How To: Configure An SMB Server For Remote Management

Leveraging the Internet for seamless connectivity regardless of location, even if the system administrator is away from the server room, can be a valuable—and yes, billable—service for system builders to offer. System builders can now take on the duties of a remote sys admin for their SMB customers.

But how does it work, and how do you implement it? To answer those questions, in this recipe, I'll take you through the standards and technologies that have now matured to power this incredible tool. Then I'll illustrate how it works with a real-world example of a server platform—in this case, the Intel Sever Platform. I'll show exactly how I installed the necessary remote server management hardware and software directly on just such an Intel server.

About the IPMI Standard

One important factor in driving down the cost of technology has been the creation and adoption of industry standards. Imagine if every computer manufacturer had to employ their own interfaces for disk drives and network connections. Or, just think back to the time before the standards for SCSI and Ethernet were created. After all, it wasn't that long ago.

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Recently, a group of manufacturers worked together to create a new standard called the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) specification. Promoters of the IPMI specification are Intel, HP, NEC and Dell. Version 1.0 was announced in 1998; version 1.5 followed in 2001; and the current revision, version 2.0, was announced in 2004. While there are only four promoters of IPMI, there are more than 160 industrywide adopters.

So what does IPMI do for remote server management, and how does it do it? Essentially, the IPMI specification creates a means of abstracting the interfaces between the software and hardware that enable remote management features. Common command sets for software and the leveraging of other hardware and networking standards enables products from multiple vendors to be deployed together. To ensure that innovation and product differentiation are possible, the IPMI specification has provisions for OEM features as a part of the hardware/software stack.

It should go without saying that we'll require a sever platform to run the remote sever management software and hardware on. For this recipe, I'll use the Intel Server Platform as an example of how this can be accomplished. But the beauty of the IPMI standard is that platforms and components from other manufacturers can also be used to create a system enabled with remote management capabilities.

For instance, besides the Intel Server Platform, Tyan has produced its own Server Management Daughter Card (SMDC) hardware that could be thought of as an equivalent to Intel's Management Module, the necessary piece of hardware that enables us to do the remote management. More information on Tyan's M3291 product can be on the company's product page. The company also offers an M3291 FAQ page as well.

On the software side, in addition to Intel's Server Manger, several other manufacturers develop their own software for remote management, including Tyan's System Operator (TSO), and Hewlett-Packard's OpenView. Later in this recipe, I'll give a Bill of Materials (BoM) for the Intel Server Platform that I worked with as our example. Each of the components on this BoM has been checked for system compatibility and will provide the basis for our discussion.

If you'd like to read more about the topic of Intelligent Platform Management Interface, Intel has an IPMI page with lots of useful information.

Let's move on to some background information on the Intel server management system I'll be discussing in this recipe. Each network of managed servers will have five parts:

For this recipe, we are going to start with an Intel Server Platform based on the SC5300LX chassis and SE7520AF2 motherboard. We are going to install the Advanced Management Module, and load the newest version of Intel's Server Management software, which is version 8.4 for Windows. This will give us a wider variety of means to access our server, and enable the most powerful in-band and out-of-band monitoring features.

Here's the Bill of Materials for the Intel Server Platform:

Intel SC5300LX server chassis
Intel hot-swap power supply
Intel storage drive cage (4 SCSI bays)
Intel CD/floppy mounting kit
Intel server board
Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz (800FSB) Socket 604 2-MB L2
Intel RAID activation key license
Intel portable cache module storage upgrade kit
Intel management module advanced edition
Intel Slimline floppy disk drive (1.44 MB)
Kingston ValueRAM memory 1-GB DDR2 DIMM
Maxtor Atlas 10KV hard drive 147-GB U320 SCSI
Teac CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive 5.25-inch Slimline

A server assembled with this server platform hardware would have a sticker price of around $5,000. Notice that the components we have specified here are for maximum reliability and ease of maintenance. This type of configuration is well-suited to an environment requiring maximum uptime, such as for an e-mail server or web server.

The Intel Server Manager software CD comes with the server platform or motherboard, so there is no additional software investment required.

For the system builder/administrator who wishes to enable extended features, Intel's Advanced Management Modules hardware is included in the BoM, but it is optional. I recommend installing one in the Administrator Console. The Intel Advanced Management Module sells for less than $300, so you can see what an excellent value this is. Four Steps to Remote Server Management

Now let's move on to the implementation of the necessary hardware and software.

Step 1: Install the Intel Advanced Management Module. The module will snap into place on the white slot located next to the blue ATA-100 Primary connector on the Intel SE7520AF2 motherboard. It's illustrated by the red arrow in this photo:

The location of the Intel Management Module (IMM) connector will vary with different motherboard models. To determine the exact location, see the manuals of the particular components you've chosen for your server platform.

