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Configuring Boot Disks

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Reference Configuration Variations

Obviously, the four-disk reference configuration described here is not ideal for all situations. The ideal environment for such a reference configuration is an enterprise-level computing environment with high-availability expectations. However, you can easily modify the reference configuration to meet a number of needs. In low- or medium-scale environments, or environments with less of an availability concern, the additional cost of a second root mirror, hot spare disk, or contingency disk may not justify the gain in availability. The following paragraphs describe the pros and cons of several variations of this design. Note that it is still a good idea to follow the procedures and suggestions in the rest of the book. For instance, even if several variations of the reference configuration are used in a datacenter, it is good to use the same installation procedures and common naming conventions on the appropriate disks. Consistency is still the key to allowing system administrators to quickly and effectively service outages on an often-bewildering array of systems.

Although many concerns about boot disk configurations have already been addressed, there are really only two concerns to consider when choosing between variations on the reference configuration: disk failures and bootability failures. Disk failures are essentially random electronic or mechanical failures of the disk. Generally, the only remedy for a disk failure is to replace the disk. Bootability failures often involve human error and occur when the BE is unable to boot because of a misconfiguration or a problem with certain files or disk regions. Because bootability errors often affect the volume manager configuration or are mirrored to the root mirror or hot spare, the existence of those disks does not usually help the problem. While you can mitigate disk failures with root mirrors or hot spares, the remedy for bootability failures involves restoring the BE or booting from the contingency disk.

In a high-availability environment, it is essential that the restored BE or contingency disk has the programs, files, and patches to support the necessary services. Without a contingency disk, you can use any of the following methods to restore bootability:

  • If you used Solstice DiskSuite software as the volume manager, you can boot from the Solaris OE installation CDs. Since these CDs contain Solstice DiskSuite software binaries, this provides all necessary Solstice DiskSuite utilities. Because this is usually a fairly easy option, Solstice DiskSuite software installations usually do not require a contingency disk.

  • If a recent backup is available, you can use it to restore the boot disk.

  • If the boot image was not heavily customized, you can reload it using the same JumpStartTM image, or by cloning a similar system.

  • As a last resort, if good change control documentation is available, you can restore the BE by following the change control documentation; of course, if the change logs are on the boot disk, they will be of little help.

If none of these options are available, it may be extremely difficult and time-consuming to restore the BE to the point that it will support the necessary services. These types of outages are likely to last hours or even days, but could easily have been avoided by implementing any of the plans outlined above.

In systems using VxVM, storing non-OS information outside of rootdg alleviates many serviceability issues by eliminating the tendency to have application pieces on the boot disk and by making an alternate boot environment much more likely to support the necessary services. In systems running Solstice DiskSuite software, ensure that the boot disks and non-boot disks are as logically separate as possible.

Implementing Only a Mirrored Boot Disk

In some environments, it may make sense to use a configuration with only the root disk and the root mirror. While this will not achieve the same availability levels as the four-disk reference configuration, it is certainly better than a single-disk (non-mirrored) configuration. The availability level of a system with a mirrored root could vary greatly depending on the speed with which service staff detect and fix failures. It is important to remember that both disks need to be monitored. It does little good to have a root mirror if it is not in working condition when the root disk fails.

Having a root mirror generally provides a moderately high level of availability, though it may provide a high level of availability if the time-to-service is small. This availability level assumes that bootability errors are extremely rare, which is likely the case if the boot disk content is relatively static, or if stringent change control is in place. Workstations and machines that have a relatively simple, static configuration (especially where access is restricted) may work well with only a mirrored configuration. However, if the time to service is long, it is a good idea to have an additional mirror or a hot spare.

If occasional downtime is acceptable and the BE can be reinstalled easily, systems may be suited to a simple boot disk plus mirror configuration even if bootability errors are likely to be more common because the boot device is changed frequently or change control is poor. This could be the case for systems with a good backup and restore policy, or for systems that have simple BEs that can be started with JumpStart or reloaded easily. Redundant systems (such as one of a string of front-end web servers) may also be well-suited for this. In the case of redundant systems, a BE can be cloned from a similar system. This is discussed in detail in "Highly Available Services and Boot Disk Considerations" on page 185.

