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Sledgehammer Architecture

Sledgehammer is our system discovery/inventory/configuration in-memory OS image. It is based on the latest AlmaLinux 8.x release with any unneeded content stripped out, tools we usually use preinstalled, and repacked to be more space and network bandwidth efficient. is the part of the Git repo that contains the code needed to build Sledgehammer.

Sledgehammer Build

RackN provides pre-built Sledgehammer images that should function properly on the vast majority of x86_64 based servers. However, if you need to include support for custom network hardware, you can rebuild Sledgehammer to have it include the extra drivers and packages that are needed.

This process should mostly consist of injecting extra tasks as part of the Sledgehammer build process using the sledgehammer/custom-tasks Param to add extra tasks during the build stage. We include custom tasks for injecting Mellanox, Exablaze, and Solarflare network drivers.

Any custom tasks you add should take care to install only the extra bits you need and to remove any potential extra packages that were installed just for build purposes. You can use our pre-provided network driver install tasks as a template for how to do this.

Care should be taken to ensure that any extra drivers (including the ones we provide for reference) you install are compatible with UEFI Secure Boot if you want to be able to operate on systems with UEFI Secure Boot enabled.

Sledgehammer Design

Sledgehammer is delivered in several parts:

  • The signed UEFI bootloader components. These are required to allow sledgehammer to boot on UEFI systems with Secure Boot enabled.
  • vmlinuz0: This is the initial kernel that the system PXE boots to when booting to Sledgehammer. This file is usually around 5 - 6 megs in size.
  • stage1.img: This is the first-stage initramfs image. It is responsible for loading any required network drivers and then loading the second-stage initramfs over HTTP. This is a standard Linux initramfs, and is usually around 15 megs in size, mainly due to including drivers and firmware for large amounts of network hardware.
  • stage2.img: This is the second-stage initramfs. It contains the final running Sledgehammer image as a highly compressed squashfs image. This image is usually between 400 and 500 megs in size.

The two separate stages allows us to minimize the amount of data that gets loaded over TFTP and over the relatively inefficient network stack that the PXE layer in the BIOS and NIC firmware uses.

How Sledgehammer Boots

  1. The system PXE boots from a dr-provision server, either into the discovery bootenv, the sledgehammer bootenv, or some other boot environment that boots into Slegehammer. This causes the system to load vmlinuz0 and stage1.img and boot to vmlinuz0.
  2. stage1.img loads network drivers for all available network adaptors present in the system, finds the one that the system PXE booted from, uses DHCP to get the IP address to use, then fetches the second-stage image from the location specified by the provisioner.web kernel parameter.
  3. stage1.img then mounts the squashfs that stage2.img contains, mounts an in-memory overlayfs on top of that image to allow normal read-write operations, mounts a few other required filesystems, and then pivots over to systemd on the stage2 image to allow for a normal Centos 7 bootup.
  4. Once the network has been configured, The Sledgehammer service starts up. It verifies that the system has an IP address on the expected network interface, then fetches the machine-agnostic startup script from the dr-provision static file server, verifies that it is sane, and executes that script.
  5. The machine-agnostic startup script (which must be provided by the discovery bootenv and any other bootenv that boots unknown machines into Sledgehammer) examines the options that the kernel was booted with, sets the system hostname, fetches a copy of drpcli from the provisioner, and determines whether it needs to create a machine in dr-provision for this system. If it was not, a new machine is created, and has its initial Stage and BootEnv set to the default Stage and the default BootEnv. The machine-specific startup script is then downloaded, validated, and executed.
  6. The machine-specific startup script (which must be provided the sledgehammer bootenv and any bootenv that boots known machines to Sledgehammer) then starts the machine agent, which starts executing tasks on the machine.

How Sledgehammer Identifies a Machine

There are several methods dr-provision can use to identify what machine it is running on, and determine whether it needs to create a new Machine.

Using drpcli machines whoami

This method, which was introduced in v4.3, uses a combination of hopefully unique attributes pulled from the system to identify the system. It gathers the following information:

  1. The system UUID, as provided by the DMI information. If present and used, it will have a weight of 50 points.
  2. The system serial number, as provided by the DMI information. If present and used, it will have a weight of 25 points.
  3. The chassis serial number, as provided by the DMI information. If present and used, it will have a weight of 25 points
  4. The serial number of all the DIMMs installed in the system. If present and used, they will have a collective weight of 100 points.
  5. The MAC addresses of all the physical nics in the system. If present and used, they will have a collective weight of 100 points.

On the client side, this information is gathered, hashes generated for everything except the MAC addresses, and posted to dr-provision. On the server side, the fingerprint is compared to the saved fingerprints for all systems. The request is considered to match the system with the highest score that is greater than or equal to 100 points.

If drpcli detects it is running under a hypervisor, it will leave everything in the fingerprint blank except for the MAC addresses, as vms have even less of a guarantee of having unique DMI information than physical systems do.

If whoami does not identify the machine, or if it not available on the server side, sledgehammer will fall back to determining what the machine is based on the machine UUID sent on the kernel commandline.

Using the kernel command line

This is the default fallback method for when whoami is not available or (for now) when whoami fails to identify a machine. This method relies on all the boot environments rendering appropriate MAC address and/or IP address based paths for each machine.