Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New Microserver!!!

Alright, we've got our hands on a brand new HP Microserver N54L to create a new NAS for the home. This will also double as a backup of my data, which is currently pushing into 4.5TB across various internal and external USB hard drives.  While the G8 micro server is just about to be announced, the leaked specs make me feel comfortable having just picked up a G7 micro server for less than $300 on sale from Amazon (not the lowest price according to, but still pretty good).

Reasons for being happy with the G7 include
- I don't love the new look of the G8
- The G8 will certainly be more expensive than the G7
- The G8 does away with the 5.25" slot, meaning it may be more difficult to add extra drives
- The G8 forces you into having a slot-load DVD (useless IMO)
- The G8 likely does away with a PCIe slot (less expansion options)
- More USB ports on the back, less on the front

What you'll get with a G8 microserver
- a faster CPU (not necessary for me as a NAS device, but useful for VM)
- built-in iLO4 (not really necessary for me, and can add with a R.A.C. on the G7)
- official support for 16GB RAM (the G7 can handle this already)
- two built-in USB3 ports (can add to a G7 with a card if you need it)

The first thing I did was upgrade the BIOS with the BIOS-mod (google it) to enable AHCI on all the SATA ports, and to enable some extra features normally hidden in the BIOS. (I love modding things to get more performance/value out them!!!)

The next thing I did was slap in 16GB of ECC RAM (Kingston KVR1333D3E9SK2/16G) for VM goodness (~$125)

Then I clipped the molex connector running to the 5.25" bay slot so I could extend it with some spare wire so it would reach the right hand side of the drive bay, and pushed in a Thermaltake 6-in-1 (not cheap @ ~$95) unit so I can cram six 9.5mm / 2.5" 1TB drives into a single 5.25" slot.

I also picked up a RocketRaid 2720SGL card for $90, and two Startech SAS-to-SATA (SAS8087S450) breakout cables so I can run an extra 8 SATA drives off the RR card.

All of this has been done before, I just followed in the footsteps of others.

I have added four 2TB HGST 7200RPM 64MB cache SATA III OEM hard ($116 ea) drives that are "Enterprise" rated (SATA, not SAS) @ 2M hours MTBF.  I also obtained six new HGST Travelstar 1TB 7200RPM 32MB cache SATA II drives that I am toying with adding up top (and still there is room for two more).
Total storage is more than I need at the moment (I need ~4.5TB, and this is 8TB + 6TB = 14TB), but with redundancy (RAID-Z ZFS file system and/or SnapRaid), it's probably more like 6TB + 4TB = 10TB.  I believe having double your requirements is a good measure for expandability in the future, but I notice I save fewer and fewer movies after I watch them, and my pictures/home movies are only growing so fast...

Still, the 6 travelstar drives were $80 each, and I'm toying with sending them back as its almost $500 that I'm putting into storage that I don't need today, and that will be likely cheaper and/or faster tomorrow.  I've learned not to invest in technology you aren't immediately using - its outdated too quickly if you aren't getting your money's worth out of it RIGHT NOW.

Cost so far:

HP Microserver - $300
16GB RAM - $125
RR2720SGL - $90
2 X SFF-8087 cables - $50
4 X 2TB HD - $460
6 x 1TB HD - $475
Thermaltake dock - $97

Total           $1,600

The hardware was cheap (excluding the hard drives), and I'm quite happy with that. It's more flexible than a synology or qnap device, and probably better value too. Then throw on four 2TB hard drives (I couldn't afford 3TB right now) and you're up into serious (for me) money for a home server. Bye-bye iPad budget, we just bought a home server instead. My budget was ~$1000, so you see why I'm thinking of turning back those 1TB boys if I don't think they'll be filled up anytime soon.

