Setting up a DRAC card using Debian

Today I was faced with the problem of setting the IP address of a DRAC (dedicated Dell Remote Access Card, which are super by the way, and a lot lot quicker than Sun’s effort) in a Dell server that was powered on, running something production on the Debian OS, and I had no physical access to the server, so no rebooting for configuration was possible.

Now, if you have an idea of what IP address is on that card already you can talk to it remotely which isn’t a problem. The problem was, I had no idea what the IP address was currently set it to and it wasn’t DHCP. Even so, I had no copy of the racadm command, the Dell tool to control the card. (omconfig is available on Debian now which is nice, but omconfig bmc is a deprecated command and indicates to use racadm!)

Let me tell you how to set the IP address with just a simple install of Debian and little effort. (I’m sure this on the internet somewhere but I had difficulties finding it. I expect my Google-fu was weak today.)

Install IPMItool from apt:

apt-get install ipmitool

Load the IPMI driver into /dev/ so we can talk to the card:


You can now print the current config of the card:

ipmitool lan print 1

Set the new IP address up, if you want to configure it manually:

ipmitool lan set 1 ipaddr
ipmitool lan set 1 netmask
ipmitool lan set 1 defgw ipaddr
ipmitool lan set 1 ipsrc static

Or set it to DHCP if you want:

ipmitool lan set 1 ipsrc dhcp

Check your settings:

ipmitool lan print 1

Reboot the DRAC; You may not have to do this, I did (and/or I’m impatient)

ipmitool mc reset cold

Within a minute the card should be up and responding to ping. Hurrah!

Note: I tried these on a DRAC4 card, and whilst it looked like it was accepting my instructions, it seems it was infact completely ignoring me. I had to configure this one manually in the BIOS. These commands work fine on a DRAC5 though.

Finding a Web Browser for constant page reloading

One of the things I have done whilst working at is create a simple system whereby critical monitoring is displayed on screens that we have hanging from the ceiling. There is one in each corner of the room, and opposite monitors display the same thing (e.g. two monitors display our key Cacti graphs, and two display Nagios monitoring output, so everyone in the room can see it). This is achieved through a simple dual output graphics card, and a couple of two-way monitor splitters (and a lot of cable!)

The software itself is simple: The data is displaying using some PHP scripts written by myself specifically for output on these 22″ screens, and are hosted on our servers, so all that is required to display them is a web browser.You can see these two pages in action here (Naglite2) and here (CactiView)

Very simple, or so you would think. The problem is, with the nature of this data, it needs to be refreshed constantly. The graphs are in a rotation controlled by a Javascript frame that changes to a new URL every 20 seconds, and the services/host up/down notification screen updates with a meta refresh every 5 seconds. Again, sounds pretty simple. Here are my findings:

Initial Configuration – Ubuntu Linux with Firefox 3

Being my browser of choice anyway, I set everything up in Firefox to start with. We figured Linux desktop would be more stable for hosting this rather than Windows. F11 to fullscreen mode on both the monitors, and off it goes. We didn’t notice it too much at the time, but it’s pretty annoying the way it deals with the refreshing of the images.. It clears the page, and loads the images one by one, leading to a noticable flashing of the screen every time it reloads the page. Not only that, it was the worst browser we used, leading to 90% RAM usage (on a 2gb machine) after just a day. At this point, not only did it become very sluggish, but it would stop displaying the graphs randomly, and eventually ending up in severe corruption of all the images, mixing them together in an interesting fashion. Connecting via VNC every day and restarting Firefox became a bit of a chore, so we decided to give up and try something else.

Second configuration – Ubuntu Linux with Opera

Straight away Opera was performing much better than Firefox. It seemed to almost pre-load the images for the next set of graphs before it refreshed the page, leading to no flickring of the screen, just seamless re-loading of the page. It also managed a week before showing any signs of slowing down, but after that point the graphs started disappearing again. Opera had suffered the same fate as Firefox… Using all the memory available on the machine.

