Cisco MDS, NVMe, and Flexibility

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 20.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Cisco recently presented at Storage Field Day 20. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.


NVMe, Yeah You Know Me

Non-Volatile Memory Express, known more commonly as NVMe, is a protocol designed for high performance SSD storage access.  In the olden days, we used to associate fibre channel and iSCSI networking options with high performance block storage. Okay, maybe not the 1Gbps iSCSI stuff, but you know what I mean. Time has passed, and the storage networking landscape has changed significantly with the introduction of All-Flash and NVMe. But NVMe’s adoption hasn’t been all smooth sailing. There have been plenty of vendors willing to put drives in storage arrays that support NVMe while doing some translation on the backend that negated the real benefits of NVMe. And, like many new technologies, it’s been a gradual process to get end-to-end NVMe in place, because enterprises, and the vendors that sell to them, only move so fast. Some vendors support NVMe, but only over FC. Others have adopted the protocol to run over RoCEv2. There’s also NVMe-TCP, in case you weren’t confused enough about what you could use. I’m doing a poor job of explaining this, so you should really just head over to Dr J Metz’s article on NVMe for beginners at SNIA.


Cisco Are Ready For Anything

As you’ve hopefully started to realise, you’ll see a whole bunch of NVMe implementations available in storage fabrics, along with a large number of enterprises continuing to have conversations about and deploy new storage equipment that uses traditional block fabrics, such as iSCSI or FC or, perish the thought, FCoE. The cool thing about Cisco MDS is that it supports all this crazy and more. If you’re running the latest and greatest NVMe end to end implementation and have some old block-only 8Gbps FC box sitting in the corner they can likely help you with connectivity. The diagram below hopefully demonstrates that point.

[image courtesy of Cisco]


Thoughts and Further Reading

Very early in my storage career, I attended a session on MDS at Cisco Networkers Live (when they still ran those types of events in Brisbane). Being fairly new to storage, and running a smallish network of one FC4700 and 8 Unix hosts, I’d tended to focus more on the storage part of the equation rather than the network part of the SAN. Cisco was still relatively new to the storage world at that stage, and it felt a lot like it had adopted a very network-centric view of the storage world. I was a little confused why all the talk was about backplanes and port density, as I was more interested about the optimal RAID configuration for mail server volumes and how I should protect the data being stored on this somewhat sensitive piece of storage. As time went on, I was invariably exposed to larger and larger environments where decisions around core and edge storage networking devices started to become more and more critical to getting optimal performance out of the environment. A lot of the information I was exposed to in that early MDS session started to make more sense (particularly as I was tasked with deploying larger and larger MDS-based fabrics).

Things have obviously changed quite a bit since those heady days of a network upstart making waves in the storage world. We’ve seen increases in network speeds become more and more common in the data centre, and we’re no longer struggling to get as many IOPS as we can out of 5400 RPM PATA drives with an interposer and some slightly weird firmware. What has become apparent, I think, is the importance of the fabric when it comes to getting access to storage resources in a timely fashion, and with the required performance. As enterprises scale up and out, and more and more hosts and applications connect to centralised storage resources, it doesn’t matter how fast those storage resources are if there’s latency in the fabric.

The SAN still has a place in the enterprise, despite was the DAS huggers will tell you, and you can get some great performance out of your SAN if you architect it appropriately. Cisco certainly seems to have an option for pretty much everything when it comes to storage (and network) fabrics. It also has a great story when it comes to fabric visibility, and the scale and performance at the top end of its MDS range is pretty impressive. In my mind, though, the key really is the variety of options available when build a storage network. It’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated given the plethora of options available in the market.

Cisco – Reset snmp user password

More often than not, I have problems with Cisco MDS switches because I’ve done something stupid. For example, last week I replaced some switch configs but did something to the password for the snmp admin user. As a result, I could log into the switch with admin credentials, and I could see the switch in DCNM, but I couldn’t access it using SNMP credentials. It’s a simple fix, for I’m a simple fellow.

switch1# conf t
Enter configuration commands, one per line.  End with CNTL/Z.
switch1(config)# snmp-server user admin network-admin auth md5 yourpasswordgoeshere
switch1(config)# exit
switch1# copy run start
[########################################] 100%
Copy complete, now saving to disk (please wait)...

Cisco – DCNM, why are you like this?

