Redfish aims to reel in data centre tin shifters hook, line and sinker
One API to rule them all ... or at least let them all talk to each other
The Redfish API has hit version 1.0, signalling a new era of co-operation among vendors regarding the increasingly hot topic of data centre management. Redfish is the result of efforts by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) to bring all physical equipment within a data centre together with one API to manage them.
Data centres are more than just servers. Everything in today's data centre has sensors, or can be remotely restarted, or perhaps offers more complex functionality, such as the remote keyboard, video and mouse access that baseband management systems often provide.
Data centres contain power equipment, HVAC, security systems and environmental sensors in addition to the more traditional servers, blade chassis, rack enclosures and network equipment. As all of these devices become "connected", the spread of proprietary interfaces and protocols has proved to be a bit of a problem.
As is usually the case in tech, when the proprietary proliferates the calls for a standard grow louder. Redfish is looking to be that standard.
Server vendors backing the standard include Supermicro, Dell, HP, Intel, Huawei and Lenovo. Also on the supporter list are Broadcom, Emerson Network Power, Microsoft, VMware, AMI, Fujitsu, Mellanox, Oracle, Qualcomm and Seagate.
Notably absent is Cisco, as it is the sole tier-1 tin shifter not on the list.
This mix of vendors is important because each one of these companies utilises either IPMI (with proprietary extensions) for baseband management, the competing AMT standard, or a mix of both, depending on the server line. The baseband management control system used by each company has become a form of lock-in.
Management applications rarely talk to all offerings and the features available have become marketing tools to drive sales and differentiate one company's tin from the next.
Support for Redfish is an indication by these companies that capturing a slice of the hyperscale market – which is notoriously heterogenous – is more important than trying to edge out competitors in the midmarket.
How Redfish works
Redfish sits on top of other previous standard's efforts, such as the aforementioned IPMI. Redfish is a RESTful API that uses JSON and Open Data Protocol (OData) to transfer data. This allows today's developers a familiar and comfortable suite of protocols, as it seems to be the same as what everyone else is using for every other API on the planet.
The API itself is designed to be extensible. Features not explicitly supported by the Redfish API can still be made discoverable and addressable. This is important mostly because standards organisations move slowly and vendors are constantly pushing the boundaries, trying to add new features.
IPMI is a great example of where the standards never quite caught up. The standards track is too slow and BMCs ended up wildly incompatible. What's more, the message-passing based protocols were clumsy, not well adopted and unable to adapt the number of features, or how those features were nested within the controllers.
Though reaching version 1.0 is important, there's still a lot of work to do. The Redfish specification is very bare bones and will need a lot more work before it can accommodate the full suite of data centre equipment that exists today, let alone what's being planned.
Unfortunately, no mock-ups are available for any type of data centre entity other than a single server, despite this being the major selling point of the Redfish API.
Supermicro has supplied The Register with a Redfish-enabled BMC and our lab vultures are already busy testing. ®