MCTP: This protocol is a key tool in server management to maximize ROI

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Remote monitoring and management will be critical if organizations are going to move data to the cloud. After all, without the ability to remotely manage systems, OPEX expenditures may ultimately outweigh any reduction in CAPEX realized. Management Component Transport Protocol (MCTP), a lesser-known tool for remote server management used in automated systems to support monitoring and control functions, is a great tool for enhancing remote server management.

Delivered through baseboard management controllers, MCTP is a key tool to continuously monitor and control remote systems to proactively monitor servers to keep them running at peak performance and prevent failures before they happen. An important MCTP benefit is it allows out-of-band access to, and management of, I/O and storage systems, and can be used even if a server has crashed.

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Defined by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), MCTP is designed for use over multiple types of buses (e.g. SMBus/I2C, PCIe), and can be used with all types of I/O (e.g., Network Interface Cards, Serial Access SCSI and Fibre Channel), increasing system availability and, thus, increasing business operational performance.

How MCTP works

MCTP is used by the management controller, which sits on a server, appliance or similar device, to interact with devices being managed to monitor everything from device state and statistics, and hold management parameters (e.g., speed, power state and utilization, link state, error count, uncorrectable error count, etc.). Thus, the management controller aggregates management parameters from one or more devices and makes access to those parameters available to local or remote software, or to other management controllers.

Providing out-of-band management, MCTP removes dependence on in-band agents, allowing the baseboard management controllers to monitor devices without the presence of an operating system. This has an added benefit of releasing CPU cycles for other computing tasks since the impact to host performance is removed.

With the right server interface, using MCTP can provide the most relevant data through an intuitive user interface and a centralized location to access the monitoring data. This reduces the need for multiple monitoring agents. This is especially relevant for I/O, where an out-of-band management scheme has not been prevalent so far.

Let's look at an example for a business that has outsourced its storage to a cloud provider.

1. Across a system composed of racks of servers, MCTP gives the Web hosting IT administrator the ability to physically manage the servers without requiring root access which only the end user has. Here, the only medium available is out-of-band management.

2. On the rack server the baseboard management controller monitors entities such as fans, power supplies, sensors, etc. The controller communicates over a 1Gb Ethernet (1GbE) network, while the data network is 1GbE or 10GbE. The Web hosting IT administrator gets information about these management entities from the controller using out-of-band communication.

3. The rack server has I/O and storage protocols, such as 10GbE, Fibre Channel, SAS, but the Web hosting IT administrator gets no information about I/O and storage. Using MCTP, going over the PCIe or I2C bus, the controller now has out-of-band access to the I/O and storage on the rack server, allowing the Web hosting IT administrator access to remotely manage the servers.

Without MCTP, the I/O and storage monitoring was performed in-band using software agents installed on the system which incurred CPU overhead, impacted access to the information, and affected performance. MCTP reduces the CPU overhead without sacrificing any system management capabilities.

Designed correctly into a baseboard management controller MCTP is a critical component for remote system management. Server designers should consider including controllers that support MCTP, for their customers will greatly appreciate the flexibility and performance benefits. MCTP will help to maximize uptime, reduce costs and provide peace of mind for busy IT professionals.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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