We also had another little problem.. We have the time printed in the bottom right of the screen (as text rather than an image) and even by forcing cache control headers, Opera was caching the pages. The clock would move between 5-10 minutes as each graph appeared. I discovered that Opera has some advanced preferences that lets you disable the cache completely. Whilst this fixed the problem with the clock, it meant that it then only survived 2-3 days before exhausting the memory usage. We put up with this for a number of months, before deciding to move on.

Hello Webkit

At this point, Russ and I thought it was about time we gave a Webkit based browser a shot. Konquerer seemed a good choice.. We installed kubuntu-desktop, and got Konquerer running, but had trouble getting it in a proper full screen mode. Eventually we managed to hide the tab bar, but the status bar was still there. Although we found some hacks to remove it, we wanted to try something in particular, which ended up with a radical change…

Current configuration – Windows XP and Google Chrome

We really wanted to give Google Chrome (Chromium) a go on Linux, but unfortunately it’s not quite at it’s prime yet… More than anything, we couldn’t get the pages to load at all because the HTTP Auth dialog has yet to be coded. (it simply doesn’t appear. As a side note, using the user:password@ url notation makes it crash!)

After a quick hour of installation, drivers and updates, we had the screens back up and running with XP and Chromium. The nice points so far have been:

  • Turning the two different pages we use into their own Apps using the Google Gears “Create application shortcut” menu option. Now we have a single icon to click to open one window, and another for the other.
  • Separate processes – Now we can monitor which tab is using the RAM, and just restartthe offending process if it becomes a problem
  • The biggest win by far – It leaks very little memory. So far after using it for a week, the process running the text only Nagios view has not used any more RAM than it did when we started it (35mb). The Cacti graphs screen, reloading graphs 24/7 for a week every 20 seconds has used just 80mb (40mb when it started). The reason for this is obvious; if you watch the usage, it loads the page, the memory increases by 5mb. After a few secnods, it drops by 5mb again. So there is a small memory leak somewhere but it seems Chrome is cleaning up after itself almost immediately, something which the other 2 browsers failed miserably at.

The overall functionality of the system is much the same.. I have compiled a couple of exe’s so that one switches off the displays and one turns them back on again (This combined with Task Scheduler means we save the planet whilst we’re not at work!) and VNC server functions actually better on Windows than on Linux (for some reason the secondary monitor displayed as a black screen on Linux, so you could control but not see it).


The only downside of the Google Chrome based solution is: Webkit doesn’t support “text-decoration: blink”! In the image linked above, you can see we use the text CRITICAL for a service that is broken, and DOWN for a host that is having an issue. These used to blink, which was a nice touch to draw your eye to the issue. This is about the only valid use of “text-decoration: blink” I can think of, but unfortunately the webkit developers have chosen not to support it. Any support on this ticket would be appreciated!

We’re currently using the bleeding edge dev version, simply because it was the only version that had F11 Full screen mode in. This works very well, and it’s also very stable for a bleeding edge release (although obviously we aren’t using it like a regular browser).


If you’re after a browser that can handle sitting there all day and night happily refreshing a page, and you don’t mind running Windows (for now, anyway) then it seems Google Chrome may be your best bet. I will continue to evaluate it’s performance and maybe one day we can find something even better.

Any comments are welcome and we’re still open to suggestions, although I’m pretty happy I won’t have to restart Chrome for a few months if this trend continues!

Really stop Vista from waking you up in the middle of the night

I posted something a little while back about my troubles with getting Vista to stop waking up randomly in the middle of the night.

Enough was enough, so I decided to go for a clean install to see if that fixed it and a number of other problems I had. And what do you know, it STILL woke up randomly, and the wake cause was still “unknown”. Extremely frustrating considering it was a completely new installation.

