A comparison of Blade management tools for Cisco vs HP

This is a conversation that gets asked a lot when discussing the platforms with customers. Can you explain to my why Cisco UCS is easier to manage and what tools do I need to use on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The answer is really easy with Cisco UCS, you just need to use UCS manager. For HP the conversation becomes more splintered, sure you can do pretty much anything on HP blades that you can do on UCS. But how many tools or management points do you have to touch to accomplish these same things. Below I have attempted to list common tasks that you would need to do for setup and on going management of a blade enclosure and blades within.

Cisco UCS Manager – Does all the following in one tool

  • Blade Chassis mgmt
  • CIMC console connections
  • Hardware Monitoring
  • Firmware updates – chassis, FEX modules, blades and adapters
  • QOS
  • Network Mgmt
  • Service profiles for blade identities
  • SAN connection setup

Roll Based Access Controls – Can assign ID’s access to all or just allow server, network or SAN access

HP Blades – using Virtual Connect modules of any flavor

  • Blade Chassis mgmt. – Onboard Administrators (OA)
  • iLO console connections – OA
  • Hardware Monitoring – HP SIM
  • Firmware updates – HP SIM, FDT or currently used tool
  • Network Mgmt – Virtual Connect Manager (VCM)
  • Server profiles – Virtual Connect Manager (VCM)
  • SAN connection setup – Virtual Connect Manager
  • Roll Based Access Controls (RBAC) – need to configure logins per Tool

If you elected to use the new Cisco FEX modules for HP Blade chassis then the following would be affected.

  • Network Mgmt / profiles – no profiles, would use physical address from Blades. Port configs done at 5K level. Blades auto map to ports on FEX similar to pass through connections.
  • SAN connection setup – Would be done vid FCoE through the 5K switches
  • Network QOS – Done on 5K switches and tagged if possible in Operating Systems (ESXi 5 does support 802.1p)

If you have anything that I left off of this list drop me a note in the comments and I will update to keep accurate.

 

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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Why does it take HP so long to integrate their products

I was talking with a fellow VMware nerd today about cloud and infrastructure gear. And I can’t help but wonder why it takes HP so long to execute on integrating their products, mostly around the support tools. Look HP owns a complete stack now, network, compute, storage and software. Along with their suites of tools that you need to use to manage all these devices independently. To me this is their biggest failure and does not appear to be getting fixed anytime soon.

This is a big bonus of working Cisco UCS because there is just one place that I need to go to configure, manage, patch a blade environment. With HP I might have to use the Onboard Administrators, Virtual Connect manager and HP SIM. This seems like such a no brainer that HP could have fixed years ago, because the HP Blade systems have been around for years.

So if HP wants to rule the market in the Cloud era they need to reduce their tools into less management points. I should be able to do everything in one console for compute and if they could roll in storage to this also would be a huge win. And if they are properly motivated they can. Now a unified tool for automation of hardware that could reach into VMware with API’s would be the next big win. I know they are working on some of this but last that I saw it still sounded like there would be too many moving pieces.

So HP I challenge you to solve this issue with your massive amount of Talent, code and other resources. You need to become innovate again and make products that people want to own and desire for other reasons than you have a large install base and are cheaper.

If you want some examples you can read my post about the comparison of what tools it takes to manage HP vs Cisco blades chassis here.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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HP updates CIM drives with more visability

Since vSphere 4 came along VMware has been working with CIM (Computer Information Model) drivers to try and present up details about the underling hardware that vSphere is running  on. Initially this was things like health of CPU, Memory and errors like a failed fan and such. But something that I always thought was missing is visibility into  locally configured RAID volumes.

For example if you are running ESX(i) on a mirrored pair of local drives, if you are a shop that does not have very good hardware monitoring you might have no idea of the health of this mirror that vSphere is running on. So this becomes even more important with more shops experimenting with running certain workloads on local disk. With VMware and storage companies creating Virtual Storage Appliances that can run on these local disks and still provide the benefits of shared storage, this becomes a must to understand what is happening in your local disks environment.