When you squeeze the card into its slot, make sure the nylon standoff comes into contact with the motherboard. That's the best way to verify that the module is fully inserted.

As shown below, the Advanced Management Module comes with a dedicated Network Interface Card (NIC):

This small circuit board attaches to the module via an Inter-Integrated Circuit (I2C) cable that plugs into the small white connectors on both the IMM and the NIC. There is a standard bracket included with the kit that can be screwed into place with two screws. This mounts the dedicated NIC in a blank slot at the rear of the chassis with the other peripheral cards. The I2C cable should give you enough length to mount it in any available slot.

Step 2: Configure the Intel advanced management module. There are two ways to do this. One method is to use the Software Configuration Wizard. The other is to use the syscfg tool on the Intel CD. I recommend the Wizard, as it does the job adequately.

Network configuration must be done here so you can connect to our remotely managed servers later. In order for this remote management system to work, it will be necessary to have a means of resolving network names. The best way to accomplish this is with a DNS server. One other option is Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) resolution, but I don't recommend that. For one thing, it only works in a Windows environment, which is not good if you want to add a Linux server to the network. For another, it's difficult to set up.

You can also manually add entries to the hosts file for resolution. But this is cumbersome to manage and loses its appeal rapidly as you add servers to the network.

Be sure to configure Reverse DNS Lookup. You will need it to find your servers across the network. Also, remember to use static IP addresses for the Administrator Console and the dedicated NIC in each of the Managed Servers. If you let DHCP handle your addressing, you can lose connectivity when the lease expires on the dynamic IP addresses. If you're using a firewall, you'll need to open TCP port numbers 623, 6780, and 9593 through 9595.

Before we can install the Intel Server Management software, you must have an OS installed and functioning on each of the Managed Servers and the Administrator Console. This is also a good time to make sure all your firmware and BIOS revisions are current.

Step 3: Install the Intel server management v8.4 software. The installation menus are straightforward and offer several options to speed things along. If you would rather not use the setup program's menus, we can do a "silent install" by using a script file accessed from the command line. From the menus you can elect to do a remote install, and even perform installations to multiple systems simultaneously. If you select Multiple System Install from the menu, you will be presented with a dialogue to select which machines on the network you will install to. While remote installations are handy for the administrator, make sure your servers are physically secured before you begin. It's possible that a security breach can happen if someone were able to hijack one of your remote sessions. Since you must be logged in as administrator to carry out the installation, there could be dire consequences if this were to happen. Remember, you must be installing from the same domain as the machines you are installing to.

When setting up the Administrator Console, you can select Custom Installation and then pick which tools you want to load. Or you can follow the default installation. The Java Runtime is required, but if your machine does not have that already installed, the setup program will take care of it for you. When you're done installing the software, the systems must be rebooted to use the new applications. This applies to the Remote and Administrator Consoles, as well as the Managed Servers. Be sure the servers in question are not in use when you reboot them. If you did a silent install from the command line, the remote systems are rebooted automatically; only the local machine gives you the option to delay the reboot.

Remember, the software installation for the Administrator Console must be done locally. Only the Managed Servers can be set up remotely.

Also, if you want to upgrade from a previous version of Intel Server Manager Software, you must first uninstall the previous version and then install the newer version. The Administrator Database is not saved when you do this. So remember to make notes if you need them, before going through this procedure.

Step 4: Configure the Intel Server Management v8.4 Software. Now you can configure our software and set our parameters. Open the Server Manager Administrator Console application. Intel's Java-based program has a nice graphical user interface (GUI). On the left side of the screen is your menu interface. Clicking on one of these menu items opens up the screen on the right to show you the settings for that option. You will notice that the menus also have sub-menus, so there is quite a bit of detail there. On your first time through the application, I recommend that you look at all the menu items and entering whatever settings you choose. Be sure to click the Apply button on each screen when you're done. It's not necessary to reboot the machine for the settings to take effect once you've clicked Apply. At this point, you should be set.

By the way, if you're going to use Intel's Server Manager Software for your Administrator Console, don't load management software from another vendor on that machine. There are known conflicts with HP OpenView, and there may be other hazards yet to be documented. You can use either HP or Intel software on your Administrator Console (with the Advanced Management Module), but not both. All in all, the Intel Server Manager product set is useful even with a handful of machines. But it can handle up to 1,000 nodes on the network.

So now you have a remote server management set-up you can use to manage your small-business customers' servers from off-site. You should be able to reduce the number of on-site service calls you receive, increase the satisfaction of your customers, and expand your business. I'd call that a win-win.

DAVID GILBERT is the owner of Appalachian Computer Systems, a system builder based in West Virginia that specializes in multiprocessor SCSI RAID servers.