Friday, November 20, 2009

Virtual Connect for Dummies

Grab it while you can

I just went over it and although it is a true honest-to-goodness "For Dummies" book, this is by no means a complete book but rather a 75 page marketing stint by HP.

There isn't much deep technical info in the book but it can be very handy if you need to introduce Virtual Connect to someone who is new to the technology. The informal and clear writing style of the For Dummies books will be familiar to many, and this will encourage people to read it. However, there are few figures and logical diagrams, which means that for serious training you'll be better off reading the official documentation. For someone already familiar with networking and blades, the product briefs for Virtual Connect are very clear in describing what it does.

By the way, after almost 2 years of running Virtual Connect modules, I'm still very excited by them. They saved me a bunch of work and hassles dealing with our networking team.


The hiden advantage of using Remote Support on HP-UX

Readers of my blog will know that I spent quite some time integrating HP-UX 11.23/11.31 with SIM and Remote Support on each and every of my servers, including even the older, neglected test/QA servers no one usually cares about.

I'm sure some must have thought I was crazy investing so much time on a feature that doesn't bring back much, because, they'll say, hardware doesn't break. It is partly true. Hardware doesn't break a lot with the exception of disks, fans and power supplies which can experience a higher failure rate than, say, anything else that's based on transistors. So, most efforts should be prioritized towards monitoring devices which have a lot of these, and this mostly applies to disk arrays.

There is, however, a hidden gem in using Remote Support pack with HP-UX, and it's the monitoring of system panics.

That's right, panics! I don't hear about the term as much as I used to in the old days, but the fact remains that they still happen, and can either be the result of a software bug or even an untrapped hardware problem. With HPVM guests, I've had my share of panics, too.

Remote Support comes to great help with panics. When a panic occurs, once rebooted the monitoring agents will notice it, WEBES will gladly flag it as important, and an event will be logged at the response center. If the panic happens overnight or when the sysadmin is not there (and it WILL happen - most of us are in the office only a small amount of time), hours will be saved in the process as someone will probably have already contacted the system contact about the issue.

There is not yet a feature to send to HP details on the crash dump when the event is opened, and it must be done manually. But I wouldn't be surprised this will come in the future. Wouldn't it be great, for example, if upon rebooting the server crashinfo could be ran automatically and send details to the engineer? One can only hope this will come in the future, to reduce even further the response time.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

HP-UX Community Links

Okay... over time I've accumulated a few HP-UX resources, here is what I've stumbled upon up until now. I'll keep this post updated, so send me your comments.

Of course, I couldn't start the list without mentioning the ITRC forums which replaced the trusted HP-UX sysadmin list in functionality. Unfortunately, the interface and features have not evolved much in, what, 10 years, which limits its outreach to a database of questions and answers. Some regulars over there do put a community spirit in the HP-UX forum, but over the years I've seen a decrease in the quality of many of the questions and I don't participate as much as I used to. Furthermore, any post that is too critical of HP or its products can get deleted by a moderator, which overcomes an important aspect of having a community-driven independent site.

The real "community" effort should logically comme from Connect and they have an Enterprise Unix SIG (special interest group) and HP-UX group. However, even though they are linked from the ITRC forums, these groups are not very active. Their web interface has a lot of usability problems, which might not encourage anyone wanting to start a discussion there.

I've been surprised to find an HP-UX group on Linkedin, though, it has a group named "HP-UX users" which counts 600 people, and seems to be quite active. Facebook has an "HP-UX" group too but almost nobody posts anything there. I think Linkedin is much better suited to this usage.

Now to blogs. I've found a few people who run HP-UX-related blogs, likewise to mine. Some have RSS feeds you can subscribe to.
Victor Balogh
Steven Protter (a top ITRC member)
Daniel Parkes

I also subscribe to the blog "Musings on Mission Critical Computing", which isn't very technical inbut shows an insight into where top people at HP could be steering HP-UX.

On Twitter, I found a lot of HP feeds available. One of them is named HP_UX_Docs who posts liks to recent documentations and community resources. Well worth subscribing to.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Planning racks and cabling using Visio

For years, HP has been offering on Visio stencils that help plan not only the racking and dispotition of your servers, but their cabling too. Everything, from blade servers, to SANs, to power distribution units is available. The drawings can be made quickly in a matter of minutes and every component uses the same scale. I can compare the stencils to a bunch of Lego blocks.

By preparing myself in advance using these stencils, I've been able to greatly reduce the the time it takes me to perform physical installations and evaluate precisely how many cables are needed before going on site. This is especially useful when dealing with unmanned data centers where things need to be done right on a unique visit. If you're not familiar with Visio, it is easy to learn, and I can assure you that you'll save time in the long run.

I also use the stencils when drawing maps of my environment, especially network-centric ones. By using the "real" device images instead of white boxes, I end up with maps that are readily understandable by IT staff and they look great!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Quick start with the HP-UX CIFS Client

I've been slowly migrating web servers from IIS over the years to HP-UX Web Server Suite to benefit from increased PHP performance, and a need has come up to access data stored on a Windows share.

The HP-UX CIFS Client is an OEMed version of Objective Development GmbH's Sharity which is a software that lets you mount Windows shares on a variety of platforms. I don't know the specifics but it used to be a userland tool, and HP has extended it to to make it a kernel module. The engineer in charge of the CIFS client actually posts once in a while in the ITRC forum.

The CIFS client is already built in the default 11.31 installation, so there is no need to install it. It is very easy to use. It uses a clever hack to manage who owns files in the CIFS mount: your users log on independently to the CIFS server, and will be able to see the whole filesystem as their own.

In a nutshell, here is how to mount a CIFS share. Your HP-UX box doesn't have to be in a domain.

1. Obtain from your Windows admin a login/password to an account authorized to use the share

2. Activate the CIFS client
# vi /etc/rc.config.d/cifsclient
# /sbin/init.d/cifsclient start

3. Create a mountpoint and mount it
# mkdir -p /cifs/myshare
# mount -F cifs myserver:/myshare /cifs/myshare

At this step, the filesystem is mounted but it is not possible to access it. You first need to have a UNIX user log in to the CIFS Server using cifslogin, then access to the share will be possible. You can do this as root but it is better to use an unprivileged standard user.

4. Log in to the CIFS server as an unprivileged user
# su - user
user$ cifslogin -U winuser -P winpassword myserver

5. Save the user credentials in the CIFS datbase so they can be reused automatically next time:
user$ cifsdb myserver

6. Return to root and save the share the CIFS database so it can mount automatically next time:
# cifsdb /cifs/clsweb_donnees

This should enable the share to remain mounted across reboots. It is also supposed to work if the Windows server reboots but I have not tested it yet. Those of you who would prefer to use the automounter to mount shares dynamically can also do so, which can be useful if you have a bunch of home directories to take care of.