I dug around a little more and in the end had to settle for this handy tip: If your computer keeps waking up (and it might be my motherboard/OS combination it appears, it looks like an Asus thing…) run these commands and it will completely disable ACPI wakeup:

1. powercfg -setacvalueindex scheme_current sub_sleep bd3b718a-0680-4d9d-8ab2-e1d2b4ac806d 0
2. powercfg -setdcvalueindex scheme_current sub_sleep bd3b718a-0680-4d9d-8ab2-e1d2b4ac806d 0
3. powercfg -setactive scheme_current

This way, whether on AC or on DC, the Vista will refuse to wake up if the motherboard sends a call asking for it. This is good if you get random wakeups, but it does of course mean that if there is a legimate reason that your computer should wake itself (e.g., Windows Media Center waking to record a program) it will no longer do it. However, you can re-enable it if you need this functionality for, say, a day or two, by simply swapping the 0’s for 1’s in the above commands. For me, it’s far more attractive to have a sound night sleep without your machine coming out of sleep for no reason!

Ever think your Dell XPS M1330 is a bit whiney?

After a few CPU overheating issues (note: I love my M1330, would recommend to anyone.) this evening I happen to notice my laptop has a particularly loud whine. Not sure if it was ever that bad, I had heard it before but thought nothing of it. A quick Google found this gem:

Start> Control Panel> Device manager>

– Click on the Bluetooth radio’s node (the plus sign)
– right click on “Dell Truemobile 355 Bluetooth + EDR”
– Go to properties
– Click the Power Management tab
– UNCHECK: Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power.

The second I clicked OK, the whining stopped. Fantastic stuff! Perhaps this is because I have Bluetooth on constantly or something, and Windows and the BIOS are trying to fight to turn it on or off. I have no idea, but it worked.

Stop Vista Waking Up (and me up!) in the middle of the night

This has been driving me insane for a while. I thought it was MCE. I swore at MCE every time my computer buzzed into life in my room. It’s not very quiet, and it can do it so stealthily… It’ll turn itself back off so most mornings I won’t even realise it’s done it.

I only caught on because sometimes I catch it in its dirty act, and last night it actually managed to cause a BSOD so wehn I came to turn it on it had actually shut itself down, sigh.

I decided to investigate again and found this handy tip hidden away on a blog type thing:

It’s Windows Update. That sneaky little bugger. Especially useless since the wakeup event in the event viewer is handily marked as being caused by… “Unknown”. To stop this:

It is possible to disable this behavior in the group policy editor (run gpedit.msc). It’s under: Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Update and the setting is called: “Enabling Windows Update Power Management to automatically wake up the system to install scheduled updates.”

I will let you know if this doesn’t fix my problem but I’m looking forward to not being woken up tonight…

EDIT: Yeah, it didn’t work. I actually caught it one night, turned the screen on just in time to see “Configuring Updates…” and then “Shutting down” at which point it turned off my machine! Funny considering the day before I’d turned off updates completly AND stopped and disabled the Windows Update service.

Last night i decided to install some updates, to see if that fixed it; after 2 hours of waiting, some installed, most failed, and it still woke up at 5am despite me turning updates back off again.

Anyone have any clues?!

EDIT 2: I’ve found a workaround, see this post:

Homemade Sausage and Bean Melts

Today, Rosie and I woke up and wandered to the local Greggs for some lunch. The “Sausage and Bean melt” being our favourite we, of course, were hugely disappointed when there was none left! at 1:30pm! (I may be over emphasising just how upset we were but still.)

So we thought hey how hard can it be to make some of our own?!

We went to Tescos and purchased a simple selection of items:

1x Pre rolled Jus-roll puff pastry
1x Heinz Baked Beans with Sausages
1x Tesco Pre Grated Cheddar Cheese

Came to about £2.50.

The process was very simple. Unroll the pastry, cut into 4 (this leaves you with some nice rectangles you can fold over) and then spoon on some beans and sausages, a little heap of cheese and then fold over. We then sealed the edges using a fork, to make a sealed package.*

* Note: Whenever I say “we” i actually meant Rosie. She’s good at this kind of thing.

A good 20 minutes later, they’d risen, smelt amazing and they tasted even better. Screw you Greggs! We don’t need your stinkin’ produce.

See the pictures, step by step at Flickr

The finished product:

Sausage and Bean Melt - Rosie and Laurie Style
Sausage and Bean Melt - Rosie and Laurie Style

The shortest ferry in the world

You may remember a little while back in the middle of the holiday we took the longest free ferry in the world; very nice!

