Lab test: Dell's greener M-Series
Dell's updated M-Series blade server gives more horsepower for less juiceFollow @infoworld
It should be pointed out here that if you wish to use the remote GUI console capabilities of the system, you will need to run an ActiveX-capable browser, which means Windows under IE for most people. As of the time of this writing, there was no word on if/when Avocent (Dell's choice of OEM for the iKVM capability) will support non-ActiveX browsers for full KVM over IP capability. This is an odd oversight since Avocent bought Cyclades, which did have a full Java iKVM solution that worked great on my old Sony Picture Book running Debian Sarge.
It should also be noted that the addresses assigned to the iDRAC interface will follow the blades regardless of which slot they’re in, so be careful if you shuffle blades around. We did the shuffle to even out the heat load and had to refer to notes to figure out which blade was which. As for the blade NICs, Dell engineering tells me that you can assign up to six NICs per blade through the CMC, and those can appear on either the pass-through ports or on the managed switch. Here’s how they broke it out for me:
The nics go in pairs. Think of them as two integrated NICs (Fabric A) and two dual port PCI cards (Fabrics B & C).
In this case, the PCI cards are really mezzanine cards.
Each pair of NICs is associated with a fabric, so 3 pairs = Fabrics A, B & C.
Remember that these choices are on a chassis level.
Fabric A is always integrated NICs, port 1 to switch 1 and port 2 to switch 2. This is for every blade and it gives you redundant connectivity.
Fabric B & C is similar in design, but is Mezzanine card and is labeled B & C which aligns them with the switch modules.
There is no interdependency between the 3 fabrics. The choice for on fabric does not restrict or limit or depend on the choice for any other fabric.
The only mandate is that Fabric A (the integrated NICs) is Ethernet only.
(This is the info on NIC assignment from Dell and currently the NICs are Broadcom flavor only)
Note: Thank you to the Dell engineering support team for the above explanation on NIC assignments.
So on to the OS install and some of the gotchas I discovered: First, do not lose your accessory pack. Installing Windows onto these blades without the Open Manage DVD can be done, but it’s not worth the pain when Dell’s installation tools do a great job. I happened to find a catch-22 situation where Windows Server 2003 x86 (original version) had an issue with the LSI RAID controllers that got fixed in Service Pack 1. However, the bug is where the 134GB RAID-0 array (two SAS drives) appears only as a 5GB partition to Windows (but Windows disk manager can see all 134GB), and there just isn’t enough disk space to install the service pack. This catch-22 can be solved by getting Windows Server 2003 R2 with SP2, which has those critical patches slipstreamed into the distro.
You also want to use the Open Manage OS Installer since it inserts the widgets that report OS status information back to the CMC. Virtual media over the remote management IP connection is old to Dell but new to some other blades on the market. The functionality is also available on the Avocent IP KVMs, in that the same IP connection for iDRAC, IP KVM, and console all coexist without adding more Ethernet connections or IP addresses. You can share ISO CD/DVD images over the remote console link so that you don’t need a USB CD/DVD drive hanging off the front of your server. If you need a virtual floppy (for Windows unsupported disk drivers and pressing F6 during the install), that option is also available.