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Self-managed server room (IF-B.Z14)

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The 'self-managed server room' (B.Z14) in the basement of the Informatics Forum provides a 'fairly secure' room to house machines which would not be suitable for an office environment. It's 'fairly secure' in the sense that access is normally granted freely to those who have machines in the room, but not to anyone else.

REMINDER: food and/or drink are not permitted in any of the School's server rooms.

Requesting space in the self-managed server room

See also the School's policy on the allocation and use of space in the self-managed server room.

Space for equipment in the in the self-managed server room is necessarily limited. Before you make plans to site equipment in the room, you must submit a support request explaining what you propose to do, and how much rack space you'll require. If the request is reasonable, we'll then reserve the space, subject to the School's SMSR space policy.

Please note that there MUST be a current member of staff to act as adminstrative contact and "sponsor" for the machine(s). It is the responsibility of the group managing the machine(s) to ensure that this remains the case as staff leave the School. Machines which appear to be "unowned" may be turned off and removed from the SMSR.

Access

Access is by swipe & PIN; please request access by sending in a support request giving your swipe card number ('100100...'). Please send this as a separate ticket so that the necessary actions can take place in parallel with any other work you might request. If you are a student, please be sure to include the name of your supervisor. Note that, in common with other swipe locks, an alarm will go off if the door is held open for more than 15 seconds; if you think you'll need to open the door for longer, please contact support beforehand.

Once your card is enabled and your machine installed (see below), the expectation is that you should be able to do all necessary management tasks yourself. However, please feel free to send in a support request if you'd like assistance with something.

Installing machines

All machines intended for the room must be rack-mountable; no 'desktop'-style machines will be accepted for the room. You MUST reserve rack space in the room before you order any new machines.

Once you have obtained your new machine, please send in a support request to ask for assistance with installation, power, network and console provision. Note that some configuration of the room's switches will be necessary before new network connections will work. If we find that you have installed your machine incorrectly or inappropriately, we may require you to move it.

If you aren't already accredited to the room's swipe lock, please also send your card number ('100100...') as a separate request so that we can add it to the list.

Racking

To make the best use of the available space in the self-managed server room, we aim to rack machines fairly densely, unless there is a particular reason not to do so. So, generally:

  1. A group of machines, all of which belong to the same user or research group, will be racked as densely as possible, with no inter-machine gaps.
  2. A gap of 1U will be left between distinct groups of machines. (Of course, in some cases, there might be only one machine in a particular group.)

Power

Power in the self-managed server room is distributed by the 'power bars' attached to the back of the racks. These present as IEC C13 and C19 outlets. When you install your machine, the support team will be able to supply IEC C14-C13 power leads of appropriate length from stock. These should be suitable for use in almost all cases.

We try to balance the load within and between the power bars where possible. When your machine is installed it will be assigned a power-bar outlet (or outlets, in the case of a machine with dual power supplies) with this in mind. If you are later working on your machine, please reconnect it to the same outlet(s). Note that as machines are added and removed, and loads change, we may need to move things around at a later date; we will try to schedule this in advance where possible.

In a few cases, equipment will expect C19 or even 13A power. If yours is one of these, please contact support in advance, so that the technicians have time to source or make up something suitable. Note that in no case should the 13A wall sockets be used to power equipment in the racks or shelves, as this would cause a trip hazard.

All power in the self-managed server room is supplied via the same central uninterruptible power supply (UPS) as supplies power to the main Informatics server room. This means that machines in the self-managed server room are naturally protected from any short-term problems (spikes, glitches, black-outs, etc.) which might affect the main University power supply. No special action is required by owners of self-managed machines to take advantage of this.

WARNING: Three phase power is in use in the self-managed server room.

Each individual power bar or 13A socket provides the usual single-phase nominal 240V between live and neutral. However there is a nominal 440V between phases.

Both power bars on any rack use the same phase; however, power bars on different racks might use different phases. The 13A wall sockets use a different phase to the power bars.

