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

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

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.


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:

Choose the IP addressing mode to be used for the services and applications.
Choose IPv4

Choose if interfaces are needed on vlan over bond else skip this page
Skip

Enterprise Network Port - ENO1
Setup Network Adapter #1 (Enterprise - ENO1)

Setup Network Adapter #2 (Cluster - ENO2)
Setup Network Adapter #2 (Cluster - ENO2)

Network Adapter #3, ENO3 - Not Used
Network Adapter #3, ENO3 - Not Used

Network Adapter #4 - Not Used
Network Adapter #4, ENO4 - Not Used

Warning Message, starting install
Choose 'Proceed'

Validating Networking - Must Succeed!
Validating Networking - Must Succeed!

Configure Virtual IP Addresses
Configure Virtual IP Addresses

Configure Linux and GUI Login Credentials
Configure Linux and GUI Login Credentials

Specify NTP Servers
Specify NTP Servers

Validating NTP - Must Succeed
Validating NTP - Must Succeed

Configure Services Subnets (Leave Defaults)
Configure Services Subnets (Leave Defaults)

Choose 'Proceed' to begin the installation
Choose 'Proceed' to begin the installation

NTP Sync
NTP Sync

Installation Progress Bar
Installation Progress Bar

Once you come to this screen, you can go do something else for several hours. The install on a genuine DNA-C Appliance would take a 2-4 hours, however expect much longer install times on the Dell R720.


In my experience, this took well over 4 hours to complete. Once it completed, the server rebooted and then came up to complete "Post Reboot" actions which took another couple of hours (I let this run overnight).


When I came back to it, I was able to login to the DNA-C Appliance using the IP address I configured for the Enterprise Port - 192.168.18.222.


Note: At that time, the GUI was not accessible at the Virtual IP of 192.168.18.223.


First Time Login
DNA-C Login Splash

I was able to successfully login using the credentials I established during the Maglev install.


RUN - FIRST LOGIN AND SOFTWARE UPGRADES


The first thing I noticed when I logged in was the DNA-C tried to pull up the first time setup wizard, but nothing actually loaded.

First Time Login
First Time Login - Warning Error

Notice the error at the top of the screen:

Automation and Assurance services have been temporarily disrupted. The system is working to restore this functionality. More Info
Automation and Assurance services have been temporarily disrupted. The system is working to restore this functionality. More Info

Clicking More Info did give me an idea of what was happening, and allowed me to get into the DNA-C Gui.


Clicking 'more info' revealed unhealthy services.
Clicking 'more info' revealed unhealthy services.

Clicking on 'metrics' for any service will bring you into the DNA-C GUI, from which you can navigate to the "Software Upgrades" section.


Clicking on the little cloud icon in the top right corner showed that software updates were occurring.



Best to leave it alone and come back later :-)


Closing Out - Afterward


Well this goes to show that you can install DNA-C Directly on server metal, even if it is unsupported! Its important to note that just because you can get to the GUI and log into DNA-C, that doesn't nessicarily mean all the services and applications will be installed, updated and up.


DNA-C is quite complex. Checking software updates to ensure everything is up to date important!


Since this appliance is still going through updates and is clearly doing some work, it's best to leave it alone.


Thank you so much for reading this article! This was for demonstration and educational purposes only!


I will conduct additional testing once I can confirm everything is updated and all services are online!


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Thanks a lot for sharing this content. It really helps for person as me that want to build something for lab purpose. I have some doubts about building my own lab... and I don`t know if you could help me with it.... or someone from a community that you recommend me to visit. Does server need 256 GbRam to install DNAC from beginning ?? Does server need 256 GbRam to run DNAC for lab purpose ??, I mean if I have less Ram it wont work. Do you recommend installing SSD SATA 6GBPS or SSD SAS 12GBPS ?? Do you know if cisco has releases any DNAC Lite Version to install and practice ?? Regards,

Curtir
Tor's Tech Talk
Tor's Tech Talk
02 de fev.
Respondendo a

Hello! Sorry for the delay getting back to you. Here are some thoughts - Does server need 256 GbRam to install DNAC from beginning ?? Does server need 256 GbRam to run DNAC for lab - Yes, probably more even if you plan to use the server for anything else beyond DNA-C. It's very CPU and Memory intensive. Do you recommend installing SSD SATA 6GBPS or SSD SAS 12GBPS ??

Faster is better, to be honest I don't have a specific recommendation here. Do you know if cisco has releases any DNAC Lite Version to install and practice ?? Nope, unfortunately not. I know people who have had success installing from ISO on VMWARE ESXI, so that's another option where you…

Curtir

hi, i get the same issue intalling on ESXi 6.5, but never the services start. Always remain DOWN

Curtir
Tor's Tech Talk
Tor's Tech Talk
02 de fev.
Respondendo a

Yes I was unable to overcome this myself in my build as well, but I know others who have. You may have success installing on ESXI or using the Cisco OVA

Curtir
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