In the Cisco UCS® C220 M3, C240 M3, and C260 M2 Rack Servers, the Cisco UCS C-Series Rack Servers have transitioned from traditional internal optical drives to an internal Secure Digital (SD) card flexible flash memory device. This onboard SD card, called Cisco FlexFlash, has multiple drive partitions and allows users access to utilities and drives without the use of virtual media (vMedia) or an optical drive. This document describes the use and management of Cisco® FlexFlash drives.
Verifying the Presence of Cisco FlexFlash
Prior to using the Cisco FlexFlash partitions in your server, you must first determine whether the SD card has been installed in your system. To verify installation, you will need to navigate to the Cisco Integrated Management Controller (IMC) by opening a web browser and entering the management IP address of the server in the URL section of the browser software.
After logging into the Cisco IMC, select Inventory on the Server tab in the left frame of the browser. A set of tabs opens in the right frame. Select the Storage tab in the right frame and then select the FlexFlash-0 controller in the Storage Adapters section, as shown in Figure 1. If the card is installed in the system, the Physical Drive Count value will be 1 or 2.
Figure 1. Cisco FlexFlash Controller Information in Cisco IMC
Understanding the Various Cisco FlexFlash Partitions
The Cisco FlexFlash SD card has four partitions, shown in Figure 2. Each partition is presented as a USB drive to the BIOS and to any installed OS.
Figure 2. Cisco FlexFlash Logical Partitions
• HUU: Hardware Upgrade Utility (bootable ISO); 1.2-GB user read-only space
• SCU: Server Configuration Utility (bootable ISO); 3.2-GB user read-only space
• Drivers: Cisco Drivers ISO; 6.7-GB user read-only space
• HV: Hypervisor (bootable if made so by user); 3.2-GB user read-write space
The HUU, SCU, and Drivers spaces are preloaded by Cisco before shipping when the card is ordered as part of a system. If the SD card is ordered as a spare or received as part of a return merchandise authorization (RMA), it will not have any of the utility ISOs installed. The images on the partitions can be installed or updated by using SCU Release 3.0 or later as described later in this document. Uses of these system partitions for anything other than the specified purpose are not supported by Cisco. You can view these spaces on the Virtual Drive Info tab, shown in Figure 3. This tab lists the size of the partition and indicates whether the drive space is accessible by the host (activated).
Figure 3. Cisco FlexFlash Virtual Drives
Activating Partitions on Cisco FlexFlash
Each partition presents itself to the BIOS as a hard drive. For these partitions to be visible, you must enable them through the Cisco IMC. To activate a space, select the Controller Info tab and click Configure Operational Profile. The Operational Profile dialog box will open, as shown in Figure 4. By default all, the partitions will be disabled. To enable a partition, click the box to select it and then click Save Changes.
Figure 4. Configuring the Operational Profile
Note: After you enable the partitions, they will be visible to any operating system and the BIOS. The only time you would need to reboot is if you choose to boot from one of these spaces after it is enabled.
Booting the Utilities from Cisco FlexFlash
The SCU and HUU partitions contain the bootable ISO for each of these utilities. The SCU provides a GUI that can be used to install Microsoft Windows or supported Linux distributions on a Cisco UCS C-Series server and to slipstream the latest drivers for the server during the installation. In addition to providing a user-friendly installation of the OS, the SCU has a suite of diagnostic tools that can help you troubleshoot the server, including a tool for repairing and updating Cisco FlexFlash. The HUU provides an interactive interface that allows customers to update the server BIOS, Cisco IMC firmware, and adapter firmware on the server. Prior to Cisco FlexFlash, these updates were shipped on CD/ROM with the server packaging.
To boot a utility from Cisco FlexFlash, you must first enable the partition in the operational profile in the Cisco IMC by selecting the virtual drives, as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Enabling a Partition in Cisco IMC
After you enable the virtual drives, you will be able to access them from the BIOS for bootup or, in the case of the HV partition, for installation of a bootable image. Several options are available for bootup from the virtual drive, depending on the persistence and the level of user interaction, including options to override bootup from the Cisco IMC, select the BIOS boot menu during posting, or modify the second-level boot order for the hard drives in the BIOS setup.