I thought it would be a good idea to upgrade the copy of Cisco DCNM installed on my laptop (in standalone mode) from 5.2(2) to 6.1(1) the other day. I ran the 32-bit installer and got an error about “Upgradation” being unsupported from this mode.


This probably should have set off alarm bells. But I hadn’t read the release notes, and wasn’t really paying attention. So I dutifully uninstalled 5.2(2) and had another go at it.


Sigh. I know that in production you wouldn’t be using a Windows 7 laptop to run this software. And I know that I should have carefully read the requirements before I attempted installation. If I had, I would have read this: “Cisco DCNM SAN Release 6.1(1a) and later releases do not support running the Cisco DCNM SAN client in standalone mode. If you were running the SAN client in standalone mode in Release 5.2(x), you should uninstall it and install Cisco DCNM SAN server Release 6.1(1a) or a later release. You cannot upgrade the standalone SAN client from DCNM Release 5.2(x) to Release 6.1(1a) or a later release”. But surely it could have popped up with this warning before telling me that I had to uninstall 5.2(2) first? DCNM developers have moved back to the top of my list. If they can’t code around my ignorance and laziness then I want no part of their product. And what the hell is “Upgradation” anyway?

Cisco – Restoring MDS configurations from somewhere else

We recently had to replace a Cisco MDS 9124e in our lab. I used to use this method to copy and restore configuration files to MDS switches.

switch# copy tftp:// startup-config
Trying to connect to tftp server......
Connection to server Established. Copying Started.....
TFTP get operation was successful
This command is deprecated. To obtain the same results, please use
the sequence 'write erase' + 'reload' + 'copy <file> running-config' + 'copy running-config startup-config'.

It was rough, but it used to work. So now I do this.

switch# copy tftp:// bootflash:
Trying to connect to tftp server......
Connection to server Established. Copying Started.....
TFTP get operation was successful
switch# dir
      15155    Feb 05 21:37:37 2013  switch.cfg

write erase
copy switch.cfg running-config
copy run start

It makes sense, as the write erase and reload commands make you think about what you’re doing, and you need to be sure that you want to overwrite the running or startup config.

Updated Articles page

I’ve added a brief article covering the steps involved in installing the Cisco Prime DCNM in standalone mode – used for management and maintenance of Cisco fabrics. I had to re-install this software after a workstation replacement and thought it might be useful to document the steps required.

Cisco MDS Scheduler with AAA

This is probably very old news but it’s here more for my reference than anything else. A little while ago we introduced 2 new MDS 9513 switches into our core and needed to setup a simple scheduled backup task to copy the configs to a tftp server daily. For some reason I wasn’t able to create the job in the scheduler when I was logged in as a user that had authenticated against AAA. MDS9513(config)# scheduler enable MDS9513(config)# scheduler job name backup_config Error: AAA authentication password not configured (for logged in user) I may have the reason behind this arse-backwards, but it seems like I’ve probably never been able to do this. I think what I’ve been doing is setting up the configs on the switches and then adding them to ACS. I could be wrong about that too, but I’m really just interested in workarounds, not understanding the problem.

For some information on using the scheduler with a AAA user, have a look at this link on Cisco’s website.  So here’s how to give the AAA user privileges to configure scheduled tasks.

login as: username
User Access Verification
Using keyboard-interactive authentication.

Cisco Nexus Operating System (NX-OS) Software
TAC support:
Copyright (c) 2002-2009, Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
The copyrights to certain works contained in this software are
owned by other third parties and used and distributed under
license. Certain components of this software are licensed under
the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2.0 or the GNU
Lesser General Public License (LGPL) Version 2.1. A copy of each
such license is available at and

MDS9513# conf t
Enter configuration commands, one per line. End with CNTL/Z.
MDS9513(config)# scheduler enable
MDS9513(config)# scheduler aaa-authentication user username password password
MDS9513(config)# scheduler job name backup_config
MDS9513(config-job)# copy running-config startup-config
MDS9513(config-job)# copy startup-config tftp://tftphost/Backup/MDS9513_cfg_$(TIMESTAMP).txt
MDS9513(config-job)# end
MDS9513# show scheduler job name backup_config

Job Name: backup_config
copy running-config startup-config
copy startup-config tftp://tftphost/Backup/MDS9513_cfg_$(TIMESTAMP).txt

The problem with this is that you might prefer to use a service account to get this done. But perhaps you’re lazy and can’t be bothered asking for a service account. So if you’ve used your admin account you might want to remove it. Note that this *shouldn’t* have an impact on your scheduler configuration.