Power bars and 13A sockets are all labelled with their circuit numbers, which includes the phase they are on (either L1, L2 or L3.)

A machine must only be connected to the power bars fitted to the rack in which the machine itself is housed.

Safety tests

Pre-installation safety tests are not normally required for "standard" machines which are bought by the University through one of the usual suppliers. However, non-standard machines and older machines do require to be tested periodically. Our own technicians will advise as to when this needs to be done, and will do any necessary testing.

Machines which fail a safety test must not be used. Machines which have not had a recent safety test may be powered off until one can be arranged.

Network

There are four network switches in the self-managed server room, each providing 44 1000baseT ('Gigabit ethernet') ports. Each switch has a 10Gbps uplink to the building's core switches. Ports on each of these switches can be configured onto any of the public or private VLANs available within the building.

A port in one of the switches will be allocated to your machine on installation. Switch ports are not interchangeable: you must not re-patch your machine to any switch port other than the one to which it has been allocated.

When you install your machine, the support team will be able to supply network cables of suitable length from stock. If you need a large number of network cables, please let the support team know in advance.

If you have several machines in the room, there might be some efficiency to be gained, both for you and for the other users of the room, if they are all connected to the same switch. Please contact support if you think this may be a useful thing to do.

Remote serial console access

We can provide remote serial console access to the machines in the self-managed server room: this can be useful if you want to remotely perform system administration tasks on your machine(s).

To set up this facility, send in a support request naming the machine(s) in questions, and the University usernames which should be authorized for remote access to the machine(s). We will then configure the necessary infrastructure, but it will be your responsibility to configure the operating system (and possibly firmware) of your machine(s) to actually make use of a serial console. (Consult your system's documentation to find out how to do that; we can help with advice, if necessary. Note that all serial ports must be configured to 9600,8,n,1.)

Once the serial console has been configured and is up-and-running, refer to our notes on using remote serial consoles in the self-managed server room.

Remote administration / 'lights out management'

Some machines to be installed in the self-managed server room might be equipped with so-called 'Baseboard Management Controllers' (BMCs) (or equivalent devices called 'Lights Out Management' processors (LOMs), or' Dell Remote Access Controllers' (DRACs), etc.) which are intended to allow remote system administration of the machines.

We have allocated a dedicated subnet and VLAN on which all such devices in the self-managed server room should be located. Should you want to make use of any such facility, please contact support.

Note: if your machine is equipped with such a device, then, irrespective of whether or not you intend to use it, it should be configured in some sensible way, rather than being left set to its factory default configuration. Specifically, if you do not intend to use the device, then please:

  1. Ensure that its networking capability is either completely disabled (preferable); or, otherwise, configured so that it does not issue DHCP requests.
  2. Set the passwords of all privileged accounts configured on the device to something other than the default.

Uninstalling / removing machines

Capacity in the self-managed server room is limited, and we monitor the overall usage. If you're removing machines for which you're responsible from the room - even if only temporarily - please inform support so that we can track what's going on, and plan accordingly.

If a machine is removed without notification, we reserve the right to reuse the space previously allocated to it.

Emergencies

There are occasions when we might have to turn off machines at short notice. We'll try to contact you first (which would be easier if you attach labels with contact details to your machines) however, we can't guarantee that timescales will permit. We therefore suggest that you configure your machines to shut down when their front-panel power buttons are pressed.

Stephen Quinney suggests that this can be arranged as follows:

"On SL5 and F12 (and from that I assume all Redhat and Fedora distros) this is controlled through the /etc/acpi/events/power.conf config file. On Debian (and I assume Ubuntu) it is controlled through the configuration in the /etc/acpi/events/powerbtn file. Both already feature sane handling of a power button shutdown. On Debian I had to install the acpi-support package, on Redhat/Fedora the files are in the acpid package."

Mailing list

There is a mailing list for people who have machines in the self-managed server room, and we suggest that you subscribe to this list. The list is expected to be low-volume, and will carry occasional announcements and followup-discussion.

Last reviewed: 
06/12/2016

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