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Redfish server management gets vendors' nod in new server hardware

Vendors are keen to push their own server management tools with extra capabilities, but they lack the cross-vendor capabilities provided by Redfish's open standards.

Customers trying to unite their hybrid IT infrastructures with server management tools get mixed messages from...

the big server vendors.

All major server vendors have touted compatibility with the Redfish server management open standard specification in recent weeks, in the newest versions of their servers -- Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Gen10, Dell EMC's 14th generation and Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) M5. But this goodness comes undone as each vendor, unwilling to relinquish management of their systems, continues to favor its own proprietary systems management tools.

"They all seem to be dancing around noncommittally," said Ashish Nadkarni, a computing platform analyst at IDC.

The top server-makers each integrate their own systems management tools: Dell Remote Access Controller (iDRAC) from Dell EMC, Integrated Lights-Out (iLo) from HPE and Integrated Management Controller from Cisco. This week, Super Micro Computer Inc. released its new Rack Scale Design product, built on an open standards-based architecture, with Redfish used in conjunction with the company's Pod Manager to manage and aggregate hardware resources.

Redfish first emerged from the Distributed Management Task Force about three years ago. It replaced the Intelligent Platform Management Interface, which was designed for IT pros who looked to more securely manage large, distributed data centers. Redfish can discover servers, reboot and reset servers remotely, inventory all hardware and firmware in a server, monitor the health status of a server and its subcomponents, and produce event logs, among many other capabilities.

Server vendors want to be part of the Redfish ecosystem, but they don't want to relinquish management of their own servers. So, they continue to improve and incorporate their proprietary tools to always offer something extra for hardware customers. For example, HPE said Synergy's management capabilities outdo the Redfish API, so users should use Synergy and not Redfish to exploit the system's capabilities, Nadkarni said.

No one is likely to buy a server for Redfish itself, and IT pros have some concern about whether new hardware will disrupt current tools and workflows. Many enhanced management functions are not cross-vendor -- system administrators can't manage an HPE server with iDRAC, for example. If Redfish server management -- or any vendor tool -- helps to ease the friction between new and old hardware, it will be a welcome addition, Nadkarni said.

Redfish's API allows it to manage all the servers in the data center, said Chadwick Ferman, a compute architect for an international oil company. He works primarily with Dell EMC systems, but also uses some HPE hardware. Before Redfish, he used IMPI, with Puppet and later Ansible for automation. Today, he points Redfish toward iLo, iDRAC or BMC for IBM servers.

"We have so many different hardware vendors that we have to manage it generally," he said. "You no longer have to learn iDRAC and how to connect IMPI to iDRAC and all the ways you have talk to different things."

[Redfish] means less reliance on proprietary tool sets and the vendor-provided tools; we are able to hook into it from really any platform.
Thomas Raysenior systems administrator, U.S. Bank

Redfish also helps U.S. Bank manage production HPE and Cisco UCS servers, said Thomas Ray, a senior systems administrator at the bank, based in Minneapolis. He replaced an XML API for UCS and command-line interface (CLI) for HPE servers with Redfish 1.1, which was released in January. And he began to use Redfish with PowerShell and Curl on HPE Gen9 servers and later added it to UCS.

"It means less reliance on proprietary tool sets and the vendor-provided tools," he said. "We are able to hook into it from really any platform."

Ray said he prefers scripts, rather than a CLI tool, and Redfish simplifies bare-metal provisioning. He also uses it to mount media at remote sites, change BIOS settings and cycle servers -- he used Redfish to simultaneously build 200 physical servers, for example.

Redfish swims deeper into data centers

Redfish has further plans to expand into just about every component of data center management, said Paul Rubin, a senior products manager for embedded management automation at Dell EMC. A new specification, Swordfish, will extend Redfish to storage area networks, network-attached storage and object storage, with APIs for network switches. Future updates will include APIs for data center cooling and power controls.

Redfish server management can help reduce the cost to run a data center and help increase IT productivity as part of larger automation projects, he said.

"You have told us automation is the key to unlocking future efficiency," Rubin said during a session about Redfish and server management automation at Dell EMC World last May. "Redfish is going to continue to evolve over time to meet your growing needs for management automation."

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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