Dell PowerEdge C6100: Upgrading to All-Flash Home Lab – Part 2

June 4, 2016 - - 2 Comments

In the previous article, we walked through what kind of reasons made me to acquire an old Dell PowerEdge C6100 with 3 nodes as my “new” home lab. In this article, you will see the upgrades I did to get a All-Flash Home Lab. These upgrades allow us to run solutions like VMware VSAN, or Nutanix Community Edition.

1st Upgrade – USB as ESXi drive

When I bought the C6100 I added to my configuration 3 x 300 GB SAS 3.5″ – 10K RPM drives because at the beginning I didn’t think around build an All-Flash VSAN. If you are thinking to buy a C6100 home lab and make it all-flash, I recommend you to do NOT buy the SAS drives. You can use these money for the USB memories.

Like you know, ESXi can be installed in a SD/USB memory. The minimum space required to install ESXi is really low, so you can just buy a 8 GB memory per node. I bought 3 x SanDisk SDCZ33-008G-B35 8GB for £4.14 each one.

SanDisk

SanDisk SDCZ33-008G-B35 8GB for ESXi installation

I followed the recommendation of Vladan Seget (@vladan) in his article about to use VMware Workstation as tool to install ESXi in the USB drives. It worked like a charm.

2st Upgrade – NVMe + Adapter

Samsung SM951 NVMe 128GB M.2 (Cache for All-Flash Home Lab)

Following the recommendations that William Lam (@lamw) got from his readers and posted in his blog virtuallyGhetto, I bought just 2 x Samsung SM951 NVMe 128GB M.2 for “Caching” Tier. I bought just one at the beginning to see if it worked on a C6100. After check the performance and reliability, I decided to acquire a second one to build a VMware VSAN ROBO deployment (2 x VSAN nodes + 1 x Witness appliance running on Workstation). To install the VSAN Witness Appliance I followed this article by William Lam too, “How to deploy and run the VSAN 6.1 Witness Virtual Appliance on VMware Fusion & Workstation?

You have available two model of Samsung SM951 NVMe 128GB: MZVPV128HDGM (I got this) and MZHPV128HDGM. The first one is a bit cheaper, but the main difference between both is you can’t boot an OS with the first one. If you’re looking to boot from NVMe, you must buy the MZHPV128HDGM model with AHCI support.

NVMe

SM951 NVMe 128GB (MZVPV128HDGM) for “Caching” Tier

Lycom DT-129 Host Adapter for PCIe-NVMe M.2

The Dell PowerEdge C6100 doesn’t include a M.2 socket, so you need a PCI adapter to install the NVMe. The C6100 has only one PCIe 2.0 slot and one Mezzanine slot as well. It means you have limited options to install additional components in your nodes. Anyway, with these two slots you will have enough for install a NVMe drive (PCIe slot) + 10 GbE or LSI® 2008 6Gb SAS (Mezzanine slot). Currently I’m just using the PCIe 2.0 slot for the NVMe, so in the future I can expand with a 10 GbE mezzanine card. The PCI adapter I bought is the 2 x Lycom DT-129, it supports PCIe 3.0 as well as 2.0.

DT-129-4

Lycom DT-129 Host Adapter for PCIe-NVMe M.2

Note: you won’t get the max. performance of your NVMe drive since we’re using PCIe 2.0, but it will be enough to do functional tests.

3rd Upgrade – SSD + 2.5″ to 3.5″ Converter

Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB 2.5″ SSD (Capacity All-Flash Home Lab)

To build an all-flash VSAN platform, I needed to replace the 300 GB – SAS 3.5″ drives for SSD drives as “capacity” tier. I bought 2 x Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB. The drive is connected to the SATA ports available on the motherboard (ICH10) with a “Queue Length” equal to 31.

SSD

Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB 2.5″ SSD for “Capacity” Tier

Tip: If you’re looking to build an all-flash home lab, don’t make the same “mistake” than me, you don’t need to add any drive during the configuration of your Dell PowerEdge C6100 bundle, just add the caddies (at least 3). I added the SAS drives because I didn’t know if the SSD and USB drives would work fine. Now you know that, use this money to buy other components like the USB memories for ESXi installation.

ICY Dock EZConvert 2.5″ to 3.5″

The Dell PowerEdge C6100 is available in two  models, 12-bay of 3.5″ or 24-bay of 2.5″. The model I bought is the 12-bay of 3.5″, so I needed a converter from 2.5″ to 3.5″ for the SSD drives. I did a lot of research to see which converters worked properly since the disks are mounted in a caddy and inserted in a bay. If the SSD doesn’t fit as a 3.5″, you will face lot of connectivity issues with them.

I bought two different converters to see which one was better. The “official” Dell converter (1 x Dell 9W8C4 Y004G) and the 2 x ICY Dock EZConvert Lite MB882SP-1S-3B. To be honest, even using the cheaper model of ICY Dock, it’s much better than the “official” Dell converter. The Dell converter is cheaper, but is really weak keeping the SSD drive on the air, and the holes don’t match properly. I highly recommend the ICY Dock EZConvert Lite MB882SP-1S-3B for any 3.5″ bay regardless of your server vendor.

