vSphere 6 on the Dell VRTX is here!
It’s been a long time coming! I had tried using ESXi 6.0 on a Dell VRTX chassis several months ago only to end in failure and frustration. Only after I had ESXi 6.0 installed on an M520 VRTX blade did I read on Dell’s site that the VRTX was not supported. Shucks! The reason it wasn’t supported was because of the lack of support for the Shared PERC8 RAID controller – there was no driver available within ESXi 6.0 which was a bummer. This meant that you can install ESXi 6.0 on the blades but you’ll only have access to the internal (on the blade, 2-drive) PERC and external storage (NFS, iSCSI, etc.) but not the shared storage within the chassis.
The VRTX also suffered from an issue whereas you had to elect for either high availability or performance on the RAID controller but not both. I covered this issue earlier, but if you opted for a VRTX with a redundant Shared PERC 8 controller then you would have horrible write performance because Dell forgot that you may want to have write-back caching enabled between the two (active/standby) controllers and have them highly available. They fixed that with a later firmware release (which I covered in this blog post), but it involves shutting all of the blades off in the chassis and doing a CMC/mainboard/PERC firmware update. I had updated the firmware to support write-back cache on the VRTX I am using and expected ESXi 6.0 to start seeing the shared storage but alas it did not…
With Dell’s release of the new firmware/driver, VMware updated their Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) to list the specific version. You can check out the HCL update here. It would seem you just need to flash that version of firmware to meet the requirements of the HCL and grab the latest Dell Customized ESXi 6.0.0b image and you’re ready to rock… but not so fast. You also need the following other supporting firmware versions that are called out in a supporting Dell PDF (listed here on page 4):
- Shared PERC8 Firmware version 23.12.56-0086
- Shared PERC8 OS Driver version 6.804.60.00
- CMC Firmware version 2.04
- Chassis Infrastructure Firmware version 2.1
- Expander Firmware version 2.0
I had updated all of these components just a few weeks earlier (including the switch module) except for the Shared PERC8, of course, which just became available. So, with all of my components were already up to snuff, I just applied the Shared PERC8 firmware (which requires that you shut all of the blades down) alone:
When you upgrade the CMC/etc. it is also recommended you bring the blade itself up to date. You can download a bootable ISO built by Dell from this link (change the model in the URL for other blades/servers) that will upgrade literally all of the firmware within the server. Dell supposedly updates these ISOs relatively often, but you can create your own using repository manager if you need to. So after you’ve met all of the firmware version requirements, pop in the Dell Customized ESXi 6.0.0b ISO, kick off the installer, and configure the host as needed:
And…wait for it…
Finally, the Dell VRTX runs vSphere 6 and can access the storage on the Shared PERC8! But, not only that, we also have fully-functional writeback-cache between the active and passive controller. This particular VRTX chassis has two M520 blades and one M620 blade all using the shared storage within the chassis. So, what you end up with is a potent virtualization platform that can provide small to medium businesses with more than enough horsepower and storage to support their entire organization using vSphere 6 while providing it in a highly available fashion (multiple blades, redundant PERC controllers). Or, if you’re looking for a solid VDI setup look no further! The Dell VRTX can be loaded up with up to 4 half-height blades chock full of memory, connected with fast 10 GBe internal networking, all running on storage backed by up to 25 2.5″ SAS or SSD storage. 25 SAS drives can pull decent IOPS alone, but add some SSD caching on top and it will rip! This thing, now that it’s fully supported both from a caching standpoint and vSphere standpoint, is a pretty darned powerful solution.
My only gripe with the VRTX is that there is an option of having an active/passive PERC8 controller but in order to update the firmware you have to shut every server off. I like being able to update firmware in other storage arrays with no downtime by failing back and forth between the controllers. Dell should try and work on this and then I think the VRTX would be near perfect.
Thanks for reading! I will be bringing the other M520 and M620 in this chassis up to date and upgrading them to ESXi 6.0 so that I can cluster them for HA in a development environment. Stay tuned!