I've spent the morning fighting with Dell's DRAC 5 on a PowerEdge 1950 server (part of a cluster). People are asking me about it, so here's a brief summary of its failings:

  1. DRAC has a built-in graphical console (rac5vkvm). In Firefox, it's a Java applet, but the keyboard doesn't work if I start the process from a Mac -- I get the wrong letters when I type. Workaround: Start from a Linux VM. Since this is on a cluster, I launch a Parallels Linux VM, ssh into a cluster head, run mozilla on the head, navigate to the DRAC, log in, click a link, and get a serial console. My co-worker has the same issue, and a PMG5, so she cannot run Parallels to get a Linux VM.
  2. rac5vkvm fails to install. I got it to work as root on one of our head nodes, but it fails to install as pepper or even as root on other nodes, (presumably permissions, but the error points me to an apparently bogus log for more information). I'm told it also doesn't work with current versions of firefox.
  3. DRAC requires me to type racadm to prefix all the internal commands. What a nuisance! The exception is connect, which is the other main command. I have to find these both through Google, because help doesn't provide the list of (only 2!) top-level commands.
  4. racadm help config tells me the funky syntax to change settings, but doesn't list the available settings to configure!
  5. connect only works with com2. Why not with com1? What do the -b & -h options do? I don't know and apparently neither does Google.
$ connect help
Usage: connect [-bh] com2
  1. connect com2 doesn't actually work at 9600bps (the default speed for Linux and GRUB); I had to configure 57,600bps before I got a Linux tty.
  2. Dell's online documentation is lacking, and for some reason Google sends me to blogs & wikis instead. I eventually found a Dell page on DRAC 5 serial consoles, but it doesn't explain why whould I enable vs. disable "Redirection after Boot". What does "External Serial Connector": "Remote Access Device" mean? Perhaps it means admins will connect via RAC ("Remote Access Device"), and should be able to connect to a virtual serial port (for Linux console), but I'm just guessing.
  3. It's good that Dell provides a variety of options, but they conflict with each other, and Dell's explanations are inadequate.

There are apparently 3 different ways to get a Linux serial console on our systems:

  1. Connect to the physical serial port -- this works, but console switches cost money and consumes rack power & space.
  2. ssh into DRAC and connect com2.
  3. Use ipmish to make an IPMI connection to the BMC (a lower level management controller). I haven't tried this, as our head nodes lack prerequisites for OpenIPMI.