Using Boot Override
Boot override is a one-time boot setting in the Cisco IMC that allows you to boot from a Cisco FlexFlash partition without having to reconfigure the second-level boot order in the BIOS or by pressing F6 during the power-on self-test (POST) process to select the BIOS boot menu. This option allows administrators to boot to a utility partition such as the SCU or HUU and then, after exiting, resume normal boot operations. This process prevents the accidental configuration of an incorrect boot parameter and eliminates the need for the administrator to watch the post to select the boot device manually. To use the boot override option, you need to navigate to the BIOS menu in the left pane of the Cisco IMC and then, in the BIOS Actions pane, select Configure Boot Override. Choose a partition for a one-time boot override, as shown in Figure 6; then click OK to confirm the action.
Figure 6. Configuring Boot Override
Reboot the server from the Summary section of Cisco IMC, and the server will boot to the selected partition if it has been enabled as discussed in the previous section.
Using the BIOS Boot Menu
You can always choose a boot device using the BIOS F6 boot menu. This process requires a keyboard, video, and mouse (KVM) device connected to the console and administrator interaction during bootup. To boot from the SCU using the BIOS boot menu, establish a KVM connection to the server using the KVM tool in Cisco IMC. Reboot the server using the reboot option in Cisco IMC and watch the KVM console. When the BIOS selection screen, shown in Figure 7, is displayed, press F6 to enter the BIOS boot menu.
Figure 7. BIOS Selection Screen
After the power on self test (POST) operation is complete, you will be presented with the boot selection menu. From the menu, choose the partition that you want to use for a one time boot override. Only partitions that have been activated in Cisco IMC will be displayed. To boot the SCU, choose SCU from the list of boot devices, as shown in Figure 8, and press Enter.
Figure 8. Boot Selection Menu
Configuring the Boot Order in the BIOS Setup
To configure a persistent boot order, you need to configure the boot order in the BIOS. Boot order can be configured from the Cisco IMC utility. However, every SD partition, USB drive, and hard-drive partition is presented to the BIOS at a second-level hard drive boot order. Currently, Cisco IMC provides only first-level boot order configuration for example CD/DVD, HDD, EFI Shell. To set the second-level boot order, you need to use the BIOS setup utility during bootup. To configure the boot order, you need to enter setup mode by pressing F2 on the BIOS selection screen, as shown in Figure 7.
After you access the BIOS setup utility, select Boot Options from the top-level menu. In the Boot Options menu, select Hard Drive BIOS Boot Specifications (BBS) Priorities and press Enter, as shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9. Hard-Drive Boot Priorities
A list of boot options will be displayed. This list will contain all the hard drive boot options that are available to the BIOS. If all the Cisco FlexFlash partitions are enabled, they will be listed here. To make a particular partition or drive the first bootable device, select Boot Option #1 and press Enter. A list of all the boot options will be displayed. Select the device that you want to be used first and press Enter, as shown in Figure 10. After completing the selection of the boot order, press F10 to save the configuration.
Figure 10. Second-Level Hard-Drive Boot Options
Booting the Server Configuration Utility from Cisco FlexFlash
When you choose the SCU partition as the boot device, the system will load the SCU ISO from the partition. The SCU provides a set if inventory, setup, diagnostic, and Cisco FlexFlash utilities. You must first enable the SCU partition in Cisco FlexFlash, as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11. Enabling the SCU Partition
Now select that partition for bootup using one of the methods described previously in this document. The software will load, and you will be prompted to accept the end-user license agreement (EULA), as shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12. SCU EULA
After you accept the EULA, the SCU will open for use.
Booting the Hardware Upgrade Utility from Cisco FlexFlash
When you choose the HUU partition as the boot device, the system loads the HUU ISO from the partition. The HUU partition contains the bootable HUU ISO. This image is used to update the Cisco IMC software, the server BIOS, and the adapter firmware versions. You must first enable the HUU partition in Cisco FlexFlash, as shown in Figure 13.
