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 configure EMC PowerPath to work with HP EVA storage arrays

On one of the projects that I have been working on lately we have been replacing all of the existing EMC storage with HP Storage. I’m not going to go into which one I think is better or worse. I am just going to cover how PowerPath is able to work with other storage arrays also. So in my search to determine if I would be able to continue to use the existing PowerPath licenses that exist at the client or if they would need to use the base MPIO software that HP provides. To those that have used PowerPath in the past you would probably agree that it is a great MPIO application and has a lot of other features available also.

For system admins it can make things like monitoring the health of your SAN connections and identifying which LUN correlates to the disk that you need expanded so much easier. So for these reasons it would be best for them to continue to use PowerPath. I searched the web for feedback to see what others have been doing and was surprised to see nothing. There was really no feedback out there. I did find some details about using PowerPath/VE with HP arrays but this version is for Hypervisors not Windows servers.

So after some further digging I was able to determine that I could use PowerPath version 5.5 with Windows servers to manage MPIO with HP Storage arrays. It will work with both EVA and XP class storage from HP. There are 32 bit and 64 bit versions available and I was able to test on both Windows Server 2003 and 2008 so far.

The install of PowerPath is pretty straight forward, the only thing that you must do special is to select the custom install option. You can see from the image below that you will have a few options to choose from for 3rd party Array support. I selected both the HP XP and Hitachi support since they will be using both EVA and HP XP’s which are made by Hitachi in the environment. After a reboot and a quick vDisk assignment on the EVA the storage was showing up properly in Windows.

The only part that was left was to get used to how the storage details would be showing up in PowerPath. Now when your using EMC storage the LUN ID with show up in the LUN column and is nice and clear. But when using it with the HP EVA the only way to match up the windows disk to the vDisk on the EVA was to use the Device details listed for the disk within PowerPath. I took a snapshot of the screen below.

You then need to match up the Device details that you found in PowerPath with the vDisk on the EVA that you can see by using the Command View EVA console. You can see that the WW LUN Name for the vDisk matches up with the Device column inside of PowerPath and this will help you match up your vDisks with the Windows disks. This makes disk expansions and assigning disks with different Raid levels to the proper drive letter in Windows much easier.

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 SSSU Overview

So in my experience with the EVAs, I can say I have come across many challenges in finding good user experience documentation (outside of the normal pdf’s the HP machine churns out) and support. The HP forums have been somewhat helpful, but sifting through them, using their search or the googalizer, are less than user friendly. Good information at times to be had, but still overly difficult.

So it is with that preface that I arrive at discussing the SSSU: HP’s Storage Scripting System Utility. The premise of this utility is to allow command line access to an EVA. The idea is, at least from HP’s perspective, to use it for repetitious activities that would be otherwise tiresome in Command View. Additionally, you can also issue interactive commands like restarting a controller or changing mastership for disks between controllers manually. HP bundles the SSSU installer with Command View’s installer package. It carries the same versioning as Command View (so in my case, 9.1.0).

SSSU seems like a really great idea. I love the command line (being very partial to a bash shell :-D), but SSSU isn’t a real CLI in that sense. The first round of trouble is in the output: SSSU generates XML based output that a human can’t simply open up and read. This throws out a simple way to grab information that would otherwise take a lot of time via CV. This posting is an overview of SSSU, and I will write a follow up post that goes more into depth on what you can do with the output to make it actually usable in conjunction with Microsoft’s Logparser tool. Sad I know. You can pony up big $ to get actual tools but hey, in tight times, stretching the imagination is better than stretching the wallet. I’ll also put up some of the scripts I use to gather data on disks and such (ex: easy way to track disk size and growth).

At this point, let’s get SSSU fired up and play around a bit. To launch, log into your CV server and run that fancy icon on the desktop. One quick gripe: no way for me to install this on my own laptop to just run and connect with. To get around that, I copy over from the CV install to my local machine the SSSU.exe file. It runs great and it’s just that less than 2 meg file. Upon launching it, you get to login.

You get three parts to a login:

You can login with a domain account without any issue, so you don’t have to create a whole separate user account list. One thing to note is that although you can fire up multiple SSSU windows to one array, you can only execute commands to it one at a time (serial baby!), so when one command is running in one window, your other windows would hang if you tried to execute a command).

After logging in, you are sitting at a default path, so to speak. That being that you have not selected your array.

Hitting ? and enter will list off all the commands available. This can also be used to find out what options each command has available.

Object names are case sensitive and are organized in a root tree system. Commands and objects with spaces in their names require double quotes. The first thing to do is select an EVA to work with, using the term select system.

You can flip around using the select system command. At this time there isn’t a way to issue group commands (outside of scripting, and even then it’s not a group command, in that sense).