Yesterday on our boat trip, we saw the shortest ferry in the world! With a grand total journey time of: wait for it…

32 seconds.

It even tried to pull out infront of us, but we whizzed past it. That’ll show em!

It just goes from the Toronto waterfront to the island, a very important, but short journey! 🙂

In other news, free Wifi at the airport for the win.. we’re here a little early. 2 hours early 🙁

Day 17 – Toronto Shopping and home

Another very nice sleep, the beds here are excellent. Thanks Holiday Inn Express! Today the girls had shopping on the brain, er, i mean plan, so we went down the huugge Eaton Centre shopping “mall” and explored for a while… three hours went very quickly, we’d only been in a few shops on the first of the three floors and it was time for lunch.

We went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch which was great; I got the feeling it wasn’t as exciting as it normally is when it’s night and all the lights are going but they played some good music and there were video screens everywhere, as well as a cool variety of memoribillia to look at.
You knew I wasn’t just going to leave it at that! The Food! Well it was my last meal in Canada so I felt I had to make the most of it! We had a combo for starter, with all the best things (Onion rings, chicken, potato skins etc) for us to share. Main: A burger, of course, and an excellent one, 10oz with cheese and bacon, yum! And then even though I shouldn’t, a delicious hot chocolate fudge brownie sunday for dessert.

Now, unfortunatly, I have to now have to diet for about 3 years to make up for it all 🙁 but never mind, it was worth it!

Lots more wandering around shopping, (of which I bought nothing! It was the girls splashing out!) the four of us that are coming home are now sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for our taxi to take us to the airport where we will fly home. It will be extremly weird being back in the UK, and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to understand anyone in the UK!

It’s been raining alllll day, really mankey, it was a good job we had planned to be inside a shopping mall day! And now sitting here in the lobby it’s thundering and lightning!

Thank you Canada, for an amazing trip. We definately packed in as much variety as we could… A guy in Roots started chatting with us and was very impressed. He’d also been to Winchester! He was rather excited, although most of the people are always excited and friendly!

Day 16 – Downtown Toronto

That’s Toronto pronounced “toronno” of course! Another sorta-sleep in until 9am and we were off (eventually) on our way to the CN tower. We have no car here; there’s no point, so it was a nice wander down towards the lake.

Up the tower (I’m used to this bit by now!) another amazing view out over Toronto. The city is huge, with so many great things to see, and you could see over to the island with a little mini airport runway and you could see the planes coming in and out. They had another glass floor section which was good, as well as an outside for a different view plus cold wind!

We embarked on a hunt for food after wandering around the streets some more and stopped off at a random no-name pizza/fast food place… The pizza looked good so we tried it out. The bill for 5 of us came to ~$20! A tenner for a huge slice of piece of pizza, 3 potato wedges (free?!) and a can of “pop” for 5 of us, pretty good. It was nice pizza too!

It was very hot and sunny; I’m a bit red today but pleased to be getting slightly more brown. We walked along the front of the lake-front past the shops and interesting things like a police station… for the lake! lots of cool police boats.

A lot of people were offering tours of the islands, and we picked a random one that looked quite good, but we were unsure of what to expect when we saw the small yellow boat playing loud music… but it was definately the right choice! We had an amusing and playful “tour guide”; a (probably) teenage girl who stood at the front as we drifted along the front. “We can’t go particularly fast here”, she said, “because when we get going we make such a huge wave people get really annoyed”! “also we like to wave at other boats because you know, it’s friendly and keeps a good thing going between us… because a lot of the smaller speedboats get particularly annoyed when we go a lot faster than them!”
So we looked at all the interesting buildings and learnt some Toronto history… and then took off! Well it was the fastest I’ve been on a small boat anyway, reaching a peak of 34.6mph (recorded by Aid’s GPS, hurrah!) with a lot of spray and the girl was right; the wave was pretty big! It was a great view away from the waterfront, and a good tour of the islands; we stopped to see a part of the island that was “birds only”, and there were hundreds! going everywhere. We learnt more and then pressed on. It was basically like going to a muesem, learning for 5 minutes and then going to a rock concert or something (they blasted us with loud music during the bits where she didn’t speak!). It was well worth the money, it was a good trip.

