Lights Out Managing Mac Mini Servers with Vera

There is no Lights Out Management for a Mac mini Server (btw, am I the only one that noticed that these are now called Mac mini with Lion Server, where mini isn’t capitalized). While the Mac mini Server doesn’t have the Lights Out Management (LOM)/IPMI chips in it, there are a few things that we can control anyway. Convention would say that we’d get a NetBotz card for that spiffy APC we’ve got, which can do minor automation and even a little environmental monitoring. And there are a few other systems out there that can do similar tasks.

But I’m a home automation nerd these days. So I decided to look into whether my Vera can manage my mini Server botnet and what I might be getting or sacrificing. First, let’s define what we did with LOM. The first and most important is, when the system crashed, we rebooted the server. The second aspect was to maybe wake the thing up, with the 3rd to monitor the components of the system. Let’s look at the first, most important thing, rebooting.

I’m going to start with a Vera. The setup process for Vera is similar to that of a LinkSys, where you give the device an IP and then go a step further by signing up for the MiOS portal, used to remotely control the Vera through a secure tunnel. Then I’m going to add an appliance module to the system. Notably, I want a ground, so I’m going to add the Wayne-Dalton HA-04WD HomeSettings Outdoor Appliance Module. The device can be added to Vera pretty easily. To do so, open Vera and click on DEVICES and then on Add Devices in the subnav bar. From here, click on Add in the first row.

Then scroll down a little and click on Option 1.

The system will then scan for a device. At this point, you’ll see a screen telling you to manage the device. At this point, I just press the button on the device to pair it to the Z-wave network.

Once the device is seen by the Vera, we can go ahead and click on the Next button (by default they’re seen as light switches).

At the next screen, you’ll see a screen with a field you can type in. Here, provide a name for the device and give it a room that the device is in (if you’re using rooms). Click on Close and then Save (big red button after you click Close).

Click on the Continue button to commit the save and you should see your new device listed in All Devices.

At this point, click on the On and Off switches to turn systems on and off. From System Preferences, go to Energy Saver and then check the box for Restart automatically

We’ve now achieved the first goal, having a way to physically turn on and off a Mac mini with Lion Server. Better than LOM, we can do so using a web interface or an iOS app. While the lack of so many moving parts has reduced the need for environmental monitoring, we want to monitor the environment outside the box, the environment inside the box and whether the box has developed any human emotions. To monitor the environment outside the box, I’m using one of the many Z-wave thermostats available. I plan on replacing it with a Temperature and Humidity Sensor, so I can put a sensor right by the machine instead of just monitoring the temperature of the room. I also like the idea of seeing moisture levels, but that’s aside from the point.

Monitoring the inside of the system is really easy, since Apple has built snmp into Mac OS X and a quick snmpwalk will show me most everything I need to know about a box. For that, let’s just remove the default snmpd.conf file:

rm /etc/snmp/snmpd.conf

And then run snmpconf -i to create a new snmpd.conf file. This is interactive, so use option 1 and then choose the settings that work best for whatever monitoring software you’re using. With the loss of Lithium, I am a big fan of Nagios and Dartware’s Intermapper, but there are a number of other solutions that I would look at as well. Either way, this can be a very cumbersome aspect if you let it. Once you’ve configured snmpd.conf, restart it (assuming it’s running):

launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist
launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/org.net-snmp.snmpd.plist

Next, to wake up the server, we can use Wake on LAN (note that wake for network access is in the Energy Saver System Preference pane). We can also monitor the server’s IP address (ping/ICMP) and even activate a camera in the event that a motion sensor is tripped. I’ll look at these in a future automation article, where we’ll reboot the server automatically in the event that it goes offline and maybe even control an IR blaster to turn on the TV when status bars are running on the server (we might also hook up a coffee pot so we can stay awake while waiting for Lion to download during some upgrades). But for now, suffice it to say that at this point, we have some of what we had with LOM on an Xserve. It’s not everything and it’s not really pretty. But it works and would cost about the same as a module for that APC you’ve got sitting around, while also laying the groundwork for much more home and small office/small data center automation – and at about $25 per additional device, it’s priced pretty well all things considered.

Finally, if that snmp-based monitoring system happens to need to restart the devices, there’s also an API for Vera, documented at http://wiki.micasaverde.com/index.php/Luup_Requests. Being able to script an snmp-generated event that kicks off some kind of triggered response with a grid of devices is pretty cool, and while I hope to cover it eventually, I’m not sure exactly when I’ll end up with time, so might be awhile…

3 Comments

  • Stephan
    May 9, 2012 - 7:50 am | Permalink

    Charles, I’m wondering if you could share what kind of info you’re getting from the Mini via SNMP. Can you get the internal temperature?

    • May 9, 2012 - 7:55 am | Permalink

      “snmpwalk -On -v 1 -c $community $address experimental” should work. Hope this helps.

  • Dan
    May 11, 2012 - 5:27 am | Permalink

    Too bad the NICs can’t wake them from an off state. Some of our PC’s in our testing center we turn on sending the magic packet too and turning them on and shut them off.

    For some reason the Apple hardware can’t do this from my experience. You can wake them from sleep but not from an off state. The boars always have power running through them so I’m not sure if its a limit in the NIC on Apple hardware or where the limitation is.

    Every PC we have owned has had the ability to wake from an off state. Why can’t the Apple hardware do that!

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