Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
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Redundant ROMs far, far away

Situation: A glitch is causing unexpected system reboots. After much testing, you identify the problem.  A firmware patch should prevent it from recurring.   Luckily, you've already got the tools that will let you remotely "flash", or update, your firmware.


Complication: If your system glitches while you're remotely updating firmware, you won't be able to connect to it remotely anymore.  Oh...and your system is on another planet.


That's the firmware problem facing a NASA team right now.  The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has seen unexpected reboots, and engineers believe they've got a patch that could fix it.  However, they're worried that a mistake or unexpected reboot during the patch process might leave the satellite so confused it will stop transmitting its data.



ProLiant engineers have actually grappled with this very same problem, though a little closer to home.


Before I explain that, an aside: there's a cool connection between HP engineering and Mars spacecraft. Lossless compression technology developed by HP labs and used in HP's RGS software for workstations was used by NASA for transferring images from the Spirit Rover on Mars.


Here's two ways that ProLiant blades -- including the RGS-using ProLiant WS460c G6 workstation blade -- protect you from this "botched update" scenario:



1. Redundant ROMs - There are two ROM images stored on each blade.  One is a "primary" image, used to boot. The other is a "backup" image.  Here's a screenshot from RBSU showing the version numbers (dates, actually) of the primary and backup images on one blade.


 


When you flash a ROM, it actually overwrites the backup image, and then makes this image the new primary.  The original primary becomes the new backup. This hedges against both a new image being bad, and against the flash process failing to complete or corrupting the image.  (One reason a flash might fail: total loss of power during a flash.)


By the way, if both ROM images are valid, you can select which one you want to use at boot  time from RBSU.  Here's a short video showing that:



There's also a manual way described in the Maintenance and Server Guide to force a boot to the redundant image by setting some physical DIP switches inside the blade itself.


2. Bootblock - There's actually a third, non-flashable section of a ProLiant ROM.  This "boot block" section
includes a a disaster-recovery feature that lets the server flash a new ROM image, even if both of the existing ROM images are corrupted.


BIOS & firmware updates are often used to fix glitches, but HP (and presumably NASA) also add new features or enhancements too. We post release notes that describe all the fixes and enhancements added to each version.    Here's a recent one added to the BL460c G6.


For example, one enhancement in this latest version is a "boot override menu" (see screenshot below), displayed by hitting F11 during boot. It lets you specify a "one time" override of the RBSU boot order, so you can boot to some other device.  After booting that one time, the system will fall back to its original boot order settings.


 

Three Opinions (But One Counts More)

I saw three new opinions about BladeSystem last week. 



First, PC World Latin America announced that the HP BL490c G6 virtualization blade won in the "Best Server" category of the annual PC World Latin America 2009 Awards.  These awards honor the "best digital & IT products available in Latin America", and I'm proud to see this virtualization-oriented blade got recognized.   (HP's been active in Latin America for a long time --  back in 1968, HP helped in the broadcasting of the Mexico City Olympic Games.)


A second opinion came from a market research company.  This one caught my attention when Cisco's Omar Sultan pointed out that Gartner had placed Cisco in the "Visionary" area of Gartner's Magic Quarter for blades, a section also occupied by Liquid Computing.  Omar says that category holds companies with of keen insights into blade usage, but as one comment points out, little track record for delivering on that vision.


That led me to the Quadrant itself,  where it looks like HP has been placed in the "Leaders" quadrant.  I’d agree with that – it signifies solid vision, along with the ability to deliver on that vision.  Obviously one criteria for demonstrated leadership is a satisfied base of users, which points me the third (and most revealing) opinion I saw last week.


Bytemark Hosting, a web hosting provider that calls itself the "nerd-hosting outfit of choice", let HP write a case study about their infrastructure based on BladeSystem.  It uses virtualization blades (specifically the ProLiant BL495c), HP Virtual Connect Flex-10, and carvable storage from the SAS-connected HP StorageWorks MSA2000.


But the slots-and-watts of what the guys put together what stood out to me.  It's what Bytemark's Peter Taphouse said about the impact of the system.  He said  BladeSystem’s improved uptime can actually boost the company’s revenue (by as much as 5%), because it delivers an SLA that lets Bytemark reach a new, untapped set of customers.


Now THAT'S an opinion on BladeSystem that's truly eye-opening.  It's not that BladeSystem earns awards, or that it helps guide data centers toward the future.   It’s that BladeSystem users say it doesn’t just cut costs, but it can also expand the reach of your business.


 

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About the Author(s)
  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I work within EMEA ISS Central team and a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA ISS specific information.
  • Hello! I am a social media manager for servers, so my posts will be geared towards HP server-related news & info.
  • HP Servers, Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and ExpertOne
  • WW responsibility for development of ROI and TCO tools for the entire ISS portfolio. Technical expertise with a financial spin to help IT show the business value of their projects.
  • I am a member of the HP BladeSystem Portfolio Marketing team, so my posts will focus on all things blades and blade infrastructure. Enjoy!
  • Luke Oda is a member of the HP's BCS Marketing team. With a primary focus on marketing programs that support HP's BCS portfolio. His interests include all things mission-critical and the continuing innovation that HP demonstrates across the globe.
  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
  • Network industry experience for more than 20 years - Data Center, Voice over IP, security, remote access, routing, switching and wireless, with companies such as HP, Cisco, Juniper Networks and Novell.
  • 20 years of marketing experience in semiconductors, networking and servers. Focused on HP BladeSystem networking supporting Virtual Connect, interconnects and network adapters.
  • Greetings! I am on the HP Enterprise Group marketing team. Topics I am interested in include Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and Management, and HP BladeSystem.
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