Cisco UCS in a Flash

 

So, have you heard the news? The world’s fastest growing x86 server company is joining forces with the world’s fastest application acceleration company? While the partnership on the blade front is somewhat recent news, Cisco has long been supporting Fusion-io accelerator products in our C-Series servers (and will continue to do so). In June 2012, Fusion-io and Cisco inked a deal that would extend our partnership to cover UCS B-Series Blade servers as well. It’s not simply changing the form-factor and connector; it’s also extending UCS Manager to include integrated support for the cards for inventory and management purposes. To read more on the partnership, look here: http://www.fusionio.com/blog/coming-to-cisco-ucs-blade-servers-soon-iomemory/
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Painless Hardware Upgrades with Cisco UCS

 

So, one of the huge advantages of Cisco UCS is its approach to “statelessness”. If you are not familiar with this concept, just know that anything that ties an operating system, hypervisor, or application to a specific piece of hardware is considered “stateful” and is not desirable in datacenter servers. Using this methodology, Cisco has made the upgrade path extremely easy for a customer to upgrade from one server model to the next without having to re-install anything. To be more specific, I upgraded various operating systems and hypervisors that were running in a service profile assigned to a B200 M2 and moved the profile to a brand new architecture of a B200 M3. The UCS portion of this migration is really (really) easy – you simply associate the profile from an M2 and assign it to an M3. The OS or hypervisor takes care of the rest. This article will cover the details of how this migration worked and what steps I took to make sure it was a success. Disclaimer: everything you’re about to read is totally unsupported by Cisco TAC. As a company, we have not tested nor certified this process. I am simply reporting here what I, myself, have tested and seen work. So don’t call Cisco if this doesn’t work. Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll look into it when I can find time. Continue reading

Capturing Control Plane Traffic in UCS

So, there is a little known feature in Cisco UCS that allows one to monitor traffic on the control plane without the hassle of actually hooking up an Ethernet analyzer. The control plane is physically the “mgmt0” port on the Fabric Interconnect (FI) and it is used for managing the FIs themselves and for attaching to KVM sessions on the blades. Cisco UCS makes the capture process really easy and in this article I’ll show you how to do it. Remember, this process only captures control plane traffic – not data traffic (UCS has a similar function called Traffic Monitor for that). So, how is this useful? Well, there’s always the chance that something unexpected could happen in UCS Manager as a result of malformed packets entering the Fabric Interconnect’s mgmt0 port. TAC would need to see what the data looks like in order to determine the cause. But the more likely scenario here is that you are using the Cisco UCS XML API and would like to inspect the management traffic being sent to and from the Fabric Interconnect from either UCS Manager or some other external manager controlling UCS. This is an extremely useful tip to aid in the XML API learning process. If you are not familiar with the API of Cisco UCS, it’s an extremely powerful engine provided to customers, system integrators, independent software vendors (ISV). You can find additional information about the API, download it, and learn how to work with it on the following site: Continue reading

Cisco UCS MTU Sizing with VIC

So, in my last article, I discussed Appliance Ports and how to set them up. But there was a hidden gem in there that I felt deserves its own article because it’s just that cool. If you’ve ever setup the MTU on servers because you want to use an iSCSI array, you’ve suffered through how exactly to get the OS to recognize the new MTU size. As I pointed out in my last article, this process this involves a registry hack, ifconfig, esxcfg-vswitch, or setting the MTU manually within the Windows adapter properties. It’s worth the time to investigate because many applications perform better when the conversation doesn’t have to be fragmented into many small chunks. Continue reading

Appliance Ports in Cisco UCS

So, I recently had a customer that wanted to enable “Jumbo Frames” to a UCS server that had the Cisco Virtual Interface Card (VIC) installed in it (also applies to Palo/M81KR, VIC-1240, VIC-1280). You might also know this process as “maximizing the MTU”. In this particular situation, the customer had an iSCSI appliance directly connected to the fabric interconnects (Whiptail in this case, which is not officially supported by Cisco as of this writing, but this process will be the same for any iSCSI appliance – supported or unsupported). It’s not the first time this has come up so I thought I’d write it down so that everyone can benefit (including me when I forget how I did all of this). This article will be helpful if you’re using any NAS storage such as NFS, CIFS/SMB, or iSCSI. Continue reading