Figure 13. Enabling the HUU Partition
Now select that partition for bootup using one of the methods described previously in this document. The software will load, and you will be prompted to accept the EULA, as shown in Figure 14.
Figure 14. HUU EULA
After you accept the EULA, the HUU will open for use. Follow the on-screen prompts to update the Cisco IMC firmware, server BIOS, and selected adapter firmware.
Managing Cisco FlexFlash SD Cards
When you order a Cisco FlexFlash card as an option with a Cisco UCS C260 M2, C240 M3, or C220 M3 server, the card will come preinstalled with the latest (at the time of shipping) HUU, SCU, and Drivers images from the factory. Depending on the timing, these may or may not be the latest images. If you purchase the Cisco FlexFlash drive as a spare, or if you receive a Cisco FlexFlash replacement from Cisco support, the card will be blank. Also, sometimes a partition may become corrupt or damaged. To manage a blank card or recover a damaged partition, you need to boot to the SCU and access the Cisco FlexFlash update utility. If the card is new, or if you do not have a working SCU partition on the card, you will need to download the SCU ISO from Cisco.com. After you have downloaded it to the workstation you are connecting to the KVM, select the Virtual Media tab on the KVM and then click Add Image; navigate to the image on a storage device that is accessible to the workstation where you are running the KVM utility, as shown in Figure 15.
Figure 15. Locating the SCU ISO on the KVM Workstation
Select the image and click the Open button; the image will be added to the list of available drives in the virtual media. You then need to select the Mapped button at the left of the window to make the ISO available for bootup on the server, as shown in Figure 16. After you have done this, you can reboot the server. Make sure that the CD/DVD option is first in the boot order or press F6 during boot and choose the Cisco Virtual CD/DVD option to boot to the SCU from the virtual media.
Figure 16. Mapping the SCU ISO in Virtual Media
Managing a Blank Card or Recovering a Partition
After the SCU boots, you need to select the Update tool from the toolbar menu, as shown in Figure 17. If you have not enabled the partitions, you will receive an error message reporting that the tool cannot enumerate the virtual disks (vDisks). This error is an indication that the card is either not installed in the system or that the partitions have not been enabled in the operational profile of the Cisco IMC. You can enable these partitions without the need to reboot SCU.
Figure 17. Cisco FlexFlash Management Tool
The utility will display all the partitions enabled in Cisco IMC along with the current versions of the utilities or ISOs loaded. If the drive is blank or if errors occur, you will see "unknown" or "VDisk error" listed in the current version column, as shown in Figure 18.
Figure 18. Errors Indicated for a Blank SD Card
To recover a partition, click the radio button for the partition. The utility will then inform you that the partition is corrupt and ask if you want to re-create it, as shown in Figure 19. To re-create the partition, click Yes.
Figure 19. Recovering the Partition
After the partition has been recovered, you will receive notification, and the partition will again be manageable from the SCU. Complete this task for each partition that reports an error. If the SD card is blank, all partitions will be marked with an error.
Updating Images on Cisco FlexFlash Partitions
When the server is delivered, it will have the same Cisco IMC, BIOS, and firmware versions installed on Cisco FlexFlash as are loaded on the system. To update the three read-only partitions, you can use a special utility in the SCU to load newer images from an ISO file that is available from a network share or through Cisco.com using the end-users credentials for logon.
To update the images on Cisco FlexFlash, load the SCU and then click the update icon in the SCU toolbar menu, as shown in Figure 20.
Figure 20. Update Tool in the SCU
The Update tool will open and will list the currently enabled drive partitions and the current images loaded on those drive partitions, as shown in Figure 21. If the card is blank, the Current Version column will be empty.
Figure 21. Viewing Partition Information
Select the partition that you want to update and select the location from which you want to perform the update. Your options are Cisco.com or a local network share that contains the ISO. Because the SCU will be using the network, you will be prompted to configure the network settings for the SCU after you make a selection here. These settings will include the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) or static address, proxy settings, and Cisco.com credentials (if needed) for the SCU to connect. The interface used by the SCU will be the LAN-on-motherboard (LOM) ports for the system. The example here uses the local network. This example assumes that you have the SCU, HUU, or Drivers ISO that you downloaded previously on a local network share (this approach can be useful if you are upgrading the partitions on multiple servers because the image will not have to be transferred across the Internet each time). Click From Network to select the local network option, as shown in Figure 22.
