The Lab Expandeth (Again!) – Part I, The Physical


It has been an incredibly busy few months, but this past holiday season something pretty juicy arrived under the Complaints HQ tree:

 

Nothing says the holidays like corrugated cardboard and wooden palette!
Nothing says the holidays like corrugated cardboard and a wooden palette!

That’s right, for the first time a first class piece of server kit is joining The Beast in the home lab!  Previous entries have covered the fun times had at Complaints HQ with various white box adventures, but now we’re taking things to a whole other level.  As a home office based traveling architect evangelizing hybrid cloud solutions to enterprise customers, it is becoming increasingly important to teach by example.  The idea of the newly improved, Hulked out, home lab is that I can build a hybrid cloud enterprise integration technology showcase and then activate it and demonstrate it remotely on demand as needed.  So what is hiding in the somewhat drab brown box emblazoned with the trusty Dell logo? Glad you asked!

                                    • Model: Dell T620 Tower
                                    • CPU: 2 x Xeon 2650L V2 – 10 core, 1.7Ghz base, 2.1Ghz Turbo
                                    • RAM: 12 x 16GB 1333Mhz LVRDIMM – 192GB total RAM
                                    • NIC: Intel Gigabit 2P I350-t Adapter (dual port), Intel(R) Gigabit 2P I350-t LOM (onboard), Broadcom NetXtreme II 10 Gb Ethernet BCM57810 (dual port 10Gb/s)
                                    • PSU: 1 x 750W
                                    • RAID: Dell PERC H710, 512MB NV cache
                                    • HDD: 6 x 1TB 7200RPM SATA II (I swapped these out, more on that later)
                                    • ILO: Dell iDRAC 7 Enterprise

So without a doubt this is a serious piece of kit sporting 20 2Ghz cores (under load), and nearly 200GB of RAM, alongside terabytes of hardware RAID DAS and 25Gb/s of bandwidth.  The best part is that this is also a low voltage build resulting in a datacenter class server that can run off a 750W high efficiency supply, idle at 140W, and run quieter than the 4 white box servers it replaces.  Not bad and a definite respectable companion to The Beast!  In honor of this new plateau I’m also introducing a new format to the blog; build videos!  I hate few things more than the sound of my voice (my appearance is one though), so I don’t expect to use this option all that often, but in this case it seemed appropriate.  As a result these entries will feature the usual photos and screenshots alongside some video.  So cracking this baby open must be like opening the Ark of the Covenant, right?  A cascade of purifying light spilling out…  Riches beyond imagining?  Indeed, behold!:

 

WP_20140413_19_15_59_Pro

All kidding aside, the included accessories, manuals and “fluff” are something short of inspirational.  The usual sub $1 keyboard/mouse combo alongside 3 really flimsy paper manuals and a power cord.  In all fairness though, this is an enterprise class machine and ultimately this is stuff that would either get stored in a closet or tossed.  What really matters is what is sitting underneath that spartan “accessory box” and in this case, Dell did not disappoint.  The initial unveiling of the server and the physical build aspects bring us to the video content.  First up is the dramatic unpacking of the supplemental accessories box:

 

 

The caster assembly is actually light weight and small.  It could fit pretty easily inside the main crate, but it is a separate and optional SKU and so ships separately.  I decided to borrow the “cooking show” format and skip providing video of cardboard being torn and heavy equipment being lifted.  Inside the main carton is the accessory box containing the few items show in the picture above as well as the actual server nicely lodged in firm charcoal colored foam.   Next up, a quick hardware tour of the outside of the server itself:

 

It doesn’t fully come through in the video, but the build quality of this thing really is excellent.  The case makes for a great companion to the very high quality aluminum of my main PC’s Lian Li PCA77F.  It feels solid, looks solid, and yet is compact and not incredibly heavy when populated with a single 750W supply and 6 3.5″ HDDs.  It is also fairly intuitive at first glance as evidenced by the installation of the casters:

 

 

I alluded up top to a pre-installation upgrade I decided to do.  We originally spec’d this server with the cheapest disk option in order to keep budget under control and because we plan to pair the server with a NAS.  As a result it shipped with 6 7200RPM 3.5″ SATA 2 drives.  These are standard Toshiba 7.2k SATA disks branded as Dell.  Since I plan to run this server in a home office alongside the (fairly loud) McAffee UTM SG720, Netgear GSM7224V2 and (less loud) Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 6 and The Beast I wanted to drop these in favor of something more acoustically friendly as well as less power hungry.  My ReadyNAS has a full complement of 5900RPM Seagate Green LP Barracuda drives which I like a lot, so I decided to give the Western Digital Red line a whirl for this build to mix things up a bit.  I picked up 6 of the OEM 2TB drives on sale at MicroCenter for a decent $99 per drive.  At twice the capacity and 6Gb/s SATA vs 3Gb/s (noticeable in a RAID config even with slow drives like this) while delivering data at 10dba and 6W less than a 7200RPM per drive they make for a compelling upgrade and a good match to the LV RAM and CPUs:

One more video of the physical server, storage subsystem in this case, before moving onto the first boot and the initial logical configuration:

This is a good point to break.  The next installation will cover the setup of the PERC H710 and the Array, will answer the question if Dell is still being a pain in the ass with drives that aren’t on the HCL, and will also cover the iDRAC 7 enterprise setup before moving on to the first boot and the ESXi 5.5 install.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

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