ICY Dock

ICY Dock EZConvert Lite MB882SP-1S-3B (RECOMMENDED)

 

9W8C4-Y004G-adapter

Dell 9W8C4 Y004G (NOT recommended)

Conclusion

With these upgrades, you can have a really powerful home lab with a reduced investment. The VSAN ROBO installation with 2-nodes + Witness in Workstation works like a charm, even using the embedded dual-port NIC.

I can still do more upgrades and support more workloads just with another small investment. The future upgrades I’m looking for are:

  • Buy the components above for the third node and move from VSAN ROBO with 2-nodes + Witness in Workstation, to an all-flash VSAN platform with 3-nodes.
  • If I need more resources like CPU & RAM, I can still add a second CPU in each node, and 48 GB of RAM more per node to get a total of 6 x Intel L5630 + 288 GB RAM (around £350 this upgrade). In case of storage, I can still add two drives more per node.
  • When the price of 10 GbE switches drops, I can add the 10 GbE Mezzanines and increase the network performance and avoid any bottleneck with VSAN or any other SDS solution.
  • Finally, if I still need add more resources a forth node is not so expensive. For £250-300 you have a node with 2 x Intel L5630 / 96 GB RAM / 128 GB NVMe / 500 GB SSD

Below you can see the Bill of Materials (BoM) of the upgrade. Also, you have available how much will be the next upgrade to enable the third node as part of the VSAN cluster.

BoM Dell PE C6100 Upgrade

Component Qty. Price Total
SanDisk SDCZ33-008G-B35 8GB 3 £4.14 £12.42
SM951 NVMe 128GB (MZVPV128HDGM) 2 £59.99 £119.98
Lycom DT-129 Host Adapter for PCIe-NVMe M.2 2 £21.99 £43.98
Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB 2.5″ SSD 2 £112.00 £224.00
ICY Dock EZConvert Lite MB882SP-1S-3B 2 £11.05 £22.10
Grand Total £422.48
Future Upgrade Investment for 3rd node
SM951 NVMe 128GB (MZVPV128HDGM) 1 £59.99 £59.99
Lycom DT-129 Host Adapter for PCIe-NVMe M.2 1 £21.99 £21.99
Samsung 850 EVO 500 GB 2.5″ SSD 1 £112.00 £112.00
Grand Total (Upgrade 1-node) £193.98

Currently (04/06/2016) the invested money for this home lab is £1007.44

For Sale!!!

The C6100 came with MR-SAS-8704EM2 SAS/SATA controller on the PCIe slot. This controller is supported by VMware vSphere 6.0 U2, but NOT for VSAN. Anyway, vSphere sees the controller as an Avago (LSI) MegaRAID SAS 1078 Controller with a “Queue Depth” of 975. This SAS controller has a bandwidth of 3 Gb/s and 1-port. If you’re interested to buy one of those controllers, I’m selling mine (3) for £25 each one (£350 new). You can reach me with a comment or through Twitter.

SAS

Avago (LSI) MegaRAID SAS 8704EM2 with QL = 975 for VSAN

Nutanix Xpress, the new HCI product line for SMB

May 25, 2016 - - 0 Comment

Yesterday Nutanix announced a new product line for SMB called Nutanix Xpress. The leader vendor of hyper-converged infrastructure took the smart decision of join a huge market like is SMB.

How does Nutanix define SMB?

The meaning of SMB/SME from size/revenue point of view are completely opposite between US and rest of the globe. As EU citizen and having had the chance to see how is the market across Europe, I believe the Nutanix’s approach to cover the spectrum of SMB across the globe is the right one.

How Does Nutanix Define SMB?

Source: Nutanix

What Is Nutanix Xpress?

Nutanix Xpress is a new product line with dedicated teams. It’s NOT a platform of the current Enterprise product line, so it means the product will follow a different release program and also a business unit focused on it.

The solution has the following “limitations”, it means if you require bigger scalability and enterprise features, your choice must be the Enterprise product line (NX Series):

  • Minimum 3 nodes per cluster.
  • Up to 4 nodes per cluster.
  • Up to 2 clusters.

It means you can have up to 8 nodes. If you expect on the future to add more nodes, currently doesn’t exist any kind of upgrade to NX. Nutanix is working to provide this option on future product releases.

New Product Line!

Source: Nutanix

Software – What’s different?

Like you can expect, to achieve a reduction on cost the vendor needs to cut down from somewhere. The easy way is reduce hardware resources, but it’s not enough to be cost-attractive. Many vendors achieve to be competitive because they release different editions of their software with different features on each one. The picture below shows SMB vs. Enterprise product lines:

Software - What's different?

