I bought an HP Proliant ML115 G5 server recently, it was a bargain for a good amount of processing power, albeit in an entry level tower server. It will live at my house and I’ve already supplemented it with 4 GB RAM and will dropping in a pair of 1 TB disks on a 3Ware RAID controller, so I’m not troubled by the form-factor and otherwise low specs.
At the time of purchase though, I didn’t realise you could buy HP’s Lights Out remote management card and have HP refund you the cost. They won’t do this if you retrospectively buy the card though, they have to be on the same invoice, so I will have to make do with the onboard IPMI controller, which would have been fine as I’m pretty familiar with IPMI, if only I could get it to work on this machine.
As far as I’m aware, the HP LO card is similar in principle to IPMI, but a bit more intelligent. On every other IPMI controller I’ve used, there are a number of ‘channels’ with which you can communicate, one of which is a LAN channel to which you can assign an IP address. That way you can send IPMI commands over the network and remotely power on, power off, reboot and get hardware information whether the operating system is running or not. With some versions of IPMI, you can configure the BIOS, the bootloader and the Linux kernel to give you a serial console over the network so you can see remotely what you would see if you were standing in front of the machine in all cases.
However, with this IPMI controller there doesn’t seem to be a LAN channel which means I can’t do any of those things, at least in the range of channels I tried which was between 0 and 10, only channels 1 and 2 existed. Normally, channel 1 would have been the LAN channel.
It has to be said that HP don’t list this system as supported by Debian or Ubuntu, however it works fine under Debian Etch and Ubuntu 8.10 in every other way and I’ve yet to come across a hardware vendor which actually says it supports Linux across its hardware range, even when it works fine. They normally support a subset of hardware, which they have certified, created a knowledge base for and have provided support training for. My Dell XPS 1710 laptop for example works perfectly, but Dell don’t support Linux on it.
In fact, despite saying they do not support Debian on the ML115 G5, this page appears to show they do support Red Hat and SUSE. If they support Red Hat and SUSE, I hope this may change once Debian Lenny is released and has been through their QA process. However the Debian Proliant Wiki is confident that the Debian will install successfully on this machine, as I can of course confirm, though no mention is made of the IPMI controller, as you would expect for a wiki about installer compatibility. I may try CentOS to see if it can see a LAN channel on the IPMI controller, just to set the address and then replace it with Debian afterwards. I’m not a fan of Red Hat/CentOS servers, I prefer that it’s reasonably easy to upgrade between Debian release. I don’t see that it’s that easy between Red Hat and CentOS releases. (UPDATE: CentOS can’t see a LAN channel on the IPMI controller either.)
HP do supply a bunch of Debian packages for Proliant hardware management, such as the HP Proliant Value Add Software which contains an HP version of ipmitool, the tool used to manage an IPMI controller from inside the OS. On Dell hardware there is a BIOS level tool to set the IP address on an IPMI controller, on Supermicro servers there was a bootable FreeDOS CD for uploading the firmware and then setting the IP address. In either case, you can also set the IP address of the LAN channel using ipmitool. Sadly, as I said the stock version if ipmitool in Debian Etch and Ubuntu 8.10 doesn’t seem to be able to see a LAN channel. The HP version of ipmitool shipped in the HP Proliant Value Add Software has to be compiled at installation time by debconf and it bails out with a bunch of compiler errors about missing files even though I have the kernel sources and headers installed for my kernel version.
I called HP’s Unix/Linux Proliant support line and explained the problem to the guy, asking if he either knows what the LAN channel is supposed to be, whether the IPMI controller some how relies on the LO card for remote access or whether there are known issues. Unfortunately, he didn’t really seem to know what I was on about and after putting me on hold for several minutes, offered me a Windows Server 2003 null management controller driver. When I reminded him that I had called the Unix/Linux Proliant support line because I use Linux, not Windows, he told me that Linux isn’t supported on this server even though Red Hat and SUSE are as noted above. At this point I explained that the controller is independant of the operating system, it is used for out of band management, ie whether the system is powered on or not, you communicate with the IPMI controller over the network. I forger what my man said to that but it implied that he couldn’t help me and feeling my irritation rise I decided to tell him not to worry about it and ended the call.
It strikes me sometimes that vendor support use their list of supported hardware/operating system/web browser/whatever as a get out clause when they don’t understand your problem. It’s an easy cut off when they encounter something they don’t know how to answer, even though the problem is not related to their hardware/operating system/web browser/whatever support list. That said, I appreciate that this was a quite a specific technical issue and the problem is not necessarily to do with the support guy I called, but in his training and the resources available to him. If he could search for the specs of the IPMI controller in my server or cross-reference my server model, operating system and the IPMI controller, I’m sure he would have been able to be more helpful. I feel bad for call centre support people, they get a shit deal from management and customers alike.
Anyway, if you couldn’t tell, this post is me purely taking the opportunity to complain bitterly about unhelpful support and lack of vendor documentation, to create a central list of all the links I came across navigating the HP’s seemingly spaghetti linked website and to ask you if you have any ideas. Do you have any ideas where I’m going wrong? Will the IPMI controller ever work? Do you know how I can set an IP address on it under Linux?