Our aim for the evening was to meet up with Aid’s cousin, who he hadn’t seen since his christening, so quite a long time! This involved a fun trip on public transport! We got on a tram towards union station, and then to the subway, a very familiar experience to the tube except their trains are huge, quieter, and beautifully cooled. It was good to do that whilst being here, it was nice to see what their public transport is like.

Tomorrow evening is time to come home, which is very sad but I feel I’ve had an amazing range of stuff here in Canada, and I’m definately glad I came. It’s fantastic to see what life is like a long long way away from home, and see their way of life.

Time for bed for the last time in Canada, tomorrow we’re off shopping at the MASSIVE Eaton Center, food, then airport.

Day 15 – Niagara Falls and Niagara to Toronto

The beds were niceee. We got a lay in because we’re away from the parents, one floor below infact. I think I slept until at least 9! Woo!

Today we had until 4ish to explore Niagara, so some people went round the back of the falls, some people went on the Maid of the Mist, and some of us… Stayed in the dry. That would be Rosie and I then…

We met up and went to Denny’s for breakfast. An amazing place I had yet to experience; the finest breakfast around. Well, at this point it was more brunch than breakfast but they have the same thing all day every day. People had copius amounts of pancakes, english muffins, grits (which was amusing to watch Aid try) and so so much more food! I myself had the American breakfast: 3 fried eggs, 2 pieces of toast, two sausages, bacon, hash browns (which are much different from crappy hash browns; they don’t compact it back into a square!) and an amazing cocktail (orange, pineapple and a dash of sprite) which was delicious! Yes I realise this is a lot to write about some brunch, but you know me and it was great 😉

Some of the group wanted to go the Imax to see the falls via screen, wheras Rosie, Aid and I opted for visiting America, and the American side of the falls.

You exit through a unsupervised, quiet indescript turnstile. 50 cents get you through that. You then walk across the bridge over the water just after it has come down from the falls, which is well worth the 50 cents just to get the view; it was stunning, and much closer to the falls. Over the other side, the strict but friendly US officials inspect you, make you fill out a visa form, take your fingerprints a picture of you, and then charge you $6 (US only of course) each for the priviledge of the treatment 🙂

I was pretty excited to be in the US, (And New York state!) even if it was only Niagara, but it was a lot nicer on the American side; they set back the tacky tourist area further back from the falls, so what you go to is a very nice park with trees and a small paved path.. and you can stand right next to the falls. The views are amazing, and you’re so close at one point we got very wet! There’s so much spray! The pictures say it better than I could with words, and as usual you can see them on Aidan’s page here. It was certainly worth going over for, and now I can say I’ve been to America, woo! 🙂

We rush off as we’re on a tight schedule of getting to Toronto to drop off the cars and get to the hotel, and we want to stop off at the quiant “Niagara-on-the-lake” which is a lovely little old fashioned place, with great little shops; I found a tshirt shop with some gooduns, (and of course the amazing Canadian exchange rate means £10 a shirt), a Cows shop, and a resturant for tea (and lots more we didn’t get to see of course).

Rushing off, we had a hour and a half drive back to downtown Toronto to get to our hotel, a Holiday Inn Express smack back in the middle of the other highrises; we’re on floor 9 and the views out of the windows are pretty impressive! We can see the CN Tower, with its pretty pulsating blue and red lights, and all the other pretty lights throughout the city.

It dawned on me we only have a couple more nights left; it’s crept up really quickly and unexpectedly, with each day going so fast, yet it feels like I’ve been away for ever. I’ll be very sad to leave this amazing place, but extremly glad I’ve now seen it. Good night! The weather is unfortuntely not forcast to be great for the next few days, with thunderstorms and the chance of rain, but it will be brilliant nonetheless.