With the latest batch of CIM drivers from HP they are now exposing some of these details. You can now see the drive configurations and status. The image below shows that a drive is rebuilding in the RAID config. This should be a feature that many HP shops will be happy to see. If you have noticed any other good features from this update leave a note in the comments for others.

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About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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Everything you wanted to know about HP BladeSystem Matrix

With all the talk about converged infrastructure and stacks these days especially in the virtualization space I was really glad that I got to do this interview. There has been a lot written about its competitors but the HP BladeSystem Matrix was still kind of a mystery to anyone that had not had HP in to talk about it. I was lucky enough to spend some time talking with a couple of members from the HP BladeSystem Matrix team. These guys were very helpful in explaining what Matrix is and answered all of my crazy questions.

What I hope everyone gets from this is a better understanding of what BladeSystem Matrix has to offer if you’re looking at these types of converged offerings. Also highlight some of the features that are unique to the HP stack. In interest of being totally open I am also an employee of HP but my current work responsibilities have nothing to do with BladeSystem Matrix. Now that all that is out of the way let’s get started with the good stuff.

VT: Can you give me your elevator pitch?
HP
: Matrix is the foundation for a private cloud solution managing both physical and virtual infrastructure. Matrix allows you to rapidly provision infrastructure via a self service portal. In addition, it offers the ongoing life-cycle management including capacity planning and disaster recovery. You can buy Matrix with a single SKU that includes hardware, software and services. The solution is all tested and certified by HP to work together.

VT: Who benefits from this solution?
HP
: Customers who need to be able to address fast change and achieve a competitive advantage through time to market. Typical customers for Matrix are large Enterprises and Service Providers who have invested already in virtualization and shared infrastructure and want to take the next step to cloud computing. I think that these target customers are common to all converged infrastructure offerings.

VT: What hardware makes up a BladeSystem Matrix?
HP
: BladeSystem Matrix all begins with something called a starter kit. This kit includes the following items, Central Management Server on a ProLiant DL360, HP C7000 Blade Chassis w/Virtual Connect networking and Insight Management software for managing Matrix. For the storage you have multiple options – you can use your existing Fiber Channel SAN storage if it’s supported or you can use HP storage, e.g. 3PAR or HP EVA 4400 array. iSCSI storage is supported as well for VM data stores. There is also something called an Expansion kit which is a C7000 Blade chassis, Insight Management software licenses and HP Services needed to integrate the expansion kit into your existing Matrix environment. It should be noted that Matrix supports both ProLiant and Integrity blades.

VT: What are HP Cloud Maps and how do they relate to BladeSystem Matrix?
HP
: These Cloud Maps help customers to get started quickly with Matrix – they jump start the creation of a customized self-service portal.  Cloud Maps include white papers and templates for hardware or software configurations that can be imported into BladeSystem Matrix that can save days or weeks of design time. A Cloud Map can also provide workflows and scripts designed to expedite the installation.

VT: What does the CMS or Central Management Server do?
HP
: The CMS server is a physical server that is running the management software that controls, automates and monitors your BladeSystem Matrix. If you have a DR site with a Matrix you would need a CMS server there to control the environment. It’s also possible to setup the CMS in a HA or Highly Available configuration to prevent a single failure point for Matrix management. Lastly for large environments that exceed the maximums of a single CMS you can now stand up secondary CMS servers that will still allow you to manage everything from one admin console.

VT: Can I use existing HP gear with a Matrix install?
HP
: If you purchase a new HP BladeSystem Matrix you can use it to also manage any qualifying HP hardware that you already own. HP has created something called the Matrix Conversion Services to assist with integrating your existing HP infrastructure with BladeSystem Matrix. This program is new and will evolve to allow customers to accomplish these integrations.

VT: Can I use arrays from other vendors?
HP
: You can use Storage Arrays from other vendors as long as they are able to meet a list of criteria – for example the storage vendor needs to be certified with Virtual Connect.  More details can be found in the Matrix compatibility chart.

