Remote Access to the KEMP R320 LoadMaster (DELL) via DRAC Adds Value

If you have a virtual Loadmaster you gain a capability you do not have with an appliance: console access. You can have lost all network connectivity to the Loadmaster but you can still gain access over the Hyper-V console connection to the virtual machine. Virtual appliances are not the only or best choice for all environments and needs. When evaluating your options you should consider going for a bare metal solution like the DELL R320.

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These are basically DELL servers and as such have a Dell Remote Access Card (DRAC) that allows for remote access independently of the production network. Great for when you need to resolve an issue where you cannot connect to the unit anymore and you’re not near the Loadmaster. It also allows for remote shutdown and start capabilities, mounting images for updates, … all the good stuff. Basically it offers all the benefits of a DELL Server with a DRAC has to offer.

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That means I have an independent way into my load balancer to deal wit problems when I can no longer connect to it via the network interface or even when it is shut down. As we normally telecommute as much as possible, either from the offices, on the road or home this is a great feature to have. It sure beats driving to your data center at zero dark thirty if that is even a feasible option. image

I know that normally you put in two units for high availability but that will not cover all scenarios and if you have a data center filled with DELL PowerEdge servers that have DRAC and you cannot restore services because you cannot get to your load balancers that’s a bummer. It’s for that same reason we have IP managed PDU, OOB capabilities on the switches. The idea is to have options and be able to restore services remotely as much as possible. This is faster, cheaper and easier than going over there, so reducing that occurrence as much as possible is good. Knowledge today flies across the planet a lot faster than human being can.

Changing the segment size of a virtual disk in DELL PowerVault MD Storage Series

It happens to the best of us, sometime we selected the wrong option during deployment and or configuration of our original virtual disks. Or, even with the best of planning, the realities and use cases of your storage changes so the original choice might not be the most optimal one. Luckily on a DELL MD PowerVault storage device you do not need to delete the virtual disk or disks and lose your data to reconfigure the segments size. Even better is that you can do this online as a background process., which is a must at it can take a very long time and it would cause prohibitively long down time if you had to take the data off line for that amount of time.

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You have a certain control over the speed at which this happens via the priority setting but do realize that this takes a (very) long time. Due to the fact it’s a background process you can keep working. I have noticed little to none impact on performance but you mileage may vary.

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How long does it take? Hard to predict. This is a screenshot of two 50TB virtual disks were the segment size is being adjusted on line …

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You cannot always go to the desired segment size in one step. Sometime you have only an intermediate size available. This is the case in the example below.

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The trick is to first move to that segment size and then repeat the process to reach the size you require.  In this case we’ll first move to 256 KB and than to 512 KB segment size. So this again take a long time. But again, it all happens on line.

In conclusion, it’s great to have this capability. When you need to change the size when there is already data on the PowerVault virtual disks you have the ability to do so online while the data remains available. That this can require multiple steps and take a long time is not a huge deal. You kick it off and let it run. No need to sit there and watch it.

Azure Automation Scheduled Runbook PowerShell Script to automatically update site-to-site VPN Local Network VPN Gateway Address with dynamic public IP

You can download the script at the end of the article. When you’re connecting a home (or perhaps even an office) lab to Azure with a site-2-site VPN you’ll probably have to deal with the fact that you have a dynamic IP assigned by your ISP. This means unless you update the VPN Gateway Address of your Azure local network in some automated way, your connection is down very often and you’re faced with this this in Azure …

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which on my DELL SonicWALL NSA 220 that looks like this …

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A fellow MVP of mine (Christopher Keyaert) has written a PowerShell script that a few years back that updated the VPN gateway address of your Azure local network via a scheduled task inside of his Windows RRAS VM. Any VM, either in Azure or in your lab will do. Good stuff! If you need inspiration for a script  you have a link. But, I never liked the fact that keeping my Azure site-to-site VPN up and running was tied to a VM being on line in Azure or in my lab, which is also why I switched to a SonicWALL device. Since we have Azure Automation runbooks at our disposal I decided to automate the updating of the VPN gateway address to the dynamic IP address of my ISP using a runbook.

Finding out your dynamic IP address from anywhere in the world

For this to work you need a way to find out what your currently assigned dynamic IP is. For that I subscribe to a free service providing dynamic DNS updates. I use https://www.changeip.com/. That means that by looking up the FQDN is find can out my current dynamic IP address form where ever I have internet access. As my SonicWALL supports dynamic DNS services providers I can configure it there, no need for an update client running in a VM or so.

