OS somewhere then we can either fix or rebuild
  5. Rebuild
    1. Cluster: Clean up domain AD, DNS, DHCP, and Evict OLD Node from Cluster
    2. Reset or Reboot
    3. Function Key to Boot Menu
    4. Boot flash
    5. Install OS to OS partition/SSD
    6. Install and configure drivers
    7. Cluster: Join Domain
      1. Server name would be the same as downed node
      2. Update Kerberos Constrained Delegation
    8. Install and configure the Hyper-V and/or File Services Roles
    9. Set up networking
    10. Standalone: Import VMs
    11. Cluster: Join and Live Migrate on then off to test


The key reason for the RMM and flash drive? We just accomplished the above without having to leave the shop.

And, across the entire life of the solution if there is a hiccup to deal with we’re dealing with it immediately instead of having to travel to the client site, data centre, or third party site to begin the process.

One more point: This setup allows us to deploy solutions all across the world so long as we have an Internet connection at the server’s site.

There is absolutely no reason to deploy servers without a RMM or desktops/laptops/workstations without vPro. None. Nada. Zippo.

When it comes to getting in to the network, we can use the edge to VPN in or have an IP/MAC filtered firewall rule with RDP inbound to our management platform. One should _never_ open the firewall to a listening RDP port no matter what port it would be listening on.

Philip Elder
Microsoft High Availability MVP
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book
Our Cloud Service
Twitter: @MPECSInc

Wednesday 21 June 2017

S2D: Mellanox Prep – Connecting to the Switches via SSHv2

To update the Mellanox switch pair we can use the Web interface.


Or, we could use the command line.

But, just what utility should we use to do that?

For us, we’ve been using Tera Term for the longest time now.

It’s a simple utility to use and best of all, it’s free!

Now, it took a _long_ while to figure out how to get in via SSHv2! Note that in our case the two switches we have in our Proof-of-Concept (PoC) setup were demo units we ended up purchasing.

During the first SSH connection the switch should prompt to run the Mellanox configuration wizard which it did for  as seen below:


Here are the steps we took to get connected:

  • HOSTNAME: 14 Characters or less (NETBIOS)
  • IP Address: Static or DHCP Reserved
  • DNS: Set up DNS A Record for HOSTNAME at IP
  • Tera Term: Use challenge/response to log in
    • image

We’re now off to get our switches set up for RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet).

Philip Elder
Microsoft High Availability MVP
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book
Our Cloud Service
Twitter: @MPECSInc

Friday 16 June 2017

S2D: Mellanox Prep for RoCE RDMA

We are in the process of setting up a pair of Mellanox SX1012B (40GbE) switches and CX354A ConnectX-3 Pro NICs (CX3) for a Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) four node cluster.


  • (2) MSX1012B Switches
  • (2) NETGEAR 10GbE Switches
  • Intel Server System R2224WTTYS
    • (2) CX354A NICs per Node
    • (2) Intel X540-T2 10GbE NICs

The Mellanox gear will provide the East-West path between nodes while the NETGEAR/Intel 10GbE will provide for node access and the virtual switch setup.

Out of the box, the first thing to look at is … the Release Notes for the MLNX-OS version v3.6.3508 that is current as of this writing.

As we can see, the firmware level we need to have on our CX3 NICs:

The most current version of the CX3 firmware is 2.4.7000 which we had downloaded prior to reading the release notes. ;)
We will make sure to install 2.40.5030 once we are ready to do so:

Now, as far as the Mellanox switch OS goes (MLNX-OS), there may be a bit of a process needed depending on how old the current OS is on them!

imageimage2.5Upgrade From Previous Releases
Older versions of MLNX-OS may require upgrading to one or more intermediate versions prior to upgrading to the latest. Missing an intermediate step may lead to errors. Please refer to Table 2and Table 3 to identify the correct upgrade order.
Note that there are two types of switch operating systems depending on the underlying hardware. In our case, it is PPC as opposed to x86.

In our case, the current OS version is 3.4.0012, so our process will be:

  1. 3.4.0012 –> 3.4.2008
  2. 3.4.2008 --> 3.5.1016
  3. 3.5.1016 –> 3.6.2002
  4. 3.6.2002 –> 3.6.3004
  5. 3.6.3004 –> 3.6.3508

Fortunately, the Mellanox download site makes picking and choosing the various downloads a simple process.

This is what the update process looks like:



One can expect to budget between 30-90 minutes per upgrade session.

NOTE: When both switch management consoles were opened in separate IE tabs one would fail out on the upload after a minute or so. Once we opened a separate Firefox browser session for one of the switches the upgrade moved seamlessly.

Once complete, we will move on to our preliminary settings scope for this project.

Philip Elder
Microsoft High Availability MVP
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book
Our Cloud Service
Twitter: @MPECSInc