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Publication numberUS20080168310 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/650,168
Publication dateJul 10, 2008
Filing dateJan 5, 2007
Priority dateJan 5, 2007
Also published asUS20120117370, WO2008083350A1
Publication number11650168, 650168, US 2008/0168310 A1, US 2008/168310 A1, US 20080168310 A1, US 20080168310A1, US 2008168310 A1, US 2008168310A1, US-A1-20080168310, US-A1-2008168310, US2008/0168310A1, US2008/168310A1, US20080168310 A1, US20080168310A1, US2008168310 A1, US2008168310A1
InventorsCesare John Saretto, James C. Gray, James M. Lyon
Original AssigneeMicrosoft Corporation
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Hardware diagnostics and software recovery on headless server appliances
US 20080168310 A1
Abstract
Described is a headless server appliance configured with a secondary actuation mechanism that when actuated, enters the headless server appliance into a diagnostic mode. For example, the diagnostic mode may correspond to a secondary operating system booted from a BIOS component activated by the secondary actuation mechanism. In the diagnostic mode, primitives may be communicated between a client device coupled (e.g., via a network or USB connection) to the headless server appliance, such as to provide the client device with access to the headless server appliance's hard disk. Other primitives, such as communicated via APIs, may provide the client device with access to the BIOS. The secondary operating system and/or client device may perform diagnostics and recovery operations on the headless server appliance. For example, the client device or similar source may restore or update the primary operating system image to a storage medium of the headless server appliance.
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Claims(20)
1. In a computing environment having a headless server appliance, a system comprising:
a secondary actuation mechanism that when actuated enters the headless server appliance into a diagnostic mode, in which primitives are communicated between a client device coupled to the headless server appliance.
2. The system of claim 1 wherein the secondary actuation mechanism comprises a button.
3. The system of claim 1 further comprising a hard disk within the server appliance, and wherein the primitives provide the client device with access to the hard disk.
4. The system of claim 3 wherein access to the hard disk is exposed as a USB mass storage device via a USB port.
5. The system of claim 1 further comprising a BIOS coupled to the secondary actuation mechanism, the BIOS activated by the secondary actuation mechanism to enter the headless server appliance into the diagnostic mode.
6. The system of claim 5 wherein the primitives provide the client device with access to the BIOS.
7. The system of claim 1 wherein the client device couples to the headless server appliance over a network connection.
8. The system of claim 1 wherein the diagnostic mode corresponds to a secondary operating system that is operated in response to actuation of the actuation mechanism.
9. The system of claim 8 wherein the secondary operating system is contained in a flash memory incorporated into or coupled to the headless server appliance.
10. The system of claim 8 further comprising an API set by which the client device communicates at least one call to the secondary operating system.
11. The system of claim 8 wherein the secondary operating system performs at least one functionality of a set, the set including, providing access to a hard disk, running recovery software, performing diagnostics, running a utility, running a disk check, repairing a primary operating system, writing a new copy of the operating system onto the hard disk, recover data off of at least one hard disk, or any combination thereof.
12. The system of claim 1 wherein the client device includes a virtual disk driver that provides access to a hard disk of the headless server appliance.
13. The system of claim 1 wherein the client device operates a diagnostic program that communicates with the headless server appliance, or operates a recovery process that writes a primary operating system to a storage medium of the headless server appliance, or operates both the diagnostic program and the recovery process.
14. In a computing environment having a headless server appliance, a system comprising:
means for entering the headless server appliance into a secondary state in which a secondary operating system is run; and
means for communicating primitives between a client device coupled to the headless server appliance when in the secondary state.
15. The system of claim 14 wherein the means for entering the headless server appliance into the secondary state comprises an actuation mechanism coupled to a BIOS component that loads the secondary operating system.
16. The system of claim 14 wherein the means for communicating primitives includes an API set that exposes programming or diagnostic functionality of the headless server appliance, or both, to the client device.
17. The system of claim 14 wherein the means for communicating primitives includes a mechanism for accessing data of at least one hard disk of the headless server appliance via the client device.
18. In a computing environment having a headless server appliance, a system comprising:
a storage medium of the headless server appliance; and
means for restoring a primary operating system image to the storage medium, including running a secondary operating system on the headless server appliance that couples the headless server appliance to a source of the primary operating system image.
19. The system of claim 18 wherein the secondary operating system includes means for coupling the headless server appliance via an interface to a client device that corresponds to the source of the primary operating system image.
20. The system of claim 18 wherein the interface comprises a network connection.
Description
BACKGROUND

A headless server appliance is a computer system that is designed to operate as a server, but without a keyboard, a mouse (or other pointing device) and a monitor. In general, existing headless server appliances are relatively expensive, in part because they are specialized computing devices, including customized BIOSes that are needed to interact with them for administration purposes.

