INSTALLING CISCO DNA-C ON BARE METAL (DELL R720)

Updated: Jun 19

While not supported OR recommended, we CAN install Cisco DNA Center on used server hardware for home-lab and educational purposes.


Caveat #1 - Do not run a production DNA Center this way, there is no guarantee that it will even work.


Caveat #2 - This article is based entirely on my own personal experience with lab hardware I purchased on my own, it is for informational and educational purposes only.


Caveat #3 - I can NOT and will NOT provide you with the ISO file mentioned and used within this guide. Please DO NOT ask me for one.


The image used in this guide is intended to be used for [re]imaging DNA-C Appliances, and installation on anything other than an official supported DNA-C Appliance is not supported. Does that stop those trying to learn from experimenting in the lab? OF COURSE NOT!


Installing DNA Center in the home lab requires some beefy hardware, but it can be done! In this article I will walk though my experience and what I had to do to get things working.

Login Screen for Cisco's DNA Center Appliance.
Cisco DNA-C 2.2.3.5's Login Screen

Getting experience with the Cisco DNA-C Appliance can be difficult for those trying to learn and experiment. After-all, DNA Center subject matter is a big part of the latest version of the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) exam, and it appears on other certification exams as well.


For those trying to gain experience and learn from home, the biggest problem we face is that DNA Center is very difficult to get running at home for the following reasons:

  • The .ISO File is not publicly available (Nope, I cannot, and will not help obtain the image, please don't ask).

  • The hardware requirements are pretty serious, I'm talking 256 GB of RAM, Minimum.

  • Cisco only supports deploying the DNA Center on specific Cisco DNA-C Appliances.

  • Very difficult (but maybe not impossible) to lab within software such as EVE-NG.

In this guide I will cover what I had to do to get this working in the home lab, so that maybe it can help you.


And we are doing this on BARE METAL! Forget that Stinkin' VMWARE ESX-I Layer.


If you know me, you know I'm a big fan of BARE METAL!


You can checkout my EVE-NG installation guide for BARE METAL servers as well after you finish reading this article.


Ground Zero - Prerequisites and Server Hardware


First, let's take a look at the hardware that Cisco does support, so that we can try to mimic a real world appliance.


Cisco Supported DNA-C Appliance SKUs and Specifications:

  • DN2-HW-APL

  • DN2-HW-APL-L

  • DN2-HW-APL-XL

These appliances are built on Cisco UCS Chassis.

Images of Cisco UCS Chassis
Courtesy of Cisco's DNA-C Data Sheet
Part Numbers
Courtesy of Cisco's DNA-C Data Sheet

These UCS Chassis have a LOT of power. Below we can see the technical details borrowed from the Cisco DNA-C Documentation.

Table 1. 44 Core DNA Center Specs
Courtesy of Cisco's DNA-C Data Sheet
Table 2. 56 Core DNA Center Specs
Courtesy of Cisco's DNA-C Data Sheet
Table 3. 112 Core DNA Center Specs
Courtesy of Cisco's DNA-C Data Sheet

This information should be enough to give you an idea of what it takes to actually run this software.


Never Fear! Similarly spec'd out hardware can also get the job done.


In my case, I purchased a Dell R720 Server Chassis and tried to get it as close to the DN2-HW-APL 44 core appliance.


Dell PowerEdge R720 Server

  • 2x Intel Xenon 2680 V2 @ 2.8Ghz 2800 MHz with 10 Cores giving a total of 20 Cores (40 vCPU)

  • 256 GB total of DDR3 Multi-bit ECC RAM (16x 16 GB DIMM, 1600 MHz)

  • 3x 1 TB SSD Drives (Three drives each setup individually. RAID-0)

  • 4x RJ-45 Network Ports (BRCM GbE 4P 5720-t rNDC)

  • iDRAC Enterprise 7

  • Dual Power Supplies

The Cost? $1,290.00.


If that sounds like a lot, check out how much you will pay for a DN2-HW-APL...

Dell R720 in rack
If it ain't dusty, it ain't workin'

Crawl - Setting up the server basics


There isn't really a lot to say here, but I wanted to at least mention some of the base server configuration, and my method of installation.


Dell's iDRAC 7 - Integrated Remote Access Controller


Every server needs out of band management, and iDRAC does a really good job at giving you full manageability to the server. On the real DNA-C Appliance you will have something similar -- Cisco's CIMC.

Dell iDRAC 7 Homepage/
Dells' iDRAC 7 Enterprise Home Page

Setting up the server storage


Although there likely is a better way to do this, I simply setup three virtual disks that map to each individual SSD in the server, and gave them the full amount of storage capacity available. Each virtual disk is setup in RAID-0 for simplicity. Aside from creating the drives, I also initialized them (fast).


Here's what the Physical Drives look like:

 Physical Disks
Physical Disks

Here's what the Virtual Drives look like:

 Virtual Disks
Virtual Disks

As far as I can tell, the DNA-C Appliance detected them all just fine.


output of lsblk
output of lsblk

Network Connections


Pretty Basic here, just two NICs in use -- ENO1 and ENO2 (and the iDRAC of course).


I was hoping these NICs would be detected in the order I wanted to use them, and they were!


ENO1 -- Enterprise

ENO2 -- Cluster

ENO3 -- Management

ENO4 -- Cloud (Internet)


I did not configure ENO3 & ENO 4, and I didn't configure a cluster, but it is required to set that port up regardless.



Dell R720 Network Connections
Dell R720 Network Connections

Virtual Console & Virtual Media


Once you have the iDRAC connected, it's pretty easy to go in and access the virtual console.


Once enabled, you can do all the things using the Virtual Console. NOTE: The console can be either Java Based or HTML5, I suggest changing your console to use HTML5 so you can avoid all the hassle of installing Java.

Virtual Console Settings
Accessing the Virtual Console Settings
Launching the Virtual Console
Launching the Virtual Console
Accessing the Virtual Console
Accessing the Virtual Console

That's really it to get started! In the next section I will show how the installation went.


WALK - Imaging the DNA Center Appliance (Dell R720 Server)


Cisco has for DNA Center some excellent documentation. To [re]image the appliance, you can follow their guidance.


Procedure

  1. Download the Cisco DNA Center ISO image and verify that it is a genuine Cisco image.

  2. Create a bootable USB drive that contains the Cisco DNA Center ISO image.

  3. Reinitialize the virtual drives that are managed by your appliance’s RAID controller.

  4. [Re]install Cisco DNA Center onto your appliance.

Although I did follow these steps, I am working with different hardware. So I will show you exactly how I went about completing each of the above tasks.


  1. I was able to download a re-image ISO from www.software.cisco.com and NO I can't share it with you, so don't even ask.

  2. Although I did use Etcher to prepare a USB disk, when I went to boot from it I didn't have much luck. For my install, I just mounted the .ISO file directly as Virtual Media from the Virtual Console. (Launch the Virtual Console, click "Connect Virtual Media" and where it says "map virtual CD/DVD" choose your DNA-C ISO file. Granted this file is about 30 GBs in size, I had zero issues with this installation method.

  3. Once created, the virtual disks were easy to initialize using the R720's RAID controller. To do this task, navigate to Storage > Virtual Disks > Manage > Virtual Disk Actions > Initialize (FAST). Do this for all three disks.

  4. To install from the virtual media, simply reboot the server, hit F11 and select to boot from the Virtual CD/DVD Drive. Once booted, you should see the following screen.

Maglev Installer on Dell R720
Choose "Start a Cisco DNA Center Cluster"

The following series of images shows how I progressed through the installer: