Slight improvements – Network and server upgrades

I’ve had my test/personal VMware ESXi setup running for a bit now on my Dell PowerEdge 2950 III with the upgraded Xeon 5450 CPUs (originally came with E5405) resulting in dual quad-core Xeons at 3.0GHz.  It’s pretty snappy especially for how little I spent on it.  However, everyone knows you can’t really mess with much in VMware without memory.  So, I’ve replaced the 8GB (2GB x 4) of RAM that the system arrived with and replaced it with 32GB (4GB x 8).  I really wanted to go with 64GB but I was able to get 32GB for ~$103 off of eBay while 64GB was around $600!  I feel this is because people are loading up systems similar to my 2950 with as much RAM as they’ll take in order to keep them in service in their businesses… or to turn older 2950’s with fast CPU into VMware hosts like I am doing.


Either way, 64GB was not practical for the purpose of building a cheap server and so I had to settle for 32GB.  The only positive to come of that is that I could, essentially, buy another 2950 with dual Xeon 5450’s and 32GB of RAM and put the two in a cluster and still have not spent even half of what the 64GB of RAM would have cost.

Anyway – I’ve got the RAM in and I’ve also taken care of another issue.  I’ve received my Dell PowerConnect 5448 and 5424 so that I can build better LAGs with LACP for the server and Synology NAS.  This will allow redundant and faster network connectivity to the server and NAS especially.  The switch I had been running is a Dell PowerConnect 2724 which is Dell’s entry “managed” switch – it’s 24 ports full-gigabit but does not offer LACP or other advanced features and it’s only manageable from a web interface.  I receive the 5448 and 5424, cleared their configs using console cables and have them set up and ready to go.  I’ll be putting the 5424 at a remote location where the server will live.  The 5448 will serve as the primary switch in my home.  I will likely utilize the 2724 as a dedicated switch for my Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black cluster.

Network Rack

I think I will watch eBay for a dual- or quad-port NIC for the 2950, as well as a couple SFP connectors so I can connect the 5448 and 2724 with fiber.  That’s all for now!

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Creating a VMware ESXi environment on the cheap

Lately I’ve been wanting to build a VMware environment of my own so I can test various things without any worry. It’ll also give me the opportunity to setup a domain again, a vCenter server, my various Linux projects, etc. I’ll also be able to test the networking aspects as well. The only problem is finding a suitable server to run VMware ESXi on. I started checking out eBay and found Dell 2950 III’s that were auctioning out at $100 – $150. So, one afternoon I put a bid on one for $51 with $39 shipping… and won. It’s a Dell 2950 III with (2) Xeon E5405 (4 core, 2.0GHz) Processors, 8GB of FBDIMMs, a PERC controller, DRAC5, dual power supplies, etc. Not tremendous specs but the chassis is good, it came with drive sleds (but not drives), and was in great condition. Sure, it’s no Dell R610 or R620, but for $80-90… how can you complain?


The first thing I did was throw in (2) Hitachi 500GB 7,200RPM SATA drives configured for RAID1 along with (4) Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black 7,200 RPM SATA drives configured for RAID10. Fortunately I had these drives laying around from other projects. After initial config I updated the DRAC5 controller and loaded VMware ESXi 5.5 via virtual media. The server is cabled up to a Dell PowerConnect 2724 right now, but I am going to be revamping my switching shortly. I created a 200GB iSCSI target and presented that to the 2950 to store ISOs and small VMs. VMs demanding more speed are provisioned on the RAID10 array which totals 1.8TB formatted, divided into 450GB datastores.

After getting everything setup, and connecting to the host directly with the vSphere client, I setup a Windows 2012 R2 domain controller followed by an Ubuntu 14.04.1 LTS server for SNMP monitoring using Observium as well as a second Ubuntu VM for a dedicated webserver. The beauty behind the Ubuntu VMs is that they run fantastically with only 1 vCore and 512MB of RAM on 10GB of disk each. Right now, because the host only has 8GB of RAM, I’ve allocated 2GB of RAM to the domain controller. It runs pretty well, though! Finally, I created a vCenter server with 2 vCores and 4GB of RAM to give me the option to create templates and perform other tasks not available through vSphere and the host alone.

Everything was working well, but I really want the option to run more and more from the host. So, I went on the hunt for upgrades. I found a pair of 3.0GHz, 12MB cache Xeon E5450 CPUs for $51 and some shipping – totaling maybe $60! They are still 80W so the power consumption doesn’t go up but the speed most certainly does going from 2.0GHz to 3.0GHz. Next I ordered 32GB of PC2-5300F memory to bump out the capacity of the host. Considering all of the network devices we have here in our house, my Dell PowerConnect 2724 is literally filled with cables. So, while at it, I scoped out a Dell PowerConnect 5448 fully-managed, fully-gigabit switch for $71! Many of them are selling “buy it now” for $200, $250, $300! USPS didn’t deliver the memory tonight because they needed a signature (grr) but I did receive the CPUs and switch. I will document the switch install and config later, but here are some images of the CPU install.

Here you can see the stock heatsinks removed along with the original Xeon E5405’s:

IMG_4995You can see I use Arctic Silver compound cleaner in order to remove all the gunk from the heat sinks and old CPUs. This stuff works great – it smells like Goo Gone and may very well be, but whatever it works super awesome.

Next up are some images of the components close-up:

IMG_4996 IMG_4998Finally, a shot of the “new” Xeon E5450’s installed in the server with Arctic Silver 5 compound, then HSF’s slapped on, and fans added back in:

IMG_4999 IMG_5000 IMG_5001And lastly, the results within VMware:

3GHz CPU_VmwareSo, as you can see, except for VMware licensing (you can get ESXi for free but you won’t be able to use vCenter Server…) you can build a really, really cheap virtual environment. I am hoping to pick up the memory from the post office tomorrow at which point I’ll be able to add some more resources to the DC and vCenter server, as well as setup some more VMs!

I’ll be posting up the almost-new Dell PowerConnect 5448 I snagged soon. I almost can’t believe the condition – it must be new old stock or used on a desk some place – no dust inside or anything! Stay tuned!


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HP ProLiant Gen9 Announced

Even though I prefer Dell servers, HP has announced the latest generation of their ProLiant series.  It’s pretty comprehensive, too, in that it covers everything from the 1U DL160 to the DL380, and even the BL460c blades.originalThe most interesting part to me is their BL460c blade running DDR4 RAM which is brand new, as well as the super-high core-count CPUs (E5-2600 v3) with up to 18 cores per CPU which is awesome.  HP is also supporting the newer 12Gb/s SAS drives in these units.

I am almost more excited to see what this makes Dell do and how soon.  Check out more details!

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