UCS Boot-from-SAN Troubleshooting with the Cisco VIC (Part 2)

So, first let me define some terms….the Cisco VIC is also called “Palo” – a codename that sort of stuck (much the chagrin of the marketing team). Palo’s official name is M81KR – now do you see why “Palo” sort of stuck 🙂 ? We have some new VIC cards as well – the VIC-1240 and VIC-1280 and Sean McGee (@mseanmcgee) talks more about the VIC-1280 here. The VIC-1240 is a built-in option on the M3 blades. Now that we settled that, where is Part 1 of this article? Well, my good friend Ryan Hughes (@angryjesters) got the ball rolling on this. He took it upon himself to write an excellent article explaining how to access the obscure-but-useful command called LUNLIST. So if you are looking for Part 1 to this article, I’m not the author of it. I learned some things reading Ryan’s article, which is not all the surprising since I’m rarely with Ryan when I don’t learn something. You should check out his site if you have not seen the article already, but briefly, LUNLIST is a command that shows you what the Cisco VIC HBA can actually “see” on the fabric – much like a typical HBA BIOS would…but way cooler. Continue reading

8 Cool Features You May Not Know About in UCS Manager

So, you’ve probably heard about many of the cool features in our “Capitola” project (aka UCS Manager 2.0) that my colleague and good friend, Sean McGee, blogged about here: http://www.mseanmcgee.com/2011/07/ucs-2-0-cisco-stacks-the-deck-in-las-vegas/ . Sean covers many of the new hardware and software features in our 2.0 launch, and it is certainly worth the read. But what you may not know about are some of the small enhancements we make with each release that are handy when you find them and you think “hey, that wasn’t there before…”. I meant to do this article for the “Balboa” release (aka 1.4.x), but just failed to get it done in time. So, I thought now would be a good opportunity to cover both Balboa and Capitola in a single article. Keep in mind that the enhancements we do in each release, whether they be minor or major, are almost completely demand-driven. My team visits customers often and we try to get a better understanding of how they are using UCS and where it falls short in meeting their needs. We provide that feedback to our engineers, and they turn it into products and features. The direct customer interaction also allows us to share our upcoming ideas and concepts with customers before we build them to make sure we are hitting the mark. Continue reading

Schizophrenia and SchizoHPrenia

So, the year was 1996 and it was the first day of the semester in my programming class at Georgia State University (I was one of those who was able to squeeze a 4 year degree into just 10 years of college). I’m sitting there and this kid I have never seen before comes in and sits down beside me with what I thought was an unusual question…”Hey, what makes the most money in the computer field?” At the time, I knew the DB admins were pretty high on the pay scale so I answered with “Oracle guys make a lot”. He thanked me, promptly dropped that class and went to look for an Oracle class. I also remember him asking me how to spell “Oracle” which he still wrote down wrong. I had been in the workplace for a few years by then and I realized that if you’re in a job you hate, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. In fact, the higher your pay at a job you hate, the more imprisoned you feel. It’s a terrible way to live, if you can call it living. Continue reading

Cisco UCS Ports and Protocols

 

 

 

So, a long time back, I had a job as a network administrator for Ungermann-Bass networks (they were re-branding to the more flashy “UB Networks” at the time). We had a firewall in the office that ran on SUN Sparc and no one really knew anything about it other than that it was the DTTM architecture (Don’t Touch This Machine). It was my first exposure to UNIX and to software-based firewalls (not to mention the PBX system that ran on OS/2, but that’s a story for a different time). One thing I really liked about the firewall was that if we ever needed a port opened for a poorly documented application, we would simply run the desired app and the firewall would instantly tell us which ports were attempted. Sadly, not all firewalls are made equal and many times it’s not easy to find the port information you need. While Cisco has done a great job on our UCS documentation (see my previous post on how to provide feedback to the docs team), I thought it might be helpful for everyone if I included all the UCS port information into a single place for reference.
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