VT: What software is used for Matrix?
HP
: The software for Matrix is called the Matrix Operating Environment, which includes the whole Insight Management stack including Insight Foundation and Insight Control. With Insight Foundation you get the controls to install, configure, and monitor physical servers. With Insight Control you get all the essential server management including server deployment and power management. The real magic happens with the additional Matrix Operating Environment software (aka Insight Dynamics). It provides a service design tool, infrastructure provisioning with a self-service portal, capacity planning, and recovery management

VT: Does it come configured and who does the setup work?
HP
: Some factory configuration is done then remaining work is done onsite by HP Services. The install and configure period can take from a few days to 2 weeks depending on the level of complexity.

VT: Explain how it is managed?
HP
: There are two separate consoles that control a BladeSystem Matrix. The first would be the admin console used by your support team to configure and control the environment. The second would be the Self Service portal site. This allows for IT consumers to request and provision resources from the Matrix environment.

VT: What types of automation and provisioning can Matrix do?
HP
: One example would be in the creation of templates. You can create templates in the Matrix software or use ones already created, for example on your VMware vCenter server. If you use an existing template that might be created with only one OS partition you can use the Matrix template process to provision the VM and add on additional disks and features not present in the base template.

VT: How is support handled for Matrix customers?
HP
: There is a dedicated team to contact for Matrix support issues. Matrix is treated as a single solution, with all calls coming in through a central team. This team is cross trained in the various aspects that make up Matrix and they will escalate to product specific engineers if needed.

VT: Can you explain fail over P2V and then back to V2P for DR?
HP
: This feature allows for a physical server to be recovered at the DR site on a physical or virtual machine. To make this HP spoke about creating what is known as a “portable image” What this meant was that the logical server was created in a way that it would be able to be deployed on either another physical blade, or as a VM within a virtual machine host. . I asked about if there was any type of conversion process that takes place and there is not. The engineer talked about the creation of the portable image which to me meant that you need to include both OS drivers for the physical hardware and the virtual hardware. This way when the imaged was moved to the other platform the physical OS or the hypervisor-based OS would find all of the devices. The last piece would be the network settings and these are preserved with an application called PINT so that when new network cards are installed your settings will remain.

VT: How does it integrate with VMware?
HP
: The HP tool set for BladeSystem Matrix offers many integration points with VMware vSphere. A short list of the functions would include provisioning VM’s, change in power state, activate/deactivate, add servers to group, and add disks to a VM or group of VM’s. Along with those features Matrix monitors status and performance, capacity & workload analysis and Disaster Recovery integration.

VT: What separates Matrix from other converged stacks?
HP
: A big selling point is that HP BladeSystem Matrix is integrated and engineered holistically by one company, while still allowing for heterogeneous components in areas such as networking and storage. Also at this time BladeSystem Matrix is the only solution that is capable of managing both physical and virtual servers with the same tools and allow movement between physical and virtual resources. Something that Matrix offers that others do not is integrated automated Disaster Recovery. Lastly Matrix supports both VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V, as well as Integrity Blades, for virtualization.

VT: What SAN protocols are supported today?
HP
: As of today BladeSystem Matrix supports Fiber Channel as the preferred method of connecting to storage. In addition, Matrix does support FCOE and iSCSI for VM data stores.

VT: What is storage provisioning manager?
HP
: This was explained as enhanced volume provisioning management, allowing more proactive maintenance of the pools of storage available for provisioning of an environment. Where this seem to tie for me was using it to publish or tag which volumes are available for provisioning. For example you could label a volume as boot disk and others as data disks. Then when creating your templates for provisioning the system will know which volumes are available for boot, as well as which volumes are available as data volumes during OS install, so that you provide better management of the storage you’ll utilize during provisioning.

VT: How many customers or units sold so far?
HP
: I had to try but was only told that HP does not release any numbers or revenues for products. BladeSystem Matrix is made up of components that have been offered for many years by HP, and includes multi-million unit sales of components such as BladeSystem servers and Virtual Connect.

