OpenStack, Dell SC, and Alerting

6 minute read

I recently had a good discussion about the “errors” reported from Dell SC storage when using OpenStack. I hadn’t really thought much about it before, but this highlighted a difference in functional requirements and expectations between running a “traditional” IT infrastructure vs running a “cloud” environment.

First, a little background on the Dell SC alerting I’m referring to.

The SC probably works a little differently than other arrays in this aspect. Access to volumes are controlled by specifying which initiators have access to which volumes. That part is probably not too different – most have some sort of access control list (ACL) support. But the SC does this by creating what is called a Server Definition and then creating Mapping Profiles to control which initiators get told about which volumes on SCSI REPORT_LUN calls.

These server definitions define one or more initiators as being part of a single manageable entity. It models the physical or virtual hosts used to connect to the storage. Not only does it give the initiators a name and grouping, but it also defines thing like the operating system running on the host. This gives the storage some awareness of the capabilities and limitations of the host for things like LUN restrictions, multipathing support, max volume sizes, etc.

One setting on this server definition is “Alert On Lost Connectivity” that tells the array whether to generate email notifications or SNMP traps if any connectivity between any of the initiators and the storage array go down. This defaults to enabled.

Traditional Infrastructure

For traditional environments, it makes a lot of sense for this alerting to be enabled. When running an Exchange server or VMware vSphere hosts an admin would typically create iSCSI sessions from one or more of the hosts initiator ports to the array, then go the Dell Storage Manager (DSM) and create a server definition for those new initiators.

This is a one time operation for all servers, and a lot of it is automated through things like our vSphere Client plugin and other integrations. But once the sessions are established, it’s just a matter of creating and deleting mapping profiles, and rescanning on the hosts, to add or remove volumes. Need a new datastore for your VMs? Just create the volume, map it to your ESX hosts, and rescan. No data path management needed.

So in this fairly static environment it makes sense to want an email alert at 2 AM if your Exchange database has lost connectivity.

Cloud Infrastructure

When running something like OpenStack, however, you definitely don’t want your storage array waking you up at 2 AM because a host went away. In automated infrastructures such as this, this kind of thing is expected and quite normal.

At a very high level, when a new Cinder volume is created, Cinder first talks to the backend driver to create the volume, then asks the driver for attachment information to give the Nova compute host. Nova then logs in to the provided targets and looks for the volume.

There’s a couple interesting things here. First, if the Nova host logs in to one of the provided targets and doesn’t find the device there, it will log back out. Then later, once a volume is detached through OpenStack, the Nova host will log out of any targets that are no longer needed.

This dynamic connection handling is perfectly normal for infrastructure that is being automated by a cloud platform like OpenStack. But it’s a lot different animal than your somewhat static Exchange and SQL Server environment. In this case you don’t want to “Alert On Partial Connectivity” since partial connectivity (and lost connectivity) are to be expected and is the norm.

Dell SC Cinder Driver

In order to automate things, if a request comes in to the Cinder driver to attach to a host and there is no Server Definition found, the Dell SC Cinder driver will automatically create the server and associate any initiator ports with it. This makes it simple for OpenStack cloud deployments to just spin up new Nova compute instances and start using them.

Prior to the Newton release, we hadn’t realized the implication that alerting is enabled by default. This was unfortunately overlooked in our environments.

Starting with the Newton release we have changed this. One extra parameter is passed in to the call to create the Server Definition to turn off this flag. So hopefully users of Newton and later will never even notice this.

If you are using Cinder versions prior to Newton, or have upgraded and had Server Definitions created by these older versions, it’s a simple manual task to change this. In the DSM UI, just find the server, right-click and select Edit Settings, then in the server settings dialog uncheck the Alert On Partial Connectivity checkbox.

image lost from migration

If you are unable to upgrade your Cinder version, but would like to have this fixed, luckily it is a very minor change. Just add this one line to your local installation to change the driver behavior:

Dell SC Driver Patch


So the question comes up of what to do for monitoring and alerting. It’s certainly useful to get an email alert if something goes wrong in your environment. Many, many tools have been created expressly for this purpose. You don’t want to wander in Monday morning only to realize that you’ve had some kind of outage since Friday night.

With something like OpenStack though, alerting at the storage array level is not the right place. You can and will have connections going down, but that’s completely normal and expected. From the array level, there is no way to know whether that server was supposed to go away or not. There’s just not the visibility into the environment needed in order to decide whether something was intentional or not.

You can (and should!) monitor your network devices. While the array does not know if a connection going away was on purpose or not, seeing a switch go down would be a sure fire way of knowing there is an infrastructure issue that needs your attention. There are a lot of options here from vendor specific tools to open source monitoring systems. I won’t even attempt to make any recommendations here as it really depends on your environment and what other tools you have in place. Most likely you are already using something to do this, so it may just be a matter of checking with your vendor documentation on how best to monitor your network fabric.

To effectively monitor a cloud environment, you probably need a monitoring tools that actually understands the cloud. In order for a storage array to really be able to alert on a problem, it would need to have more awareness of what other operations are being performed in the environment (destroying an instance, migrating a volume) to know whether something going down was intentional or not. There needs to be something that knows about these operations and can evaluate whether something was intentional or the result of a failure somewhere in the stack.

Luckily there is a service designed to do this specifically for OpenStack with the Monasca project.

I’m not a Monasca expert, and I’m not involved in that project, so I won’t try to dig in too much there. But if you are looking at monitoring options for your cloud, that is where I would start looking. To effectively monitor your cloud, you need something that understands the cloud. I’m very interested in seeing where this project goes, and if other existing monitoring platforms add support to address this knowledge gap.