Figure 22. Network Update
Next provide the path to the network share along with login credentials for that device, as shown in Figure 23.
Figure 23. Network Share and Credentials
Select the ISO file that you want to install on the partition, as shown in Figure 24.
Figure 24. Selecting the Partition ISO
Verify the package you have chosen; after you select the image, click OK, as shown in Figure 25.
Figure 25. Verifying the Image Package
You will be returned to the utility, and the version that you have selected will be displayed. Click Apply, as shown in Figure 26, to load the image. A copy operation from the network to the server will begin.
Figure 26. Applying the Update
After the file has been copied, the SCU will write it to the Cisco FlexFlash partition.
Repeat this process for each image that you want to change. Note that you can choose an older or newer image as long as it matches the partition type selected.
Using the Hypervisor User Space
The HV partition can be used by the end user for a variety of purposes. This partition is writable and is presented to the OS and BIOS as a USB drive. It can be used to store files that can be accessed by the OS, and because access is controlled through the Cisco IMC, a system administrator can use it to store utilities or images that may be needed for regular or maintenance. One common use for this partition is for the installation of a bootable hypervisor such as VMware ESXi.
Installing VMware ESXi on Cisco FlexFlash
To install VMware ESXi on the activated HV space, open a KVM session to the server and select the Virtual Media tab to mount an image to begin the installation. Add the image of the installed ISO and map it, as shown in Figure 27, and boot the server.
Figure 27. Mapping the VMware ESXi ISO
Proceed through the installation screens for VMware ESXi. When you reach the screen to select a disk for installation, you will see the HV Hypervisor space listed in the Local driver section, as shown in Figure 28. Select this drive and continue the installation.
Figure 28. Choosing the HV Partition as the Installation Location
After you have installed your software, you will need to configure the server to persistently boot from the HV partition in the BIOS. See "Configuring the Boot Order in the BIOS" earlier in this document for directions to accomplish this.
Cisco FlexFlash Physical Locations
The following Cisco UCS C-Series Servers have Cisco FlexFlash capabilities: Cisco UCS C220 M3, C240 M3, and C260 M2. These servers have two SD slots; however, only one card is currently supported by Cisco IMC software. The Cisco FlexFlash SD slots are located on the PCI Express (PCIe) riser assemblies in each server. Please see the following links for physical SD location information:
A. No. Only the HV space is supported for read-write operations by the user.
Q. How do I erase information that I have put on the HV space?
A. Erasing information from the HV space is accomplished through an OS that can read the file system formatted on that space (Microsoft Windows, RHEL, etc.).
Q. I noticed that the servers have two SD slots. Does this mean that I can mirror the physical drives?
A. This feature will be enabled in Cisco IMC Firmware Release 1.5 and later.
Q. Can I access Cisco FlexFlash if my server is integrated with Cisco UCS Manager?
A. This feature will be enabled in a later Cisco UCS Manager release.
Q. Can the HV space be used only for a hypervisor?
A. No. The HV space is available as a drive for the end user to use in any way that the user wants.
Q. Will all Cisco UCS C-Series Servers have Cisco FlexFlash from now on?
A. No. The lower-end servers such as the Cisco UCS C22 and C24 M3 Rack Servers will not have Cisco FlexFlash, but they will have an internal USB drive with the same utilities and tools.
Q. My SCU partition is corrupt or blank; how can I recover my Cisco FlexFlash without a bootable SCU partition?
A. The SCU is available for download as a bootable ISO from Cisco.com. Download the image, mount it with vMedia, and run the Update tool to recover the Cisco FlexFlash Drive.
Q. What does the Reset option in the Actions box under the controller in Cisco IMC do for Cisco FlexFlash?
A. This option resets the controller that provides the interface between the SD card and the BIOS. If there are problems using the card, this option can be used to reset the controller without a system reboot.