As can be readily appreciated, administration of server appliances that are based on conventional personal computer hardware cannot be fully accomplished due to basic hardware and software limitations. For example, traditional personal computers have BIOSes that can only display information on a local monitor and can only be controlled by a local keyboard. As a result, changing basic hardware configuration via the BIOS or viewing hardware errors detected by the BIOS can only be done locally, with an attached keyboard and monitor. Note that because the BIOS controls the system boot order, if the primary operating system has become unbootable, or the hard disk holding that operating system has stopped functioning, the system may not be able to boot from another medium without changes in BIOS configuration; as described above, with a conventional BIOS, this can only be accomplished locally.

Further, repairing an existing operating system or recovering data from an unrecoverable system generally requires booting the system with a secondary operating system. This secondary operating system can then be used to access the file system containing the malfunctioning operating system to make repairs or salvage data. The secondary operating system can be stored on internal or external hard drive, on a CD or DVD ROM, floppy disk, USB thumb drive, or other medium. However, booting such a secondary operating system is potentially very difficult on a headless system. For example, such secondary operating systems and the recovery utilities that run on them are generally designed to be used with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor attached.

SUMMARY

This Summary is provided to introduce a selection of representative concepts in a simplified form that are further described below in the Detailed Description. This Summary is not intended to identify key features or essential features of the claimed subject matter, nor is it intended to be used in any way that would limit the scope of the claimed subject matter.

Briefly, various aspects of the subject matter described herein are directed towards a headless server appliance configured with a secondary actuation mechanism. When actuated, the secondary actuation mechanism enters the headless server appliance into a diagnostic mode, in which primitives are communicated between a client device coupled to the headless server appliance. For example, the diagnostic mode may correspond to a secondary operating system booted from a BIOS activated by the secondary actuation mechanism. The primitives may provide the client device with access to a hard disk of the headless server appliance, such as one containing a primary operating system. Primitives, such as communicated via APIs or the like, may also provide the client device with access to the BIOS.

In one example aspect, the secondary operating system and/or client device may perform diagnostics and recovery operations on the headless server appliance. For example, the client device or similar source may restore or update the primary operating system image to a storage medium of the headless server appliance. The coupling of the client device to the headless server appliance may be accomplished over any suitable interface means, including a network connection, USB port or the like.

Other advantages may become apparent from the following detailed description when taken in conjunction with the drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is illustrated by way of example and not limited in the accompanying figures in which like reference numerals indicate similar elements and in which:

FIG. 1 is an illustrative example block diagram of a headless server appliance configured to operate in a normal mode and diagnostic mode for communicating primitives with a client device.

FIG. 2 is an illustrative example block diagram of a headless server appliance configured to operate in a normal mode and diagnostic mode via hardware.

FIG. 3 is a block diagram generally representing a headless server appliance coupled to a client device in which the client device can access components of the headless server appliance via an API set.

FIG. 4 is a block diagram generally representing a headless server appliance coupled to a client device in which the client device can access a hard disk drive of the headless server appliance via a virtual device driver.

FIG. 5 is a block diagram generally representing a headless server appliance coupled to a client device in which the client device can run diagnostic programs or a recovery process with respect to the headless server appliance.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Various aspects of the technology described herein are generally directed towards a headless server appliance that can be booted into a special operating mode, referred to herein as a diagnostic mode, in which the server enters a state in which another device can communicate with the server. In general, the other device can couple to the headless server appliance, whereby the headless server appliance is temporarily accessed and/or controlled (at least in part) via the remote device.

In one aspect, the headless server is equipped with a hardware-based solution that allows a client device to couple to it (e.g., via USB) for interacting with one or more of the components of the server. For example, the server can report diagnostic information to the client, expose its hard drive and any other disk drive or drives to the client device, and so forth. In an alternative aspect, a hardware and software solution allows a remote client device to couple to the server via a network connection (e.g., via Ethernet). The client can then run various diagnostic utilities and so forth, including accessing the server's hard disk drive or drives.