VT: How will software and firmware updates be handled?
HP
: There are update bundles that are created for BladeSystem Matrix. At this time these updates must be performed by an HP Services person. These updates can be done in person or remotely.

VT: How does the SAN fabric interact with BladeSystem Matrix?
HP
: In the current version of Matrix you will need to pre-create volumes and your server zoning ahead of any provisioning.

VT: What is Insight Virtualization Manager?
HP
: Also known as VSE Virtualization Manager that is part of Insight Dynamics. With VSE you can move a logical server from the existing blade it’s running on to another blade. The VSE application will move the server profile to the new blade and restart the server once the move is complete and your operating system will start up. The VSE interface will offer recommendations for target blades that match your requirements. There are a few reasons for such a move that would include upgrades and maintenance. Video demo of moving a blade server to another blade. Video Link

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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How to reset blade slot in HP C7000 chassis

This issue has not come up very often but with more admins working remotely these days and not being able to touch the hardware. This can be a life saver if no one is at the site or the process is slow. What I needed to do was reset the server in a particular slot and the reset option from the Onboard Administrator console was not getting the job done. So someone informed me of the following option. I need to do this for two different reasons that I can think of. First was due to a firmware issue that was making the blade power off a few seconds after turning it on and the second reason was due to an issue with the blades iLO card.

What the following command does is completely power off the blade slot and back on. This is the same thing as removing the blade from chassis and reseating it.

What you can do is to SSH into the chassis via the OA address that you would normally HTTP into.

The issue the following command to reset the specific blade. Just insert the bay number of the blade that is giving you the trouble.

reset server <bay #>

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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Some companies have the wrong sales pitch on Blade servers

This is not the first time that I have heard someone take a strange approach to pitching the use of blade servers to a application owner within their own organization. The other day I was in a design meeting that I was brought into the project mid-stream. The project was for a application that was getting new servers through Life Cycle. The engineer was recommending that they use several blade servers to virtualize all of the requested servers that are currently physical. So at this everything sounds fine and the Project Manager is on the same page.

This is where things drove off the rails. The engineer was suggesting that this app owner was going to have to purchase his 3 blades that would be needed to virtualize his servers and also pay for the entire cost of the C7000 blade enclosure and necessary networking modules. He was saying this guy is going to have to buy the bus so that other can ride on it late. This confuse the project manager to no end on how she was going to explain all this added cost to the app owner. Now I have heard this phrase and tactic before and it’s always confused me to the thinking behind it. Sure some one has to pay for the chassis but there are other ways to spread the cost out.

The first thing came to mind was there are certainly other chassis in the Enterprise that might have slots available for these blades. Have you looked into that option. Also what about speaking with others in Life cycle to see what other Blade server might need to be purchase soon and plan out a method of splitting the cost of the chassis evenly over the blades in the server. Sure if you don’t fill it up soon you have spent some extra money up front but your going to recover it back once you have filled all the slots in the Blades Chassis.

To make it even worse once presented with this crazy idea the project manager said I can not try and sell all of this additional cost to this person. I might as well just get him pricing on 3 standard rack mount servers. Well this was kind of the tipping point for me after about 10 minutes of this call that I had to step in and get some more background on how they got to this point.

I know there are various arguments for and against the use of Blade Servers but the direction for this organization is use Blades for everything possible. Only use a standard rack mount server when there is valid reasoning for it. And since they are moving all of the VMware hosts over to new blade servers there has to be a pretty good reason for not virtualizing a server in the first place. The data center is also very space constrained so Blades are the smart option at this point.

About Brian Suhr

Brian is a VCDX5-DCV and a Sr. Tech Marketing Engineer at Nutanix and owner of this website. He is active in the VMware community and helps lead the Chicago VMUG group. Specializing in VDI and Cloud project designs. Awarded VMware vExpert status 6 years for 2016 - 2011. VCP3, VCP5, VCP5-Iaas, VCP-Cloud, VCAP-DTD, VCAP5-DCD, VCAP5-DCA, VCA-DT, VCP5-DT, Cisco UCS Design

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