Stateless VMware ESXi 3.5 on an HP c7000 Blade Server…

NOTE:  This is only an overview.  Due to the detailed nature of this project, I will break it up over several more-focused articles over time for easier reference.

Well, despite my more negative impression of this year’s VMworld conference, it still really paid off.  There I learned about stateless ESX deployment.  Using this information, I was able to build in my lab, after a couple months of trial and error, a highly robust VMware environment, fully managed and licensed, using the midwife scripts I modified for this effort.  And configuration is hands-free.

Here are the system components:

  • SERVER – HP c7000 Blade Enclosure with sixteen Bl465c blades, two 4 GB FC modules, and four VC Enet modules
  • Each blade has two dual-core AMD CPUs, 16 GB RAM, two 72 GB SAS drives (hardware RAID-1), two embedded gig NICs, and a mezzanine card with two more gig NICs/iSCSI initiators and two FC HBAs
  • NETWORK – Cisco 6509 with two SUP 720 cards, two 48 port LC Gig-E fiber cards, and four 48 port gig copper cards
  • MANAGMENT – Dell 1850 with two 146 GB SAS drives (hardware RAID-1) for management and boot services
  • STORAGE – Scavenged proof-of-concept totally ghetto Dell Optiplex desktop with four internal 1.5 TB SATA drives (software RAID-10 formatted with tuned XFS) providing 3 TB of NFS shared storage
  • Scavenged HP IP-KVM box for OOB-management of the two Dells

Here are the steps I took:

  1. First I had to update all the firmware on the blade server.  This includes the two OA cards for the Onboard Administrator, the Virtual Connect software, the iLO2 software for each blade, the BIOS on each blade, and the Power Management Controller firmware.  There is a particular order this is done in, and it is not easy, but it really needs to be done.  The fixes that come with these updates are often vital to success.  Overall, I spent a week researching and updating.  I set all the blades to boot via PXE.
  2. Next, I built the storage server.  I really had no choice – nothing was available but a Dell Optiplex desktop.  It had four internal SATA ports available, and room for four 1GB RAM modules.  It also had a single dual-core Intel CPU and PCI slots for more NICs, and a PCI-Express mini-slot as well.  I had to order parts, and it took a little while, but once done, it had a total of four gig NICs (one embedded, two PCI, one PCI-Express), four 1.5 TB SATA drives, and 4 GB RAM.  I loaded it with 64-bit Ubuntu-9.04, hand-carved the partitions and RAID-10 setup, formatted the 3 TB volume with XFS, tuned as best I knew how, and then put it on the 2.6.31 kernel (I later updated it to  There were no BIOS or other firmware updates needed.
  3. I then built the management server on the Dell 1850.  It only has one power supply (I cannot find a second one), but it does have 8 GB RAM and two dual-core CPUs.  I loaded 64-bit Ubuntu-9.04 on it afte installing two 146 GB SAS drives in a RAID-1 mirror (hardware-based).  I also updated the BIOS and other firmware on it.
  4. Having these components in place, I studied the blade server to see what I could get away with, and ultimately decided to use each NIC on a blade server to support a set of traffic types, and balanced the likelyhood of traffic demands across them.  For example, Vmotion traffic, while it may be intense, should be relatively infrequent, so it shares a V-Net with another type of traffic that is low-bandwidth (the alternate management  network).  Altogether, I ended up with a primary management network on up V-Net, Vmotion and the alternate on another V-Net, storage traffic (NFS and iSCSI) on a third V-Net, and VM traffic on its own V-Net.  Each V-Net maps to the its own NIC on a blade, the same NIC on each blade.

The physical network design:

For the V-Nets, the management network went on NIC 1 as an untagged VLAN.  It has to be untagged, because when it boots up, it needs to get a DHCP address and talk to the boot server for its image.  Since it comes up untagged, it will not be able to talk out to the DHCP/PXE server if the V-Net is set to pass through tags.  The other V-Nets support tagged VLANs to further separate traffic.  Each V-Net has four links to the Cisco 6509, except for the storage V-Net, which has eight.  Two links form an LACP bundle from the active side (VC-Enet module in Bay 1), and two make up an LACP bundle (or etherchannel) from the module in Bay 2, which is the offline side.  This is repeated for the other networks across the other modules in Bays 5 and 6.  Bays 3 and 4 house the Fiber Channel modules, which I am not using.  Everything is on its own individual private 10.x.x.x network as well, except for the VM traffic net, which will contain the virtual machine traffic.