While example aspects described herein are generally directed towards a client personal computer as the coupled device that accesses one or more hard disks on the headless server appliance, this is only one common scenario; other possibilities include using other types of remote devices, and other types of access and control, such as changing BIOS settings. Essentially any type of computing device that can couple for communication with a server in any way may act as a remote device, including personal computers, hand-held devices, personal digital assistants, cell phones and so forth.

At the same time, any suitable communications medium and protocol may be used, and any readable and/or writeable component or components within the headless server appliance (e.g., memory, other nonvolatile storage and so forth) may be accessed. Still further, as described below, any of various mechanisms may be used to enter the server into the diagnostic mode, including hardware-based triggering mechanisms, or a combination of hardware and software.

As such, the present invention is not limited to any particular embodiments, aspects, concepts, structures, functionalities or examples described herein. Rather, any of the embodiments, aspects, concepts, structures, functionalities or examples described herein are non-limiting, and the present invention may be used various ways that provide benefits and advantages in computing and networking in general.

In general, an aspect of the technology described herein is directed towards operating a headless server appliance running commodity personal computer hardware, and/or a traditional operating system with relatively few modifications (such as Microsoft® Windows® Server) that is otherwise not ordinarily intended to operate on headless system hardware. To achieve a server appliance that is headless, the server needs to be capable of being restored to working state in the event of operating system or hard disk failure, and capable of being administered, e.g., configured, maintained and/or diagnosed.

FIG. 1 shows an example block diagram in which a headless server appliance 110 that is based on commodity personal computer hardware. As is typical, the example computer system 110 of FIG. 1 includes a processing unit (CPU) 116, which is coupled via a Northbridge chip 118 to RAM 120. Note that being headless, no graphics processing unit (GPU/Card) is required.

As is also typical, a Southbridge chip 114 is shown as connecting to a network interface card (NIC) 122 for remote connectivity, to nonvolatile storage (e.g., a hard disk drive) 124 that includes the primary operating system, and (optionally, as shown via the dashed representation) to at least one other interface (e.g., a USB A port) 126 for device connectivity. Being that the server 110 is intended for use in serving files, serving content and so forth, one or more other nonvolatile storage devices such as hard disk drive or drives 128 may be present in (or otherwise coupled to) the headless server appliance 110. Note that one or more of the other hard disk drive or drives 128 can alternatively connect through the port 126.

As represented in FIG. 1, in addition to the normal reboot mechanism 140 (e.g., a main power button coupled to normal BIOS normal boot logic 142), a secondary actuation mechanism 144 such as a small button (e.g., labeled “Server Diagnostics” or the like) is present in or coupled to BIOS secondary boot logic 146 of the headless server appliance 110. Note that as indicated by the dashed line, the BIOS normal boot logic 142 and BIOS secondary boot logic 146 are likely incorporated into the same physical chip package, with different booting code. For example, the secondary actuation mechanism may set a small hardware register read by a single BIOS component during boot; if the BIOS sees that the register is turned on, it uses the secondary logic 146 to boot in the diagnostic mode.

When triggered, the secondary boot logic 146 enters the server 110 into a diagnostic operating mode, as described below. Any type of secondary actuation mechanism 144 may be used to trigger the secondary BIOS boot logic 146, but is typically one that requires some physical human intervention, such as a button, a smartcard insertion, connection of a USB device such as a personal computer or thumb drive, and so forth. It is also feasible to have the secondary actuation mechanism remotely activated, such as special key sent over the network connection; note however that the server 110's primary operating system may be inoperable, and thus any remote activation would require special detection circuitry that works independently of the primary operating system. It is also feasible to have non-human intervention, such as a timer or sensor that automatically triggers the secondary reboot, such as when the headless server appliance is not responding correctly to pings or the like.

Regardless of how triggered, actuating the secondary actuation mechanism 144 causes the secondary BIOS boot logic 146 to boot the server 110 into the diagnostic mode. In general, the diagnostic mode is a special operating mode which may be accomplished entirely in hardware or with software assistance, in which low-level hardware commands (primitives) may be used to interact with the headless server appliance 110. For example, via such hardware primitives, the server's internal hard disks may be exposed to a working client computer via a network medium.

