DRAC5 is your pal.

Posted by Carson       Trackback

Remote server administration can be a real pain, especially if you don’t have a knowledgeable onsite person to help troubleshoot problems. In my current role, I am responsible for 11 remote sites which all have servers that occasionally need maintenance or troubleshooting. Fortunately, I just finished rolling out new servers to all of these locations and remote administration is a whole lot easier now.

All of the sites are now running Dell 19XX series servers, and every new server that went out included a DRAC5 card, which is specially designed to work with the PowerEdge 19XX servers. I figured that these cards would be a good idea for remote sites, but they work so well that I have since purchased a bunch of extra DRAC5 cards and installed them in all the servers at my local site as well, which saves me trips to the office on occasion.

The Dell Remote Access Controller version 5 (DRAC5) cards are basically a tiny system-on-a-chip in the form of an addon board that connects directly to the server motherboard and power supply, and has an external RJ45 network jack. They are completely independent of the main server chassis and even if the server is off (but plugged in), the DRAC5 card is on and will respond to network requests. This makes it possible to do stuff that would normally only be available locally. Someone still needs to plug the server in and connect it to a live network port, but that’s pretty much it.

The DRAC5 card does a lot of cool stuff, but I have found these features most useful:

1. Remote power off/on: As long as the server is plugged into a power source and the DRAC5 card is plugged into a live network jack, the server can be turned ON / OFF remotely. It can even be forced to turn off in the even that the server freezes. It is essentially the same as hitting the power button on the server.

2. IP KVM: Dell calls it a remote console, but it is a full functional IP KVM connection that runs thru the DRAC5 network interface. This means that even if the server LAN ports are not plugged in, you can still get a remote session where you can interface with the Linux console or Windows desktop.

3. Virtual Media:
In addition to the CD/DVD drive in the server, a virtual device is created and you can put a CD in your workstation and mount it on the remote server. Even more nifty is the ability to directly mount an ISO image!

Used in combination, these three features can be extremely handy. It is possible to ship a bare server with no operating system to a remote site and perform the entire OS install remotely. First you would connect to the DRAC5 web management interface and launch the IP KVM, then flip over to the virtual media options and mount your Linux or Windows ISO/CD/DVD. Finally, you would power on the machine and watch it post in the IP KVM, then start the installation!

Suffice to say, I doubt I will ever roll out another Dell server without a DRAC card installed.

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