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Configuring Boot Disks

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This sample chapter presents a reference configuration of the root disk and associated disks that emphasizes the value of configuring a system for high availability and high serviceability and outlines the methods used create such a system.
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Editor's Note

This article is the complete fourth chapter of the Sun BluePrints book, Boot Disk Management: a Guide for the Solaris Operating Environment, by John S. Howard and David Deeths (ISBN 0-13-062153-6)

This chapter presents a reference configuration of the root disk and associated disks that emphasizes the value of configuring a system for high availability and high serviceability. Although both of these qualities are equally important, the effort to support availability is much simpler than the effort to support serviceability. While you can easily achieve a high level of availability through simple mirroring, the effort involved in configuring a highly serviceable system is more complex and less intuitive. This chapter explains the value of creating a system with both of these characteristics, and outlines the methods used to do so. This chapter also addresses the following topics:

  • Principles for boot disk configuration

  • Features of the configuration

  • Variations of the reference configuration

While the reference configuration reduces downtime through mirroring, the emphasis of this chapter is on easing serviceability burdens to ensure that when a system goes down, it can be easily and quickly recovered regardless of the situation or the staff on hand. While this configuration is useful in most enterprise environments, variations are presented to address a wide variety of availability and serviceability needs. In addition, this chapter is designed for modularity with respect to the other chapters in the book.

While nothing from this point forward in the book requires knowledge of the file system layouts and Live Upgrade (LU) volumes discussed in chapters 1–3, the reference configuration uses this disk layout, and it may be helpful for you to be familiar with this information. The reference configuration is independent of a volume manager, and you can implement it using either VERITAS Volume Manager (VxVM) or Solstice DiskSuite_ software. Despite independence from a specific volume manager, some things are implemented differently with different volume managers. For instance, Solstice DiskSuite software is unlikely to require a contingency disk because it is available on standard SolarisTM Operating Environment (Solaris OE) boot compact discs (CDs); however, VxVM is not on the boot CDs, and a contingency disk can be an effective way of reducing downtime when the boot image has been damaged.

For information about implementing the reference configuration using VxVM, see Chapter 5 "Configuring a Boot Disk With VERITAS Volume Manager." For information about implementing the reference configuration using Solstice DiskSuite software, see Chapter 7 "Configuring a Boot Disk With Solstice DiskSuite Software." Note that some of the procedures discussed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 are not obvious and are important even if you do not use the reference configuration.

Configuration Principles

With any architecture, there are trade-offs. The configuration proposed here promotes serviceability and recoverability at the expense of disk space and cost. While this may seem like a substantial trade-off, an investment in simplicity and consistency makes the configuration much safer and faster to recover should a failure occur. With the escalating cost of downtime, a system that you can quickly recover makes up the added cost of installation with the very first outage event. Likewise, a reference configuration that provides consistency throughout the enterprise reduces the likelihood of human mistakes that may cause failures.

In addition, you should consider the impact of having experienced personnel available when configuring and maintaining a system. While you can schedule installations when experienced system administrators who understand volume manager operations are on hand, the true value of an easily serviced and recovered system will be most apparent during an outage when experienced help is unavailable.

The following sections address key design philosophies for the reference configuration. Note that these same philosophies shaped the procedures used to install the boot disks in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7, particularly the choice to use the mirror, break, and remirror process during the VxVM boot disk setup.

Doing the Difficult Work at Installation Time

Setting up the boot disk and related disks with the steps used by the reference configuration presented in this book introduces several tasks on top of the standard procedures. While completing all of these tasks at once can be complicated and can take more time than performing the default installation, doing so makes things simpler when service is needed. Because installations can be scheduled and controlled, it makes sense to spend a little more time up front to have a configuration that is simple, easy to service, and understood by everyone on the staff.

Striving for Simplicity

The configuration should be simple. Any system administrator with a moderate level of experience should be able to briefly look at the configuration to understand what is going on. There should be few, if any, exceptions or special cases for configuring various aspects of the boot disk.

Creating Consistency in All Things

This is a corollary to simplicity. The more cookie-cutter the configuration is, the more useful an administrator's experience becomes. An administrator who has gone through the recovery of one system, for example, can make that same recovery happen on any other system in the enterprise. Consistency in implementation makes this easier to achieve. In an inconsistent environment, each system poses new problems and a new learning curve that no one wants to tackle during a crisis. Because of this, the reference configuration present a configuration that is flexible enough to be useful in a variety of situations. Both Solstice DiskSuite software and VxVM configurations benefit from increased consistency. For example, Solstice DiskSuite metadevice organization can be difficult to understand if an inconsistent naming scheme is used. For VxVM configurations, consistency plays an even bigger role.

Many of the problems in recovering or servicing a VxVM boot device come from the inconsistent configuration produced by the default installation. In a variety of ways, the boot disk is an exception in the world of VxVM. Encapsulating and mirroring the root disk may appear to generate a set of simple, identical disks, but this is not the case. There are several issues that make VxVM's default encapsulation far from ideal. These issues, including the geographic layout of the data, the location of the private region, and the order in which mirrors are attached to rootdisk volumes are examined in Chapter 5.

Designing for Resiliency

The reference configuration has designed out the possibility that a single hardware error (or device driver error) could cause an outage. All of the hardware elements that are necessary to support each mirror of the boot device are completely independent of one another; no single point of failure (SPOF) is tolerated. The examples used to demonstrate our reference configuration use a Sun StorEdgeTM D1000 array in a split configuration as a boot device.

Ensuring Recoverability

The reference configuration applies several layers of contingency to permit easy and rapid recovery. A mirror provides the first level of redundancy, and an additional mirror provides flexibility with backups and an additional level of redundancy. A contingency disk enables recovery even if there are problems with the volume manager setup or software.

To ensure recoverability, it is also important to test the finished configuration to ensure that everything works properly. Later chapters stress the importance of examining configuration changes and verifying proper operation.

Weighing Costs Against Benefits

While disks can be expensive in terms of cost, space, and administrative complexity, allocating an insufficient number of disks can be expensive, too. Although heroic efforts on the part of the system administration staff may be able to solve boot problems, these efforts may involve hours of expensive system administrator time. In addition, as servers become more connected (both to each other and to the lives of the people who use them), availability becomes increasingly important. When a server is unavailable, you might face the added costs of customer dissatisfaction, lost revenue, lost employee time, or lost billable hours. Fortunately, disks are becoming less expensive, and the availability gained by using three or four disks to manage the boot environment (BE) for an important server is usually well worth the price. Over the life of the machine, the cost of a few extra disks may indeed be a very small price to pay. Additionally, the configurations discussed here and in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 are inherently more serviceable, and events such as upgrades will involve less downtime and less system administration hassle.

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