In one example implementation represented in FIG. 1, flash ROM 150 or the like on the server 110 may contain a secondary (custom and/or largely static) operating system (e.g., based on Microsoft® Windows® Preinstallation Environment) that is booted when the secondary actuation mechanism 144 is pressed. Note that as represented by the dashed line, the flash 150 (e.g., on a USB thumb drive) alternatively may be externally coupled via the port 126. Any suitable internal or external storage device, such as a USB thumb drive, a CD-ROM drive, and so forth may be coupled via the interface 126 to provide the secondary operating system.

In this example implementation, the secondary operating system is very limited and relatively small (e.g., on the order of 256 MB), and in general allows the headless server appliance 110 to connect to a remote client device 160 on the network. For example, the secondary operating system may use a communication protocol that provides primitives that expose the server's hard disk 124 containing the server's primary operating system over a TCP/IP network to a client computer, e.g., using the server's built-in Ethernet adapter 122 or other IP-capable network adapter. Files and/or other allocation units such as clusters or sectors on the hard drive 124 containing the primary operating system may thus be accessed. Optionally, some or all of the server's other hard disks 128 may be exposed in the same manner.

FIG. 1 thus represents a software and hardware-based solution, which when booted, hands off control to a flash medium (or external device) 150 or the like containing the secondary operating system. The secondary operating system exposes internal components of the headless server appliance 110 via a network protocol.

FIG. 2 represents an alternative way to implement such a diagnostic mode, that is, by providing a single device-side interface 226 added to the server, such as an appropriately labeled USB B port, e.g., “Server Diagnostic Port” or the like. Note that the components of FIG. 2 are basically like those of FIG. 1, (labeled 2xx instead of 1xx), except that the interface 226 is not optional, and a client computing device 250 is shown as being coupled via the port 226. For example, when coupled, the client computing device 250 sees the server 210 as one or more USB devices including a USB hard disk (that is the server's primary disk), as described below.

In the example of FIG. 2, server hardware, in combination with BIOS software, thus exposes a USB hub 256 over the USB B port 226, although as can be readily appreciated other types of ports (e.g., serial, parallel, wireless, infrared and so forth are feasible). As represented in FIG. 2, the hub 256 may internally be coupled to (or have externally inserted as needed) a USB mass storage device 258 that controls and/or accesses the primary hard disk 224 containing the server's primary operating system. Optionally, the USB mass storage device 258, or one or more additional USB mass storage devices (not explicitly shown in FIG. 2), can be used to expose the server's other hard disks 228.

In the diagnostic mode of FIG. 2, the server 210 exposes at least the server's hard disk 224, e.g., as a USB mass storage device (causing a coupling to a client computer as generally represented in FIG. 4). The server 210 also may expose a diagnostic mode API (described below) as one or more USB devices. To this end, the hardware-based solution of FIG. 2 may include its own internal logic, which (e.g., by exposing each as a USB device) may provide full access to other hard disks, may include a piece of recovery software to perform diagnostics, may run a utility such as a disk check, may repair the primary operating system, may write a new copy of the operating system onto the disk, may recover data off of disks when the server is deemed likely defective, and so forth. The information may be reported to the client computing device 250, e.g., plugged into the USB port 226 or other interface. When connected, a client device can also perform some or all of such diagnostic and recovery functionality.

Once operating in the diagnostic mode, whether via the example of FIG. 1, FIG. 2, or via any generally similar implementation, as represented in FIG. 3 a client computer 360 can be coupled to the headless server appliance (labeled 310 in FIG. 3) via an interface 333. Typically in the example of FIG. 1 the interface 333 is the network connection via the network interface card 122, however it is alternatively feasible to have the client device connect via the USB port 126 of FIG. 1 (if present), via the NIC 222 or port 226 of FIG. 2, or via some other interface.

Once coupled, the client computer 360 may perform any number of operations to the headless server appliance 330. For example, the client computer 360 may run recovery software and other well-known utilities to access the hard disks.

In yet another alternative, the functionality of the server's main-board hardware may be exposed to the client computer, e.g., via an API set 370 or the like appropriate for the chosen network medium. For example, this API set may allow for such operations as the configuration of server BIOS settings, reprogramming of the server's BIOS and/or Flash, executing and reporting the results of built-in hardware diagnostics, and so forth. In this manner, the client device 360 can adjust settings within the BIOS 346 (and/or perform a flash update), whereby the BIOS settings can be changed without needed a local keyboard, monitor, and so forth. For example, the secondary operating system can accept a new BIOS image, or if the BIOS is ACPI compliant, the client can update the BIOS settings via the APIs.