The storage design:

Like I said, a really ghetto NFS server.  It does not have enough drives, so even though it would be overkill for a home PC, it will not cut it in this situation.  I expect it to run out of steam after only a few VMs are added, but it does tie everything together and provides the shared storage component needed for HA, Vmotion, and DRS.  I am working on an afforable and acceptable solution, rack-mounted, with more gig NICs and up to 24 hot-swap drives – more spindles should offer more thoughput.  I bonded the NICs together into a single LACP link, untagged back the the Cisco, on the NFS storage VLAN.  Once working, I stripped out all unneeded packages for a very minimal 64-bit Ubuntu server.  It boots in seconds, and has no GUI.  Unfortuately, I did not get into the weeds enough to align the partitions/volumes/etc.  I just forgot to do that.  I will have to figure that out next time I get a storage box in.

The management server:

It is also on a very minimal 64-bit Ubuntu-9.04 install.  Ithas four NICs, but I only use two (the other two are only 100 MB).  The two gig NICs are also bonded into one LACP link back to the Cisco, untagged.  The server is running a stripped down 2.6.31 kernel, and has VMware Server 2.0.x installed for the vCenter Server (running on a Windows 2003 server virtual machine).  On the Ubuntu host server, I have installed and configured DHCP, TFTP, and gPXE.  I also extracted the boot guts from the ESXi 3.5.0 Update 4 ISO and set up the tftpboot directory so that each blade will get the image installed.  On the vCenter Server virtual machine, I installed the Microsoft PowerShell tool (which installed ActiveState PERL), and the VMware PowerCLI tool.  I also downloaded the midwife scripts and installed Notepad++ for easy editing.  The vCenter Server VM is on a private 10.x.x.x net for isolated management, but this gets in the way of the Update Manager plugin, so I still have some work to do later to get around this.

Really key things I learned from this:

  1. The blade server VC-Enet modules are NOT layer-2 switches.  They may look and feel that way in some aspects, but they, by design, actually present themselves to network devices as server ports (NICs), not as more network devices.  Learn about them – RTFM.  It makes a difference.  For instance, it may be useful to know that the right side bay modules are placed in standby by default, and the left-side are active – they are linked via an internal 10Gig connection.  I know of another lab with the same hardware that could not figure out why they could not connect the blade modules to the network if all the modules were enabled, so they solved it by disabling all but Bay-1, instead of learning about the features and really getting the most out of it.
  2. Beware old 64-bit CPUs.  Just because it lets you load a cool 64-bit OS on it does NOT mean it will let you load a cool 64-bit virtual machine on it.  If it does not have virtualization instruction sets in its CPU(s), you will run into failure.  I found this out the hard way, after trying to get the RCLI appliance (64-bit) from VMware in order to manage the ESXi hosts.  I am glad I failed, because it forced me to try the PowerCLI/PowerShell tools.  Without those tools, I seriously doubt I could have gotten this project working.
  3. Learn PowerShell.  The PowerCLI scripts extend it for VMware management, but there are plenty of cool tricks you can do using the base PowerShell scripts as well.  I am no fan of Microsoft, so it is not often I express satisfaction with one of their products.  Remember where you were on this day, ‘cuz it could be a while before it happens again.
  4. Name resolution is pretty important.  HA wants it in a real bad way.  Point your hosts to a DNS server, or give them identical hosts files (a little ghetto, but a good failsafe for a static environment).  I did both.
  5. Remember those Enet modules?  Remember all that cool LACP stuff I mentioned?  Rememeber RTFM?  Do it, or you will miss the clue that while the E-net modules like to play with LACP, only one link per V-Net is set active to avoid loops.  So if, on your active V-Net, you have two LACP links, each for a different tagged VLAN, and your NFS devices won’t talk to anyone, you will know that it is because it saw your iSCSI V-Net first, so it set your NFS link offline.  Meaning, the iSCSI link on Bay-1 and it’s offline twin on Bay-2 both have to fail before your NFS link on Bay-1 will come up.  Play it safe – one LACP link per V-Net per bay.  Tag over multiple VLANs on the link instead. The E-net modules only see the LACP links, and do not care if they support different VLANs – only one is set active at a time.
  6. Be careful with spanning tree (this can be said for everything related to networking).    Use portfast on your interfaces to the E-net modules, and be careful with spanning tree guards on the Cisco side.  In testing, I would find that by pulling one of the pairs in a link, it would isolate the VLAN instead of carrying on as if nothing had happened.  Turns out a guard on the interface was disabling the link to avoid potential loops.  Once I disabled that, the port-channel link functioned as desired.
  7. Doesn’t it suck to get everything working, and then not have a clean way to import in VMs?  I mean, now that you built it, how do you get stuff into it?  I ended up restructuring my NFS server and installing Samba as well.  This is because when importing a VM from the GUI (say, by right-clicking on a resource pool), the “Other Virtual Machine” option is the only one that fits.  However, it then looks for a UNC path (Windows share-style) to the .vmx file.  I could browse the datastore and do it that way, but for VMs not on the NFS datastore already, I needed to provide a means for other labs to drop in their VMs.  Samba worked.  Now they can drop in their VMs on the NFS server via Samba, and the vCenter Server can import the VMs from the same place.