Using Additional Mirrors or a Mirror Plus Hot Spare

Both a hot spare and an additional mirror increase availability; however, the mirror provides better availability because there is no time spent synchronizing after a failure.The advantage of a hot spare is flexibility of which volume it will hot spare. If the only volumes present are on the root disk and root mirror, there is no gain in using hot-sparing over additional mirrors.

Unless there are mirrors in rootdg besides the root mirror, hot-sparing does not make sense with VxVM. Because only boot disks should be placed in rootdg, a hot spare almost never makes sense in rootdg for VxVM.

Since Solstice DiskSuite software does not allow disks to be put into management groups (except in multihosted environments), a hot spare could service disks outside the boot disk and boot mirror. While this could be advantageous to the availability of other disks, it could be detrimental to the boot disk's availability. It is important to appropriately match the number of hot spares to the number of mirrors and carefully monitor hot spare use so that hot spares are always available.

A boot disk with more than two mirrors works well in most of the same sorts of environments as the simple mirrored boot disk configurations. However, the additional mirror affords increased availability. This is not as important in configurations where the time-to-service is short; but if detecting and fixing problems takes a long time, the additional mirror provides a huge availability advantage over the simple mirror.

This configuration works well in situations where bootability errors are unlikely and service is relatively slow. In some cases, the boot disk may not be monitored at all. If this is the case, an additional mirror or hot spare is especially critical.

Having an even greater number of additional mirrors or hot spares further decreases the likelihood of having disk errors on all disks in the same time window. Additional mirrors or hot spares also provide disk-level redundancy, even in the event of a controller failure. Having two mirrors on two controllers provides data redundancy even if a controller is lost. The availability advantage here is too small to be worth the cost of disks in most situations; however, for configurations with long service times or configurations where availability is of paramount importance, it may be a good idea.

Using Mirrored Boot Disk With Contingency Disk

For environments where bootability failures are common, such as a server supporting a complex set of applications that are heavily tied to the BE, it may be more important to have a contingency disk than an additional mirror. In these types of environments, it is likely that there are lots of people involved in the configuration, making it more likely that disk failures will be detected and fixed. This means that the advantage of an additional mirror is lessened. While it is best for both an additional mirror and a contingency disk to be present, it is not always possible. Given the choice between one of the two, a complex, changing environment probably reaches a better overall availability level with a contingency disk.

As with mirrors, it is possible to have multiple contingency disks. While having contingency disks available on multiple controllers may improve availability, the effect is likely to be negligible, even on systems seeking a very high level of availability. An advantage to multiple contingency disks is the ability to keep one disk updated with the current BE, while keeping the other entirely static. However, this task is probably better relegated to LU volumes, which can manage BEs in a more intuitive way. If you follow the suggestions in Chapter 1, LU volumes could be available on the boot disk if it is still working, or on the contingency disk. Keeping one or more LU volumes on the contingency disk is relatively easy because today's disks are large enough that the root volume is unlikely to fill even half of the disk.

Note that LU volumes should be used in combination with the contingency disk, not as a replacement for it. Using LU adds some additional complication, so it is still important to have a known-good environment on the contingency disk that is as unaffected by complexity as possible. This includes being unaffected by bugs or misconfigurations involving LU.

LU volumes can serve as a quick-fix in a crisis, but this is not their intended use. It is important to have a contingency disk to fall back on. Since the intent of LU volumes is enabling easy upgrades and sidegrades, that should be their primary use. Using LU volumes as emergency boot media may be possible in some situations, but they lack the fail-safe nature of the contingency disk.

If a bootability error occurs, you can attempt to boot using the most up-to-date LU volume. If the offending change was made after the last update, the disk will boot and should be close enough to the current environment to support the necessary services. If the offending change was made before the last update, the latest LU volume may not boot or provide the necessary services, but the contingency disk or an older LU volume should. Even if the static contingency disk is not current enough to support the necessary applications, having a BE up quickly enables easy access to the underlying volumes and faster serviceability, leading to less downtime.

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