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Home Lab 1

In the first entry in this blog series I described my goals for a home lab. Now, I’ve actually purchased everything and I get to learn how to put everything together and get virtualization running on my first bare metal rig. I’m going to just document the steps I went through here, maybe someone will find it useful!

Preparing Poweredge Servers

I ended up with two Dell Poweredge servers, an R610 and an R710. The first steps to take after getting any new hardware is to boot it up and make sure everything works, and that all the hardware you thought you bought is actually present. There were a few fun intro steps to get there, like learning how to actually put together rack mounted gear! I’ll put some pictures of the process there because I had fun doing it, but it’s really quite straight-forward.

Racking the server

Haul out your server, the rack, and those sweet rails…
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Snap the rails into the rack-level that you want to place the server at…
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Then extend the rails using the toggles on the inside of each rail, and drop the server into there!
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Now smack in some I/O and we’re ready to rock
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Booting into Live Support image

  1. Download the live image
  2. Flash it onto a usb drive with Rufus or any other method
  3. Ensure you’ve got a display, mouse and keyboard plugged into the server
  4. Plug the USB drive into an available USB port
  5. Power on the server, follow on-screen instruction to select boot device
  6. Boot into the drive in non-uefi mode
  7. Admin credentials are: root:dell

Once onto the live image, explore around. There are shortcuts on the desktop to execute all the basic tests you’ll want to run to ensure your hardware is all functional.
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Upgrading firmware

Essentially I followed Dell’s documentation. Be very careful to read in detail, you can brick your server if you update firmware in the wrong order.

Here are a few excerpts that are important to emphasize:
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Once that’s all well understood, it’s a matter of searching through Dell’s Website for all the drivers you’ll need, copying them onto a flash drive, copying them into your Live OS and installing them!
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RAID Controller

One of my servers I plan on using almost exclusively for pfSense. It came with two 300Gb SAS drives with the factory RAID controller. I plan on leaving that setup in RAID. However with the next box I want to leverage the storage slots for NAS. The RAID card that ships with the server is PERC 6/i, which cannot be cross-flashed into IT mode.

Aside What is RAID?
RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) is a hardware mechanism for placing multiple disks together into a single array. You’re either achieving higher redundancy or speed depending on the configuration. Generally the use-case is you replace all your data across multiple disks so when one fails you swap it out; the controller replicas the existing data on other disks onto the new one and the array is healed. With 4+ disks in an array it’s very unlikely you ever lose data.

This is fantastic for those with a ton of disk slots or money, but in my use-case I want all of my drives to have individual data - potentially replicating in the future if I need higher resilience.

The problem though, unlike a more traditional consumer-grade desktop computer, the motherboard has no direct SATA/SAS buses so you need a PCI/PCIe controller. The most inexpensive route to take is to ‘cross-flash’ 3rd party firmware onto the existing controller to place it into IT (Individual Target) mode, however the PERC 6/i cannot be flashed into IT mode.

I thus purchased an inexpensive card, the Dell H310. This one can be cross-flashed into IT mode, but there’s a few things I need before I’ll be able to get it running.

  1. The existing cables in the server are incorrect, I’ll need two of these
  2. You cannot cross-flash a Dell card from a Dell server. My desktop/laptops are too difficult to disassemble (Water loops, or Apple gear) so those are out of the question for using to cross-flash… So, I went to the fellow I bought the servers from and got a loan of an old Supermicro Tower server.

With all this in place (To be honest it took me FOREVER to realize I couldn’t use my dell box to flash this…) it was quite easy to flash the card. Here are resources which I found helpful to preform the procedure:
- Truenas
- Serverbuilds
- Megarec replacement commands
- Flashing H310 to IT mode

Here’s a few pictures of the process of installing the card:
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After getting everything setup correctly, I realized one of my drives was DOA… I shipped it back the vendor.

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It took me hours to realize it wasn’t my fault with my setup, but rather actually a dead drive. This is why RAID is a thing… I sure hope I don’t get any data loss!

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