Installation Notes

Last updated 2008-09-19.

The currently-active nodes - planetlab3.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz and planetlab4.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz - are Dell PowerEdge 860 rack-mount servers. Installation should be trivial but, as ever, there were some unforeseen problems.

Installing the Servers

In theory installation of PlanetLab is straight-forward. Simply:

  1. Assign a spare IP and a suitable name in your DHCP/DNS servers;
  2. Ensure that the server is outside the institutional firewall, or that the firewall is configured to allow traffic to/from it.
  3. Log on to the main PlanetLab website and choose "Add Node";
  4. Enter the details as decided in step 1 into the form (being sure to check "DHCP");
  5. Once the node has been created, go to "My Nodes" and select the new node;
  6. Check that the Boot State is "Install";
  7. From the "Download" box, select "Download ISO image for <NODENAME>";
  8. Write the resultant ISO to a blank CD;
  9. Configure the server to boot off CD first, place the CD in the drive and boot;
  10. Answer the "Are You Sure?" question (hint: yes, you are sure);
  11. Leave the CD in the drive forever (so that the machine can be reinstalled remotely if need be).

However, in my case this process did not work for many frustrating attempts. The problem turned out to be that the ISO that got downloaded in step 7 was the wrong image! PlanetLab was at that stage going through a transition period between two different versions, and I got the wrong version. This wasn't immediately clear to a novice PlanetLab installer, as it sure looked like a PlanetLab install - which it was, it was merely the wrong one.

So to avoid similar hassles, you might like to determine which version of PlanetLab you should be running (4.2 at the time of this writing), and loop-mount the ISO you download to make sure the version is correct. Something like the following should suffice:

#  mount -o loop -t iso9660 planetlab3.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz.iso /mnt/pl
#  cat /mnt/pl/pl_version 
PlanetLab BootCD 3.3

WRONG! Go back and find a 4.2 ISO.

Configuring DRAC

As a separate process you need to configure the DRAC (Dell Remote Access Controller) on each server. A DRAC enables remote users to reboot servers (among other things). The idea is that if PlanetLab central needs to push out a change to all nodes, they can just update their servers and send reboot instructions via DRAC (or other protocols - each manufacturer has their own it would seem) to all nodes. The machines then reboot from the installation CDs left in their CD drives, and one of the jobs of this CD is to check with the main server to see if there are any updates that need to be applied to the hard disk image.

Configuring a DRAC is pretty easy:

  1. Make sure the DRAC has its own physical network port and cable.
  2. Assign a spare IP and a suitable name in your DHCP/DNS servers (we have adopted the convention that if a node is called planetlab3.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz then its controlling DRAC is called planetdrac3.cosc.canterbury.ac.nz, but this is just a convention);
  3. Boot the server containing the DRAC, and hit whatever key sequence starts the DRAC Option ROM;
  4. Configure the DRAC to get its IP info from DHCP;
  5. Reboot the server, or allow the boot to continue;
  6. Ensure that the DRAC is outside the institutional firewall, or ensure that the firewall allows incoming connections to the DRAC (at least ports 22, 80, and 443).
  7. Crank up a web browser and go to the DRAC's name or IP;
  8. Log in as root (check documentation for the default password) and change the root password;
  9. Set up a bunch of accounts as seems appropriate. You will need at least one account to enable PlanetLab central to log in, and you might like to have a similar one for local administrative access;
  10. Log on to the main PlanetLab website and choose "Add PCU";
  11. Enter the name and IP chosen in step 1, and the username and password chosen in step 9.