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The runbook to update the VPN Gateway Address of your Azure local network

I will not deal with how to set up Azure Automation, just follow this link. I will share a little hurdle I needed to take. At least for me it was a hurdle. That hurdle was that the Set-AzureVNetConfig cmdlet which we need has a mandatory parameter -ConfigurationPath which reads the configuration to set from an XML file (see Azure Virtual Network Configuration Schema).

You cannot just use a file path in an Azure runbook to dump a file on c:\temp  for example. Using an Azure file share seems overly complicated for this job. After pinging some fellow MVPs at Inovativ Belgium who are deep into Azure automation on a daily basis, Stijn Callebaut gave me the tip to use [System.IO.Path]::GetTempFileName() and that got my script working. Thank you Stijn Winking smile!

So I now have a scheduled runbook that automatically updates my to the dynamic IP address my ISP renews every so often without needing to have a script running scheduled inside a VM. I don’t always need a VM running but I do need that VPN to be there for other use cases. This is as elegant of a solution that I could come up with.

I test the script before publishing & scheduling it by setting the VPN Gateway Address of my Azure local network to a wrong IP address in order to see whether the runbook changes it to the current one it got from my dynamic IP. As you can see it was successful.

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Now publish it and have it run x times a day … depending on how aggressive your ISP renews your IP address and how long your lab can sustain the Azure site-to-site VPN to be down. I do it hourly. Not a production ready solution, but neither is a dynamic IP and this is just my home lab!

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Now my VPN looks happy most of the time automatically

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Download the runbook  here (zipped PowerShell script)

DELL SonicWALL Site-to-Site VPN Options With Azure Networking

The DELL SonicWALL product range supports both policy based and route based VPN configurations. Specifically for Azure they have a configuration guide out there that will help you configure either.

Technically, networking people prefer to use route based configuration. It’s more flexible to maintain in the long run. As life is not perfect and we do not control the universe, policy based is also used a lot. SonicWALL used to be on the supported list for both a Static and Dynamically route Azure VPN connections. According to this thread it was taken off because some people had reliability issues with performance. I hope this gets fixed soon in a firmware release. Having that support is good for DELL as a lot of people watch that list to consider what they buy and there are not to many vendors on it in the more budget friendly range as it is. The reference in that thread to DELL stating that Route-Based VPN using Tunnel Interface is not supported for third party devices, is true but a bit silly as that’s a blanket statement in the VPN industry where there is a non written rule that you use route based when the devices are of the same brand and you control both points. But when that isn’t the case, you go a policy based VPN, even if that’s less flexible.

My advise is that you should test what works for you, make your choice and accept the consequences. In the end it determines only who’s going to have to fix the problem when it goes wrong. I’m also calling on DELL to sort this out fast & good.

A lot of people get confused when starting out with VPNs. Add Azure into the equation, where we also get confused whilst climbing the learning curve, and things get mixed up. So here a small recap of the state of Azure VPN options:

  • There are two to create a Site-to-Site VPN VPN between an Azure virtual network (and all the subnets it contains) and your on premises network (and the subnets it contains).
    1. Static Routing: this is the one that will work with just about any device that supports policy based VPNs in any reasonable way, which includes a VPN with Windows RRAS.
    2. Dynamic Routing: This one is supported with a lot less vendors, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Do your due diligence. This also works with Windows RRAS

Note: Microsoft now has added a a 3rd option to it’s Azure VPN Gateway offerings, the High Performance VPN gateway, for all practical purposes it’s dynamic routing, but a more scalable version. Note that this does NOT support static routing.

The confusion is partially due to Microsoft Azure, network industry and vendor terminology differing from each other. So here’s the translation table for DELL SonicWALL & Azure

Dynamic Routing in Azure Speak is a Route-Based VPN in SonicWALL terminology and is called and is called Tunnel Interface in the policy type settings for a VPN.

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Static Routing in Azure Speak is a Policy-Based VPN in SonicWALL terminology and is called Site-To-Site in the “Policy Type” settings for a VPN.

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  • You can only use one. So you need to make sure you won’t mix the two on both sites as that won’t work for sure.
  • Only a Pre-Shared Key (PSK) is currently supported for authentication. There is no support yet for certificate based authentication at the time of writing).

Also note that you can have 10 tunnels in a standard Azure site-to-site VPN which should give you enough wiggling room for some interesting scenarios. If not scale up to the high performance Azure site-to site VPN or move to Express Route. In the screenshot below you can see I have 3 tunnels to Azure from my home lab.

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I hope this clears out any confusion around that subject!