Root Structure of Objects:

Hosts

“Disk Groups”

“Virtual Disks”

Hardware

Note that you can create objects (like folders) under all but Hardware. Objects created are purely for human organization. The EVA doesn’t care if you have them or not (though if you do create them you need to be aware of the “path” to them.

A complete listing of the commands can be found in the SSSU reference doc, found here:

http://bizsupport1.austin.hp.com/bc/docs/support/SupportManual/c02493404/c02493404.pdf

This link is for the latest (I believe rolled into Command View 9.3) as of this date (9.23.2010).

My advice would be to look through the command reference to understand what the commands do. Listing them all out here in a blog post would be silly. And a lot of work, and I’m lazy, so….

As promised before, I will follow up this post with a more in-depth guide for where SSSU is handy and probably some more complaints on how it’s irritating. J

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Error reporting Disk Group occupancy in Command View

So this is an error / issue we’ve had to live with for some time. It’s a bit strange to be sure. Essentially in Command View, the Disk Group occupancy is completely incorrect, and continues to grow. Yes, that’s right, I said grow. For some photo-visual enjoyment, here is what a NORMAL Disk Group looks like.

So as you can see, we have a total Capacity (which is correct and accurate), and the Occupancy. The information listed is correct, and it’s refreshing. Now, for the problematic Disk Group (and please ignore the name as it was before my time).

Here we see the correctly calculated Capacity, but lo! What’s this? What on earth is going on with that Occupancy? It seemingly continues to grow a bit here and there as we take snapshots of various. HP doesn’t know what’s wrong either. When we upgrade from Command View 9.0 to 9.1, it did not fix the issue either. The big problem here is that we have to figure out how much space is actually used since we’ll never get alerted. It is a pain. I can turn to Replication Solutions Manager to obtain the correct size by simply adding all the luns (easy way to view them, as opposed to Command View), so that’s the workaround. Not very satisfying if you consider how much money was spent on these beasts.

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Command View EVA Overview

This is a walkthrough for HP Command View for EVA. Part of my daily routine is to take a jaunt through CV, to check things over and look for alerts that I may not already be aware of.

Launched from the shortcut on the Windows host, or is accessible via a web browser at https://servername:2372

You are presented with the login screen:

It is here that you will also see the version number (down below). We have not yet upgraded this server to version 9.2 as we are building a VM to run Command View from and retire this physical box.

After login, you are greeted by the overview page. Here you will see all the EVAs listed, as well as the stats for your overall environment. The first thing of note is that two of my EVAs have bang lights on them, indicating something is amiss. I’ll investigate both as part of my next posting.

On the top right, there are some hyperlinks, your login id, and the ip of the Command View server. Most are self explanatory. Server Options provides for a place to enter license codes, setup RSM relationships, and a few other features. I seldom visit this page, so like once a year?

Moving right along, let’s take a look at a healthy EVA, in this case DS-SAN-2:

As you can see from the above, a healthy EVA has a number of folders beneath it. It breaks out into many subfolders. On the right hand side are the numbers. It would be here that you can get the logs for HP support (I’ll cover that in a separate blog post). You can see the current capacity level, view the Version level (this is the XCS code release running on the EVA. 6220 is the latest for the 8100 series). The left column is broken down like such:

Virtual Disks – this is where the luns (vdisks in EVA-speak) are listed. The folder structure is entirely man-made. That is to say, it’s for human organizational purposes (and plays an important role for setting up RSM jobs. More on that will be covered on a separate posting).

Hosts – here is where hosts are setup in Command View. You will provide the host’s OS, and it’s WWN’s for fiber cards. Hosts MUST be setup on every single EVA that you want to present disks from. Annoying, I know.

Disk Groups – these are comprised of physical disks. Best practice says to build these in multiples of 8, and of all the same speed and size. You can choose to not follow these and your performance will suck majorly. I’ve worked on rebuilding two of the 4 EVAs that had improperly constructed Disk Groups. It is PAINFUL to correct, but I’m glad I did. I will cover that also as a separate blog post. FYI: The ungrouped disks folder is for disks that have failed or been ungrouped on purpose. Ungrouping takes time as the EVA moves data from the drive to free it up to be removed or replaced.

Data Replication – it is here that you can create DR groups. This allows you to replicate (synchronous or asynchronously) between EVA arrays. A replication group is comprised of 1 or more vdisks. Sounding like a broken record, I will have a separate posting on replication.

Hardware – it is here that you can check out the status of the hardware. Both controllers are listed, as are all the disks. If there are hardware issues (per a bang light) then you can come here to find out why. The status of failed items is usually fairly straightforward and understandable as to what happened and what should be done.

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