Currently, we are restructuring phycial paths between labs for better management.  It is part of an overall overhaul of the labs in my building.  Once done, my next step is to start building framework services, such as repository proxy servers, WSUS servers, DHCP/DNS/file/print, RADIUS/S-LDAP/AD, etc., etc.  I also need to wrap in a management service framework as well that extends to all the labs so everyone has an at-a-glance picture of what is happening to the network and the virtual environment.  One last issue I am fighting is that I am unable to complete importing VMs I made on ESX 3.5 U2 earlier this year.  It keeps failing to open the .vmdk files.  I will have to pin that down first.

The end result?

  1. If I run the midwife service on the vCenter server and reboot a blade, it is reloaded and reconfigured within minutes.
  2. If I upgrade to beefier blades, I pop them in and let them build.
  3. If I update to a newer release of ESXi (say, update 5 or 6), I extract from the ISO to the tftpboot directory and reboot the blades.  The old configs get applied on the new updated OS.
  4. All configs are identical – extremely important for cluster harmony.  No typos.
  5. If someone alters a config and “breaks” something, I reboot it and it gets the original config applied back.
  6. If I make a change to the config, I change it in the script once, not on each blade individually.  This also allows for immediate opportunity to DOCUMENT YOUR CHANGES AS YOU GO.  Which is just a little bit important.

As stated before, this is an overview.  I will add more detailed articles later, which will include scripts and pictures as appropriate.  I am at home now and do not have access to my documentation, but once I get them, I will post some goodies that hopefully help someone else out.  To include myself.

Very Useful Link on Shell Scripting….

I found this while surfing  Very handy if you are into shell scripting (and who isn’t?, haha).

Speaking UNIX


Fun Script to Track Your Blog Hit Count…

I got the inspiration for this script from CoolTechie’s blog. He made a script to display cricket match scores from a web site. I decided to have a little fun with it, so made one of my own that periodically checks this blog and displays a popup window if the hit counter has changed, with the current visitor count.

I started with the command, “touch blog-hits”, then edited it in vi. When I was done, I typed “chmod +x blog-hits” to make it executable and ran it by typing “./blog-hits”.

Here is the script…

### Adapted from a soccer score script found on
### Thanks out to cooltechie!


# Set variables - interrupt, url, url title, search phrase, and unchanged counter
##phrase="hits" ### this is the default, change if you use something else
title="Linux Free Trade Zone" ### I wanted to come up with a cool way to extract the title of the URL, but it got late...

# Catch Control-C events to break out of the loop and remove the dump file
trap 'echo "Quitting..."; rm -f dump; exit $USER_INTERRUPT' TERM INT

while [ 1 ]
lynx -dump $url > dump
hits=`grep "$phrase" dump`
if [ "$hits" != "$same" ]
kdialog --title "$title" --passivepopup "$hits" 10
sleep 60

It grabs the text of the url, looks for the word “hits” or whatever phrase you tell it to if you have changed that on your site, and compares it to the old value (same). When the current value is different from the “same” value, such as when the script is first run and when people visit your blog, it displays that new hit count in the popup for 10 seconds, then waits one minute before re-downloading a text dump of the site. You end it with CTRL-C, which also tells it to clean up the dump file it makes. You can run it in the background if you want. I am sure there is plenty of stuff you can add to this as well, and it might even be a little buggy (inaccurate). I just thought it would be fun to have a little popup counter, and it was fun to do.

One thing I found is that it also prints the phrase you searched on to display the visitor count line, because that phrase is getting appended to the “hits” variable. Too tired to troubleshoot, however…

Anyway, enjoy!

Extracting an MP3 From a YouTube Flash (FLV) Download…

My wife likes YouTube.

A *lot*.

I had found out how to make MP3 files from the audio sections of the FLV files, so she wanted to know if I could set things up for her to do this on her own.