Source: Nutanix

Platform SX-1065 Specifications

The appliance can be configured with the required resources using the same partner tool for Enterprise product line, and it will shipped from factory straight to customer. Nutanix provides an example bundles:

Platform: 1065, Configure to Order

Source: Nutanix

Pricing

The starting price is at $25,000 for the low spec. bundle. The price includes the Software (Xpress Edition), 3-nodes (SX-1065), and Support 3-years (Xpress Support)

Pricing - Suggested Customer Price

Source: Nutanix

Xpress Support

The team providing the support for Nutanix Xpress product line will be the same than for Enterprise. The SMBs will enjoy the same support, it means same quality, same engineers, lot of expertise behind that. The table below shows the differences between supports:

Xpress Support - SMBs get access to world class Nutanix support

Source: Nutanix

Xpress Timeline

The first quotes could be done from June 1st, but it won’t be until early july when Nutanix starts to dispatch the orders. In the meanwhile you can start to take a look the Xpress website to see if it’s the SMB solution you was waiting for.

timeline

Source: Nutanix

Don’t miss the launch event by June 28th. It will be a LIVE Virtual and you can register now!

nutanixevent

Source: Nutanix

Conclusion

I’m excited to see how Nutanix has heard partners and customers to create a new solution for SMBs. I believe the cost vs. features is now more competitive than ever, and many customers will have the chance to take the advantage of this hyper-converged technology.

The challenges I see for partners is how to educate customers to understand which features are really important for them. We can see across many customers how they acquired some solution and using just a low percent of its features.

It’s time to see how moves other vendors like EMC/VMware, and also other players like SimpliVity.

 

Dell PowerEdge C6100: A Cost-Effective Home Lab – Part 1

May 24, 2016 - - 0 Comment

For a long time I was looking to build a new cost-effective home lab. Since I acquired my Lenovo Thinkpad W530 with 32GB RAM and 2 x SSD drives in 2013, it was okay for 2 years until the virtual appliances started to consume more and more resources (vRealize Automation 7 virtual appliance 4 x vCPU and 18GB RAM).

1st approach

My first thoughts were to buy a new tower server with dual processor motherboard (just one 10-cores CPU at the beginning) with at least 128GB RAM, 1 x 256 NVMe and 1 x 1TB SSD, and run everything nested. These thoughts had a starting cost of at least $2,000 and I wasn’t sure how good would be the performance. I looked vendors like Supermicro, Dell or HP but like I said the initial cost was high.

2nd approach

During an annual team meeting a co-worker told me someone in our team bought an used server really cheap, and he was happy with its performance. I talked with this colleague (@rynardtspies) and he provided me an eBay shop where they sell used components (servers, memories, hard drives, etc.)

When I visited their website for first time, they were advertising the Dell PowerEdge C6100 on different bundles. When I saw the picture, the first flash that came into my mind was, HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure). I thought it was the hardware model from Dell for Nutanix, but I was wrong. The Dell C-Series is for HPC (High-Performance Computing) and after a bit more researching, seemed like this kind of servers were decommissioned at a famous cloud provider after finish their leasing.

Click to enlarge the picture of C6100

Rear – Dell PowerEdge C6100

Click to enlarge the picture of C6100

Front – Dell PowerEdge C6100

Conclusion

After research around few websites of sellers and also the largest C6100 community, I decided to buy a block with 3-nodes like you could see above. The price was £585 (taxes incl.) and to be honest, I think for the kind of hardware you are getting, it’s really worthy. You can find the BoM (Bill of Materials) at the end of the post.

This blog post was just an introduction about the home lab I bought a month ago. In future publications I will show the additional components I bought to increase the specifications and get the minimum requirements and performance to run Software-Defined Storage solutions like VMware VSAN, EMC ScaleIO, or Nutanix Community Edition.

BoM Dell PE C6100

Welcome to my New Project

May 23, 2016 - - 4 Comments

A very long time ago I bought the domain “joseluisgomez.com” with the idea of a new Project and get more visibility around the IT community and the readers could link the blog with my name. Since I acquired this around mid of June 2013, I’ve not had the chance to spend much time writing blog posts, just prepare the structure and look and feel of this. Another reason is I wanted to start writing in English to make the blog available to everyone and not just for Spanish speakers. Now that I feel more confident with English after spend the last two years living in UK, I believe it’s the time to start  and even more now that I bought a home lab a month ago (Dell PowerEdge C6100) and want to write lot of stuff around that.

The blog is going to be focused on Automation and Software-Defined solutions, since those are the buzzwords we can hear every day in the community and meetings with customers. Also, I expect to publish product reviews but always trying to be impartial.

Like many of you already know, I have a Spanish IT blog called “blog.e2h.net“. In the future I expect to merge its content within this blog and just keep one. Don’t worry, this blog will have the blog posts in both languages, so I’ll keep my Spanish speaker followers engaged like before. I cannot assure you I’ll write every week, but I’ll try my best.

Thanks so much to those friends whom pushed me to write in English. Also, apologies in advance for my grammar mistakes and mix UK and US English. I hope this new approach helps me to improve grammatically as well.