Our rack server configurations were as varied as a bowl of jelly beans. With Intersight we’re limiting them to approved flavors.
Cisco IT manages roughly 2,000 Cisco UCS C-series rack servers in multiple data centers around the world. Business teams use them for financial databases, security video storage, file backups, Hadoop, our on-premises private cloud, and more.
We use multiple tools to manage our standalone C-series rack servers, including Cisco Integrated Management Controller, scripts, and playbooks. But until now we haven’t had a way to automate configuration, so admins for each department (say, finance) did it manually. That meant rack server configurations were like a bowl of jelly beans. When we tried to troubleshoot or upgrade, we never knew which flavor we were dealing with.
That’s a problem. Suppose an admin for servers in Research Triangle Park needs troubleshooting help from an IT engineer in San Jose. If the server isn’t set up for LDAP, for instance, the IT engineer can’t authenticate in the usual way, delaying resolution.
Managing rack servers at scale with Intersight
We’re starting to tidy up rack server management using Cisco Intersight, the cloud-based management service we already use to manage HyperFlex servers. (Story here.) So far we’ve claimed more than 1200 C-series servers in Intersight—every server with compatible hardware (M4 and M5) and firmware versions.
Here’s how Intersight saves time for our team and avoids unnecessary downtime.
We’re Customer Zero for Intersight, meaning we try it out before customers do so we can identify any bugs and suggest new features. Our suggestion for bulk claiming appears in the latest version. Before, to claim a device we had to log in to each device, and then click Claim Device. When you have dozens or hundreds of servers, that takes a long time. With the new bulk claiming feature, claiming 100 servers takes just 10-15 minutes, compared to 2+ hours to claim them one by one.
Standard service profiles
We’ve built multiple service profiles that department admins can apply to a new server with a click. Some settings are common to all profiles—for example, our standard LDAP, NTP, and DNS policies. Other settings vary. For example, virtual interface card (VIC) settings are different depending on whether the server connects to our ACI fabric or a traditional network.
Unattended OS install
We’re testing a new Intersight feature that installs operating systems from virtual media without any involvement by a person. (Documentation here.) We expect it will reduce the time to deliver new rack servers by 40% to 60%.
Simpler firmware upgrades
To avoid crashes that can happen if the server hardware and software aren’t compatible with new firmware, we check for issues before firmware upgrades. Before we had Intersight, to check compatibility we went to a web page where we entered the server type, model processor, OS version, adapter type, adapter version, etc. This took several minutes depending on the server model hardware-and we have several different configurations to check.
As Customer Zero, we asked the business unit for a better way to check compatibility. They came back with the HCL Discovery Tool, which today is built right into Intersight. When we’re planning a firmware upgrade, we can see on one screen whether any servers have a compatibility issue and what’s needed to resolve it. We estimate it takes 30% to 40% less time to discover issues before we go ahead with a firmware upgrade.
Intersight speeds up troubleshooting by displaying hardware errors right on the dashboard. We might see, for instance, that memory is causing problems on a financial database server, and whether the problem is critical or major. Seeing rack server issues in one place helps us prioritize issues and resolve them faster.
As Customer Zero we asked the business unit to make it simpler to open a TAC case. Now Intersight is integrated with the TAC database. Beside each server name we can see whether it has a TAC contract (sometimes server admins forget this detail) and can open a case with a click. Not having to gather and attach logs when we open a case typically saves 30 to 45 minutes.
Change management at scale with on-demand videos
For our first few internal clients I gave an in-person demo of Intersight. One demo was all it took to convince them Intersight makes server management simpler at every stage of the lifecycle. To scale Intersight across the company we created short videos. You can use these training videos.
Summing up, the Intersight cloud service is making server management much easier. It’s great to have error alerts, HCL, licensing contracts, profiles, and firmware upgrades all in one place. That’s maybe even a better treat than jelly beans.
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