FIG. 4 shows another way in which a coupled client device 460 may be used, namely to obtain access to a hard disk of the headless server appliance. In this example, the client includes a virtual disk driver 490 that essentially makes remote disk 424 look like a local drive on the client, e.g., using a disk drive letter (e.g., x:\). Any additional disks 428, 429 may be similarly accessed via different letters.

FIG. 5 is another example way in which a client device 560 may be used, namely to restore (or update) the headless server appliance with an operating system image via a recovery process 594. For example, the client device 560 may include or be coupled to a CD ROM drive 596 into which a recovery disk 597 (e.g., containing the original primary operating system) may be read to write the operating system image back to the hard drive 524 of the headless server appliance 510. Other media may be used for storing the image, including the client's hard drive, a network source, and so forth. As can be appreciated, in this manner, a corrupted image may thus be replaced, and/or use of a bad sector or the like may be avoided.

Alternatively, the client device 560 may run a diagnostic program 598 or other utility, such as stored on a compact disk 599. Again, other media may be used for storing the diagnostic program 598 or other utility, including the client's hard drive, a network source, and so forth.

As can be readily appreciated, once a server is operational in the diagnostic mode and connected to a working computer, the technology achieves the general equivalent of having booted the server into a secondary operating system, in which any number of existing repair and recovery utilities can be executed. Full restoration of the primary operating system to factory shipped condition is possible by imaging the operating system partition of the server's hard disk. Further, if the API set 370 represented in FIG. 3 is implemented, mainboard hardware diagnostics and programming can be performed via the server 110 and/or client device 360 using special-purpose utilities as well as general purpose utilities.

Thus, to summarize, there is provided technology directed towards exposing one or more hard disks of a headless server appliance (using a hardware-only or hardware and software solution) to a working computer, such as via a network medium. This occurs selectively, such as when a hardware button on the appliance device is pressed.

Further, the technology provides for exposing mainboard programming and diagnostic functionality of a headless server appliance (using a hardware-only or hardware and software solution) to a working computer via an API, e.g., over a network medium, again selectively, such as when a particular hardware button on the appliance device is pressed.

Still further, there is facilitated the restoring of the server's operating system to factory condition from a working computer by imaging the operating system partition of the server's hard when attached such as represented in FIG. 5.

While the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative constructions, certain illustrated embodiments thereof are shown in the drawings and have been described above in detail. It should be understood, however, that there is no intention to limit the invention to the specific forms disclosed, but on the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents falling within the spirit and scope of the invention.

Referenced by
Citing PatentFiling datePublication dateApplicantTitle
US7822997 *Jul 31, 2007Oct 26, 2010Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.Making a storage device unusable until a request is provided to recover an operating system or system firmware
US7865710 *Apr 30, 2007Jan 4, 2011Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.Software recovery without the use of a keyboard, mouse, trackball or computer monitor
US8074062Aug 11, 2008Dec 6, 2011Dell Products, L.P.Method and system for using a server management program for an error configuration table
US8145936 *Nov 25, 2008Mar 27, 2012Mcafee, Inc.Automated computing appliance disaster recovery
US8548956Nov 20, 2008Oct 1, 2013Mcafee, Inc.Automated computing appliance cloning or migration
US8589731 *Jan 28, 2011Nov 19, 2013Bank Of America CorporationATM redundancy leveraging virtualization technology
US20090222812 *Dec 13, 2008Sep 3, 2009Secure Computing CorporationAutomated clustered computing appliance disaster recovery and synchronization
US20100042710 *Aug 12, 2009Feb 18, 2010Asustek Computer Inc.Remote management of computer system
US20110167249 *Jul 28, 2010Jul 7, 2011Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.Computer system and method capable of remotely restoring operating system
Classifications
U.S. Classification714/30, 714/E11.02, 709/203, 709/221, 714/E11.149, 714/27
International ClassificationG06F15/16, G06F15/177, G06F11/00
Cooperative ClassificationG06F11/2284
European ClassificationG06F11/22P
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Dec 6, 2007ASAssignment
Owner name: MICROSOFT CORPORATION, WASHINGTON
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:SARETTO, CESARE JOHN;GRAY, JAMES C;LYON, JAMES M;REEL/FRAME:020201/0977
Effective date: 20070104