Solaris on Dell PowerEdge x950 III

Posted on June 6, 2008

Solaris has recently hit a milestone in my mind, at least if your a Dell PowerEdge fan. As of Build 88 (I recommend snv_89 or newer) Solaris runs like a dream on Dell PowerEdge servers such as the recently released 2950 III which offers Dell PERC6/i (LSI MegaSAS), the latest Intel Quad-Core CPU’s and has greatly reduce power consumption over the Dell 2950 II.

Prior to Build 88 Solaris didn’t have support for the MegaSAS controller, thus you had to go to LSI’s site to get the Solaris X86 driver (which thankfully existed). In order to install you’d either have to hack a little during install or roll a custom miniroot to Jumpstart (DHCP/PXE installation) from. Thankfully this is no longer the case, insert the DVD or do a “normal” (if such a thing exists) Jumpstart with the stock miniroot and away you go.

The Broadcom (bnx) gigabit interfaces onboard have worked for some time so they are a non issue.

Here are some general guidelines when configuring a system for Solaris:

  • Serial redirection will occur at 57,600 baud on TTYB if you enable redirection, you can not change that baud rate (the “Failsafe baud rate” setting in the BIOS is useless).
  • Always enable IPMI (Control-E at boot), setting it “Shared” (bnx0) with the OS works fine with Solaris. Remember to change the IPMI password. The default user is “root”, the default password is “calvin”, which is used for the web interface, SSH, and IPMI via ipmitool. You do NOT need a DRAC to do IPMI! If you can afford the DRAC buy it, if you gotta skimp dump it… you loose the dedicated interface, HTTP and SSH… but racadm such ass anyway.
  • When configuring RAIDs on the LSI for ZFS set the block size to “128k” for best performance out of the box, disable Read Ahead (default), and enable the WriteBack cache.
  • The only changes you should make to the BIOS are to the Serial Redirection. Set the external serial port to “RAC”, set redirection to COM2 (ttyb), and I normally set the failback baud rate to 57,600 but its never done anything useful for me, I just feel better. 🙂
  • Older builds of Nevada run fine on Dell 2950 II and older so long as you have the MegaSAS driver for your PERC5/i. The new 2950 III’s will fail to boot on older releases because the Intel Processor isn’t recognized, this was fixed in like snv_82 or so, use the latest build and your good.
  • If you want to enable serial redirection do the following to the OS after installed.
    # eeprom ttyb-mode='57600,8,n,1,-'
    # eeprom console='ttyb'
    # svccfg -s system/console-login setprop ttymon/label = '57600'
    # svcadm refresh console-login
    # svcadm restart console-login
  • Please note: The console can be present on a KVM (either via external keyboard and monitor, IP-KVM, or the DRAC web interface) or serial (this includes IPMI Serial-over-LAN)… not both. Choose carefully!
  • Please note: The DRAC web interface KVM functionality requires an ActiveX componant and only works on Windows (to be fixed soon, I’m told).

The Dell’s are cheap, fast, and dependable. Their primary weakness is in their SP… the DRAC doesn’t hold a candle to Sun ILOM, but then Sun has made the ILOM SMASH-CLP layout more and more conveluted over time. Dell supposedly will deprecate the DRAC racadm in favor of a properly implemented SMASH-CLP interface in the 10th Generation systems. Please do note that if SSH to a DRAC and use the “connect com2” command to access the serial console you are in fact using IPMI SoL, complete with all its short-comings, namely frustrating core dumps of the ipmitool app requiring you to deactive and then re-activate SoL.

The main strength of the Dell offering over Sun’s solutions is a solid RAID card in the LSI MegaSAS, 3.5″ SAS drives with far greater capacity than the 2.5″ SAS drives now standard on Sun boxes, low cost, and an amazing array of pre-ship customization and configuration available by Dell. Additionally, Dell slowly iterates on its server line, you know that those Dell PowerEdge machines will be best of breed for a good length of time with minimal administrative hiccups between revs.

… best of all, Solaris runs like a dream. 🙂