Of course I said yes.

So, first step was downloading the video from YouTube. That was pretty easy – I installed the UnPlug add-on for Firefox and tested it. I used to use Ook! Video, but it stopped working for me on YouTube. Maybe they changed the site and broke it, I don’t know. Anyway, Unplug seems to work much better, and soon I had the FLV files I was interested in.

Next step was streaming the audio into an MP3 file – I say streaming because the original FLV file is left unchanged – it does not get converted to an MP3, but rather a new MP3 is made from the audio protion of the video file.

For this, I used ffmpeg at the command line. It worked great, and I was able to create OGG and MPG files as well. The command I ran was:

  • ffmpeg -title “my_title” -i filename.flv -acodec mp3 -ac 2 -ab 128 -vn -y filename.mp3

The -i is the input file, -acodec is the type of audio codec to use, -ac is the number of audio channels, -ab is the encoding bitrate, -vn disables video recording, and the -y option overwrites output files. Plenty of other info is here.

Still, even though it worked fine, it is a little clunky to use for multiple files and is well past what I can expect my wife to manage, so I wrote my first *real* bash shell script – youtube2mp3. The script, which I made executable and placed in /usr/local/bin, basically acts within the current working directory, accepting one input parameter – the output directory location. It runs through and extracts an MP3 file for each FLV file, provided that the MP3 file does not already exist in the output directory. The sanity checking it does is limited to determining if the output path (assumed to be a USB MP3 player) exists (is plugged in), and it looks for Control-C to delete the MP3 file currently being encoded and break out of the script. Anyway, here is the scripţ in all its ugly glory:


# Set variables – interrupt, extension1, extension2, and the audio file name
pluginmsg=”$USER, please plug in the MP3 player and try again. Quitting…”

# Set the output directory, so as not to clutter up the folder full of flv files
if [ -n “$1” ]

# Catch Control-C events to break out of the loop and remove the partial audio file
trap ‘echo “Quitting…”; rm -f $audio; exit $USER_INTERRUPT’ TERM INT

# Loop through the working directory and create from xt2 from xt1
mount | grep -i ${outputdir%/} &> /dev/null # Is the MP3 player mounted?
if [ $? = 0 ]
for filename in *.$xt1

if [ ! -f ${outputdir}$audio ] # Does the mp3 already exist in the output directory?
ffmpeg -title “$title” -i $filename -acodec mp3 -ac 2 -ab 128 -vn -y $audio # Change this if xt2 is not an mp3
mv $audio $outputdir
echo “$pluginmsg” # No MP3 player – try again!
sleep 1
exit 1

exit 0

I tried to write it generic enough it could be easily modified for other file types, etc, etc, etc. I then made a new KDE “Link to Application”, set the working directory as the folder my wife saves her videos to, and passed in the media path for the MP3 player for the command to run – “/usr/local/bin/youtube2mp3 /media/disk”. I also set the desktop link to run as a terminal window, so she could see the progress and any exit messages.

Now, she saves her YouTube vidoes to that folder, plugs in her MP3 player, clicks the script icon on her desktop, and waits while it creates the MP3 files and moves them to her MP3 player. Too easy.

Notepad++ : A Fantastic Open-Source Editor for Windows

At my work, I use Windows XP (running on VMWare Server). I have also established an intranet using OpenStar CMS (described as a premium value-added version of PostNuke), riding on Apache2 web server. This effort has led me inexorably down the road to programming and editing code (PHP, HTML, CSS, Javascript, etc.). I quickly learned that Windows Notepad was not the answer (it displayed PHP files apparently without any line breaks and made editting a nightmare), and I found Wordpad to be limiting as well (plus, after Notepad, I didn’t trust it). Bear in mind I did very little text editing before I kicked off this project, especially in Windows. I also have a limited budget and so tend to avoid commercial IDEs due to price and bloat.

Luckily, the University of Google provided a solution – Notepad++. This thing is great, and open-source (as opposed to most Windows “freeware”, which I avoid like the plague). It allows editing of just about any text file (C, perl, python, PHP, XML, HTML, CSS, as well as .ini files and .conf files, to name a few) right off the bat, and features tabbed editing, syntax highlighting (including bracket/parenthesis pairing, so you can quickly find missing or extra brackets/parenthesis), per tab operations, code-collapsing, and extensive search capabilities, just to name a few. It is an invaluable tool for editing text files on Windows. If you have to work in Windows and need to do any quick and dirty code editing, this software is definitely worth a look.