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Introduction to XClarity and ESXi Node Management

from the Hydra High Council Jul 7th 2020

Introduction

In this blog we will introduce the Lenovo XClarity scalable hardware management system. Under the hood, Lenovo's XClarity Controller is an embedded management processor found in Lenovo ThinkSystem servers that provides the engine for standardizing and automating infrastructure processes. To deploy and manage the Lenovo servers and RackSwitches, this is where Lenovo XClarity Administrator comes in. It provides a centralized UI that leverages the XClarity Controllers, accelerates responses, and simplifies management overall.

 

 

About Our Lab

Our lab consists of 4 VX series appliances loaned to us directly from Lenovo. Each node includes two 2GHz Xeon Gold 6138 processors (20 cores each), 256GB RAM, and six SSD drives. The nodes are connected using a Lenovo RackSwitch G8272.

Features on Demand (FoD)

The features on demand are the licensed capabilities of Lenovo XClarity. Additional capabilities are easily enabled by adding additional software activation keys that do not require any hardware changes. Our lab has the Lenovo XCLarity Controller Enterprise upgrade.

Dashboard

The dashboard is exactly what it says…you get a quick view of exactly what is discovered and running in your environment. This includes graphic displays of servers, storage, switches, chassis, and racks along with provisioning status of any pending operations and a summary level status report of activity.

Hardware Inventory

The hardware inventory tab allows you to directly access and manage Lenovo hardware components. For this example, we will look at options for managing a server node. From Hardware > Servers a list is displayed of discovered nodes with a status summary.

Selecting one of the nodes individually enables the remote console and power options.

 

After power on, the most common action would be to access the server detail page by selecting the server link. From here, you can see the full server configuration including inventory details for processor, memory, storage, along with the FoD enabled keys to ensure the enabled licensing components are present down to the server level. The actions menu provides a robust list of operations that include the launch of remote control and access to the management controller web interface as well as power actions, inventory, service reset (event triggers), and security (encapsulation and certificate management). Let's launch the management controller interface and explore what options are available. From the Hardware > Server page, select Actions > Launch > Management Controller Web Interface.

 

 

This will launch the XClarity Controller login page. The credentials here are the controller credentials setup during your XClarity configuration and not the root credentials of the node.

 

Here we see a more detailed view of the server node and this is where a bulk of the management activities may be performed. The left-hand menu provides quick access to each of the XClarity Controller options including a real-time utilization page.

 

From either the remote console quick link on the menu or from the remote console pane on the home page widget you can conveniently access your node's console.

 

The remote console settings allow for either single or multi-user mode and other valuable features such as screen captures and recordings. Selecting the launch remote console icon brings up the option page, allowing you to alter the default settings for a particular session if needed.

 

The web management interface also provides convenience features such as keyboard and recording options directly on the top menu bar.

 

 

Provisioning

The provisioning page supports a broad range of node deployment options. Configuration patterns, address pools, and server profiles can be configured to then support the deployment of a wide range of OS images.

 

OS images can be uploaded into XClarity, which is particularly important for the deployment of ESXi. The Lenovo custom image can be used to quickly deploy ESXi nodes with all the proper drivers. The OS images and server profiles are easily managed from a single page. The quickest way to access this is to select the available OS images from the operating system images widget located on the dashboard.

In our case, you can see the customized Lenovo ESXi image by viewing the notes in the description column. These notes are entered by an admin when the image is uploaded, and therefore can be tailored to make sense for each customer.

 

 

Monitoring

The monitoring page provides detailed access to alerts, event logs, event forwarding, and jobs.

 

Accessing the jobs page, for example, allows an administrator to individually manage any particular job and view its details.

 

Administration

The administration page provides access to your XClarity settings and configuration.

 

The security tab allows for the creation and management of supervisor accounts and role-based access along with certificate management.

 

The network access page defines not only typical IP settings, but configuration of the network topology including which interface is discovering and managing hardware vs. which interface is being used to manage and deploy images.

 

Firmware Updates

The firmware update feature allows administrators to update firmware on managed nodes (and other objects as applicable) by following the workflow defined in the XClarity documentation.

 

The repository is the catalog of currently available updates for all supported nodes and devices. The updates are organized by type. Updates can be obtained either in "firmware packs" - say the firmware updates for all RackSwitches, for example, or as individual firmware updates.

Compliance policies are created and assigned so that XClarity knows the status of managed devices and determines whether firmware updates need to be applied.

XClarity does not automatically apply firmware updates. Once a device has been identified as non-compliant, an administrator must manually select and apply the update. One important note here is to view the job status (Monitoring > Jobs) on a selected device. There can be no running jobs on the target node for the firmware update to be queued up.

Although discussed last, the firmware update feature may be one of the most critical functions of Lenovo XClarity Administration. This ensures that VMware ESXi has access to the latest drivers and updates to create the most efficient solution that combines VMware software running on Lenovo hardware.