Fun with ESXi, IPMI and Dell BMC/iDRAC – Remote Power Cycle, Console and more
Most of my Dell servers/blades in a production setting have some sort of licensed version of iDRAC which allows me to do things like power on, power off, power cycle the servers as well as pick up a remote console of the system that gives me the same look and feel as if I were standing in front of a monitor hooked up to that server. That said, I also have a lot of one-off ESXi hosts which sit in a remote office in which we haven’t purchased the fancy iDRAC functionality. It’s not too often that I need to power cycle these machines or connect remotely and make BIOS changes but every now and then I have to – and the last thing I want to do is drive 100KM to get to the server or spend an hour on the phone walking someone through it!
The many flavors of iDRAC
Although we didn’t purchase a version of iDRAC for these remote servers, Dell still provides us with a version that allows us to manage the server in a limited capacity. We can see the 4 different versions and their differences of iDRAC below
Basic – The most stripped down version of iDRAC. Provides us with basic hardware management via IPMI v2.0 and a text-based console redirection.
Express – This includes all functionality of basic and adds a web gui to help us perform remote actions. We also get the use of the ‘racadm’ command line tools with express, along with some power monitoring and budget functionality.
Express for blades – Includes all functionality of Express and Basic, and adds a nice single user virtual console and virtual media mount/unmount capabilities.
Enterprise – All features of Express and Basic but with a dedicated NIC. Also adds a slew of other benefits such as crash video playback, remote syslog, directory services support, multi-user console collaboration, etc.
Certainly for mission critical applications you will want to be sure you purchase the Enterprise version of iDRAC. In my case though, the basic version that comes pre-installed on the servers will suit my needs perfectly. I just need something to power cycle the host and possibly change a few BIOS settings remotely.
It ain’t easy being green (or blue/white or black/silver)
No matter what colors Dell are branding themselves with these days it doesn’t change the fact that performing some of these limited functions included in the Basic version is not necessarily easy! As you can see, the Express version and above comes with a nifty web interface that can walk us through almost everything we need to do. The Basic version though forces us to rely on IPMI and the corresponding Dell tools to gain the similar type of functionality.
IPMI is essentially a standard interface that we can use to perform out-of-band management of our systems. It’s been around since 1998, which is an eternity in tech years and is widely supported with most hardware vendors today.
OMG, Enough already! How do we remotely power these things off and on?
Alright, let’s cut tot he chase here! First we need to enable IPMI over LAN within the settings of our iDRAC or BMC configuration on our servers. Yes, this means you will need physical access to the server in order to accomplish this. Depending on the generation of Dell server you have the path to get into the BMC/iDRAC settings may change (CTRL+E vs F2) but I’ll leave it up to you to figure that one out. The example below is on a T320.
First up press F2 during POST to get yourself into the system settings. From here, we will need to go into ‘System Settings’ and then ‘Serial Communication’
This is where we setup the console redirection to COM2. COM2 is what the iDRAC/BMC will use to pipe our console through so just ensure you have the Serial Communication drop-down set to ‘On with Console Redirection via COM2 ‘ and the Redirection After Boot enabled. Feel free to change all other settings to your preference, but from what I have found, having a baud rate of 115200 and a terminal type of VT100/VT220 works out the best.
This is all that needs done in the BIOS but don’t back all the way out to a reboot. Just save your changes until you get back to the first menu you seen, this time, select iDRAC settings. From here we will need to do a couple of things.
First up, under ‘Network Settings’ be sure that you have replaced the default network configuration with an IP/Gateway that you can reach. As well on this page, be sure to enable ‘IPMI over LAN’ – nothing will work if you miss this step 🙂 Another thing to to note which isn’t pictured above is the LOM settings. Be sure to select the LOM (NIC) that you would like to use for your iDRAC functions.
Also, from the same menu where we selected ‘Network Settings’ be sure to go into ‘User Configuration’ and give your root user a password.
Congrats! If you had to commute out to gain physical access to the servers to do the above steps I can proudly say that we are done with the need for console access! Go ahead and go home early!
Playing around with IPMISH/IPMITOOL
So far we’ve just done the configuration but now it’s time to jump into actually performing some remote functions on these servers. First up you will need some sort of IPMI tool. There is a very popular Linux package which a lot of people use but in my examples I’ll be using the Dell BMC Utility – so if you want to follow along go ahead and install it. Once your done open up a command prompt to “c:\program files (x86)\Dell\SysMgt\BMC\”. Inside this directory you will see a bunch of files, but the ones we are going to focus on is IPMISH and IPMITOOL.
The first package we will look at is IPMISH. There are many things that IPMISH can do such as modifying the front LCD text and report on power consumption, but I’ll just go over the basic commands to power on and off our server. The syntax for IPMISH can be run in one of two ways. We can either send the command we wish to execute along with the ip and credentials or we can enter into an interactive shell and execute multiple commands in a row to the iDRAC. We will be using the latter method.
To connect to our iDRAC enter the following line at the command prompt
ipmish -ip IP_OF_iDRAC -u USER -p PASSWORD -interactive
This should bring you to an IPMI> prompt. As shown below entering the ‘help’ command will give us a list of the functions available to us.