I contemplated what I would want running as an OS for my NAS. I initially thought I would go for FreeNAS. Although it is a very nice package solution, I really wanted ZFS and I thought Solaris did ZFS better than FreeBSD. So my options were Solaris 10, OpenSolaris, OpenIndiana, Nexenta, and OmniOS. After weighing all these options, each one was crossed off (for various reasons) until I decided on OmniOS.

Solaris 10 - no longer developed
OpenSolaris - no longer developed
OI - as of a few months ago when lead developer stepped down, no longer developed.
Nextena - slow web GUI, 18TB ceiling before you must pay.
OmniOS - WIN!

OmniOS has no built-in web management tools, but you can use a project called Napp-it to arrive at a 95% commercial solution for free. So, the first thing I did was install OmniOS + Napp-it via Gea's Napp-it-to-go USB solution. I have two Patriot XT Xporter drives (a 16GB and a 32GB) that I was using (mirrored) for this. But the lack of TLS support for gmail emailing over port 587 meant that I couldn't receive email alerts for problems with the NAS. That is a real bummer, although not a total show stopper.

The next thing I did today was work out how to install ESXi onto the micro server. I downloaded HP's flavor of the newest ESXi 5.1, as suggested here, which will give a little bit more info in ESXi for my hardware.  I used unetbootin to extract the ISO onto an older OCZ Rally 2GB flash drive (formatted as MS-DOS in Disk-Utility on my Mac) as the instructions indicate. Actually, these are better instructions.

Then (because the microserver does not support UEFI) I had to do a little work around....Thanks Raul!

I wanted to consolidate data across multiple NAS, including DNS-323, WD MyBook Live, so bought a HP Microserver N40L.

Planning to run NAS4Free on ESXi, so downloaded HP customized ESXi 5.1.0 (VMware-ESXi-5.1.0-799733-HP-5.32.5 (1).iso) from VMWare.

One thing at a time. For a start, followed the steps in here to get the ISO on the USB.

Plug it into the USB, boot it up, and realize it enters interactive mode.

But, I have thrown all my USB keyboards away when I moved last year, so needed a way to install without a keyboard.

So, I needed a way to run ESXi installation in scripted mode.

First, the unetbootin created 3 .cfg in the USB drive, and only 2 are important: syslinux.cfg and boot.cfg

Edit syslinux.cfg, and change DEFAULT=menu.c32 to the label for the ESXi installer. For my case, it was ubnentry0. (DEFAULT=ubnentry0)

Next, for the boot.cfg, a ks (kickstart) script is needed for the scripted install. So change the line in boot.cfg as according to the doc to

kernelopt=runweasel ks=file://etc/vmware/weasel/ks.cfg

Reboot N40L with the USB and the installation starts after boot up.


One thing to mention, the first time I tried installing ESXi I kept getting an error message "No operating system found -- boot failure". I tried all means of solving this problem : re-formatting the USB drive in Disk Utility, re-downloading the ISO and unetbootin, re-naming the ISO to a shorter name, re-extracting the files from the ISO to the USB, removing my RR card, removing the 16GB RAM and re-installing the original 2GB of RAM, pre-launching the USB installer on my macbook pro before trying to install it on the micro server, and nothing seemed to work. Finally, the thing that seemed to work was
1) booting VirtualBox into windows, and launching the HP bios formatting tool to format the USB drive as a bootable disk to restore the firmware,
2) deleting all the files on the USB drive,
3) inserting the USB into the rear most port of the macbook pro (*previously I think I was always using the front port)
4) re-extracting the files from the ISO image
   and then I got the micro server to recognize the boot script (even without the modifications listed above to the cfg files!)


I let it install ESXi onto the 2GB flash drive running off the internal USB port. After a reboot, ESXi was up and running. Next was to install OmniOS + Napp-it on top of my new Hypervisor to handle the storage of data (ZFS!), and to try to install a flavor of Hackintosh VM (mountain lion?) so I can run a "true" iTunes server for my AppleTV and my airport expresses.

No comments:

Post a Comment