MDS9513# conf t
Enter configuration commands, one per line. End with CNTL/Z.
MDS9513(config)# no scheduler aaa-authentication username username password password
MDS9513(config)# end
MDS9513# show running-config | include "scheduler aaa-authentication"
MDS9513# show scheduler job name backup_config
Job Name: backup_config
copy running-config startup-config
copy startup-config tftp://tftphost/Backup/MDS9513_cfg_$(TIMESTAMP).txt


Cisco MDS blades are being returned …

I was going to write a long and angsty post about how I think Cisco should be publicly villified for their continued publication of specs that don’t add up, but I’ll leave that to analysts who know more about such things than I do. I’m sure a lot of our issues arise from the fact that our procurement guy asks the vendor for a number of ports and then buys them, rather than checking with the technical guys. Suffice to say that we’re sending 4 48-port blades back because, well, if we wanted to run the ports at 4Gbps we’d have to disable 24 of the 48 ports. Hey Cisco, 2005 called and they want their shitty bandwidth back. I’m sure these blades are great for hosting providers who promise a lot and count on oversubscription to get by with less but it doesn’t work for us.

EMC – Silly things you can do with stress testing – Part 1

I have a whole swag of things I want to talk about with regards to EMC CLARiiONs and stress testing with SQLIO. But the posts are still forming and I want to be sure that what I put on the internet is accurate (a novel concept, I know) before I publish them. But what I can show you is the performance of our 4Gbps FC ports when running a particular read test on EFDs. In this instance you can see how, conceivably, the 8Gbps FC fabric becomes useful. At least for benchmarking.

Cisco – Generate ssh key with SAN-OS from the console

We had a situation a few weeks ago where we needed to stand up some HP / Cisco 9124e switches in a hurry. Unfortunately our data centre people initialized the switches and weren’t available to tell us what point they’d gotten to. We could see the switches in Fabric Manager and Device Manager, but for some reason we couldn’t ssh to the devices. And for some other reason we couldn’t generate a key to use with the switches. SAN-OS version is 3.3(4a). So here’s what we did to generate keys on the console (accessed via the HP Onboard Administrator on the blade chassis).

login as: admin



WARNING: This is a private system.  Do not attempt to login unless you are an

authorized user.  Any authorized or unauthorized access and use may be moni-

tored and can result in criminal or civil prosecution under applicable law.


Firmware Version: 3.21

Built: 11/15/2010 @ 09:59

OA Bay Number:  1

OA Role:       Active

[email protected]’s password:







HP BladeSystem Onboard Administrator

(C) Copyright 2006-2010 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.



Type ‘HELP’ to display a list of valid commands.

Type ‘HELP <command>’ to display detailed information about a specific command.

Type ‘HELP HELP’ to display more detailed information about the help system.



CHASSIS-OA1> connect interconnect 3


NOTICE: This pass-thru connection to the integrated I/O console

is provided for convenience and does not supply additional access

control.  For security reasons, use the password features of the

integrated switch.


Connecting to integrated switch 3 at 9600,N81…

Escape character is ‘<Ctrl>_’ (Control + Shift + Underscore)


Press [Enter] to display the switch console:


User Access Verification

switch1 login: admin


Cisco Storage Area Networking Operating System (SAN-OS) Software

TAC support:

Copyright (c) 2002-2009, Cisco Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

The copyrights to certain works contained herein are owned by

other third parties and are used and distributed under license.

Some parts of this software may be covered under the GNU Public

License or the GNU Lesser General Public License. A copy of

each such license is available at and

switch1# sh ssh key


could not retrieve rsa key information


could not retrieve dsa key information


no ssh keys present. you will have to generate them


switch1# conf t

Enter configuration commands, one per line.  End with CNTL/Z.

switch1(config)# ssh key rsa 1024

generating rsa key(1024 bits)…..


generated rsa key

switch1(config)# exit

switch1# copy run start

And then it was all better.

Updated articles page

I’ve added another document to my articles page. This one covers the creation of port-channels between Cisco MDS 9513 switches. I was clueless about a lot of this until a friend from EMC took me through the steps. So I’ve created this document as a way to capture those steps for future reference. Hopefully you’ll find it of use.