Furthermore if you wish to get more detailed help on a command we can enter “help command”, such as “help power” shown below…
So, looking at the image above we can see that there are few options in which we can power this server on and off, so go ahead and try one – to power off your host simply type “power off”. Once your system is has shutdown we can power it back on with the command “power on”. Alternatively we could do these in a non-interactive way by using “ipmish -ip IP_OF_iDRAC -u USER -p PASS power on”
Remember earlier when we did all of the serial console redirection and mentioned we can connect to remote TEXT based console, well, this is where IPMITOOL comes in. Since we have done most the legwork already for console redirection all we have to simply do is connect to our console using IPMITOOL- the syntax to do so is outlined below
ipmitool -I lanplus -U root -P password -H IP_OF_iDRAC sol activate
Keep in mind that this is only a TEXT based console, so if you have already booted into your OS you will not see anything happening here. If you go ahead and reboot you should see the post screen scrolling through as shown below
This isn’t the easiest interface to use. Things like simply sending the F2 command to get into the BIOS is achieved through the key sequence of ESC + 2, F1 is ESX +1. Very confusing! There is an overview of all the key sequences here if you are looking for them.
Anyways, if you can afford a version of iDRAC above basic then I’d definitely recommend it! As you can see things aren’t the most user-friendly, but that said, this gets the job done! If you have any tips on how to perform remote administration on these servers in a “budget-friendly” way I’d love to hear them in the comments box below! Thanks for reading!
11 thoughts on “Fun with ESXi, IPMI and Dell BMC/iDRAC – Remote Power Cycle, Console and more”
Disclaimer: I work for DELL Consulting Services.
First of all I have to say … very well written post.
Here are few tips …
If you don’t have iDRAC Express or Enterprise and you have to rely on standard Intel BMC IPMI then I believe there is a way how to manage your OS remotely over console in case your OS console is text based like in BSD, linux, or ESXi.
The only think you have to do is to redirect your OS console to COM2.
ESXi DCUI console redirection settings are described here
and you should be able to use SOL not only for server POST messages but also for your OS console. To be honest I haven’t try to use SOL personally but it should work. You can test it and let us now 😉 This can help you in situation you don’t have server with iDRAC express/enterprise.
Another tip … when you have DELL server with iDRAC express without virtual console/media you can ssh to iDRAC and uce racadm directly over ssh. When you are connected to iDRAC over shh there is also one undocumented command which will connect you to the serial port where console is redirected. The command is “connect”.
Command connect is well documented for DELL blade chassis management controller (aka CMC) where you can connect to COM ports of servers and I/O modules like ethernet or fibre-channel switches but I it is not, AFAIK, documented for iDRACs in rack/tower servers.
I’ve just tested IPMI SOL with one of my customers and it works.
You can follow instructions at
Thanks so much for the comments David – I think I’ll take a look at this and do a little tutorial specific to ESXi – great write up on your part BTW!
I was thinking about writing my blog post on this topic however this blog post is excellent so it would be much better if you write update or next part 😉
As I understand you need it in your environment anyway, so you play with it. It is quite easy and it should take you maximally 1 hour. You’ll spend more time with writing blog post 🙂
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with community. I know how time consuming it can be, so really appreciate your effort.
Excellent post about the Dell iDRAC features. There is another way of enabling IPMI over LAN! Install the Dell OpenManage Server Administrator VIB found here:
Once you have the VIB installed and the server has been rebooted, you can access the server using the Dell OpenManage Client. Login to the VMware server with your root credentials and you have full access to the BIOS configuration. This way you do not need stand in front of the server configuring these items. I have a picture showing the setting can be modified using this method.
You can take it a step further and download OpenManage Essentials and install it on a Windows server then you can configure your VMware servers to send SNMP traps relating to hardware issues with the host. Also it provides: Firmware updating (using iDRAC only with VMware servers), Warranty reporting, and alert management. This is a great tool we use it for our many one-off VMware servers. I have attached a couple of pictures showing the product.
Mike, if you want more information on either product give me a call at KPR.
I have dabbled a little with Open Manage Essentials but have never set a side the time to to really look at it!
Do you guys have the Dell plug-ins for vCenter over there?
I have the Dell Management Center installed in our vCenter environment but we have not purchased the product yet. While it was in the trial stage I was able to update the hosts without issue. I find OpenManage Essentials easier to update my ESXi hosts than the plugin for vCenter. I would recommend getting OpenManage installed on a test ESXi host and installing OpenManage Essentials to monitor and manage the host. With those 2 pieces, you can do a lot of automation and configuration.
Practical blog post – I was enlightened by the analysis , Does someone know if I could get access to a blank a form document to fill out ?
Hi Ike Dalley4 . my colleague pulled a blank form at this place
I have tried to setup remote access to text based console of Dell PE R810 POST/BIOS/UEFI and ESXi DCUI over IPMI SOL. When it works for POST/BIOS/UEFI phase then it does not for ESXi DCUI. When ESXI DCUI is redirected to IPMI SOL as a text then POST/BIOS/UEFI cannot be redirected to SOL. When ESXi DCUI is redirected to IPMI SOL I can see the screen but the keyboard does not work.
I wrote the blog post about it here
Any idea how to make it work is welcome but iDRAC Enterprise for 8 GBP from Ebay is probably the best solution for my home lab 😉