Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A day of frustration dealing with a Dell PowerEdge T110 II server

I wrote this blog post so that other people who have frustrating issues with a Dell PowerEdge T110 II server and its rather picky network card issues.


So this is how my day went. At 8:15AM I am called into our boardroom for a meeting. One of our clients has had a server crash on them and they want a new server solution. The sales team sell the client a nice large Dell PowerEdge T110 II server.

The hardware is handed to me and I take it to my office. First thing I notice is that someone has snaked my install CD for ClearOS. A little annoyed I grab a blank CD and hunt for the ISO image. I remember that my ClearOS ISO is on my linux partition and I am currently booted into Windows.

Using a special tool I extract the ISO from my Linux partition and get ready to burn it. Only to realize that my CD ROM/burner is not working. Oh well. I copy the ISO onto a network share and ask one of my colleagues to burn the ISO to a CD for me. He does and I get the bootable ClearOS CD.

I am about to put the CD in and start the installation when I notice that is only one onboard network card (NIC) in the Dell server. Since the client wants to use this server as a gateway server it would require two NICs.

So I head over to our supply department and ask for an additional NIC. They give me another NIC and I head back to my office. I open up the Dell server and look inside to see that they Dell server only handles PCI-Express NICs. Oh dear, so I mission back to the sales guys and ask them for PCI Express NIC.

This takes a little while because it turns out that the PCI-Express NIC is the last one they have in stock. What a bit of luck I think.

I take the NIC back to my office, place it in the open Dell, close up the machine and sit down at my chair. Finally!, I think. I can start installing the operating system.

I boot up off my ClearOS CD and go through the first part of the install configuration. I eventually get to the bit where it asks me for my PPPOE and other network settings and I quickly input the data.

Bang. Error. “Unable to configure network interface”. Eh? Wtf? I have done hundreds of these installs and never had this error.

I drop down to the very complicated Dell BIOS and try to see what's happening. I see the Dell has some type of cool remote management system built into the BIOS that works off the network card. The PCI-Express NIC that I have I have used the same make on many of the HP server installs I have done , so I think that perhaps the reason why we are unable to configure the NIC’s is because of this fancy Dell network management.

Perhaps if I disable it and install a second PCI-Express NIC I will not have a problem. So I disable the onboard NIC and head back to the sales guys only to find out that we have no more PCI-Express NIC`s in stock :( So I get our salespeople to contact our suppliers and I organize another card. Only problem here is I have to get in my car and mission over to our suppliers to pick up the NIC. No problem. 40 minutes later I am back in my office with another PCI-Express NIC and I install it.

Once again I boot up off the CD, and once again I get the same error about not being able to configure the network interface. Now I am really confused. I know these NIC`s work in Linux as I have used them before. The only thing I am unfamiliar with in this whole setup is the Dell server. I normally just use HP servers and have never had a problem before.

To be sure, I take the PCI-Express NIC’s that I had put in the Dell and put them into a spare HP server I have lying around. Bang. That Ubuntu Linux install identifies the NIC`s right away and I am able to configure them.

A little confused I think perhaps there is a problem with the kernel on ClearOS. Highly unlikely, but I can not understand why the NIC`s are not showing up on the Dell. To make sure its not the operating system that is having issues I put the two NIC’s back into the Dell server and boot up off an Ubuntu CD. Nope. Not even Ubuntu is able to pick up the NIC’s

It has to be the fancy BIOS I think. If the HP can see them, there should be no reason why the Dell can not see them. Right now I feel really stupid as I think that perhaps since I have no experience with Dell servers I am unqualified to understand how their specific BIOS works.

I reboot the Dell and login to the BIOS. Wow... now one thing I will say about Dell. Their BIOS is next to amazing. Its is very complete... and very complicated. I had to research several of the terms used under the more advanced settings as I had never seen them before. Not only that the BIOS is divided into three sections. There is a section that deals with managing the remote access through to the BIOS through a network management port. There is the normal BIOS settings that we all know and love, and there is some type of advanced BIOS system (that has a full mouse supported color GUI) called “System services”.

After spending two hours going through every possible setting I could find (as well as learning several new technologies along the way). I give up in frustration. Bah. Nothing in those BIOS settings seemed to explain why the Dell server would not pick up the two PCI-Express NIC’s.

Now I am stressed. The client (who has a network of 50 computers) has being down the whole day. Which means their company has almost being shut down in non-productivity. The time frame that I had given my client as to when the server will be ready had long since gone. I had let them and myself down.

In frustration I decide bugger this. For now I will just ditch the Dell and get my client up and running in the meantime. I head back to our sales guys and ask them for an HP server that I can loan to our client until I sort out the Dell issue. No problem. They have a spare HP for me and I sign it out and once again head back to my office.

Finally! A system I am familiar with and a solution that I know works. I open up the Dell server, pull out the NIC’s, I then open up the HP and place the NIC’s in the HP server.

I then place the ClearOS CD in the CD tray and switch on the server. It does not boot up. I get a POST error sound and a blank screen. Wtf.

After a deep sigh I stand up and open up the HP again. Yup, one of the techie blighters in the workshop seem to have nicked the RAM module from the server. Sigh. So I open up my test HP server (the one I tested the NIC’s with earlier), pull out the RAM module from there and place it in the loan HP server.

Once again I push the on button and voila! It boots. Progress eventually! This time when the operating system install gets to the network configuration it works without any problems. Finally. It looks like I am finally getting somewhere.. until about 80% into the operating system install where I get an error saying XYZ file can not be opened. The CD appears to be corrupted. Sigh.

So I get another CD and I ask my colleague to burn the ClearOS ISO again as I thought perhaps the copy had been done too fast and the corruption occurred while we were burning the CD or because there was a small error on the CD media.

So we burn another CD and again I start the process. I go through the initial configuration again (for about the 15th time this day), and again the install fails at exactly the same point as the original disk. It appears my ClearOS ISO is corrupt. Sigh.

So I download the ISO again from the ClearOS website. Get my collegue to burn the ISO to yet another CD and I am finally able to complete the install. It is 4pm now and something that should have taken me 2 hours has taken me 7 hours.

I bet you are wondering why the Dell did not work with the PCI-Express cards? Well after searching the Internet for about an hour I finally found the reason why. The Dell server only works with specific types of PCI-Express NIC’s.

Apparently the Realtek chipset I was using is not supported by the Dell server. I found this out by reading many threads on the same issue on their support forums. The most common answer from Dell Support was, “Sorry, that is a 3rd party piece of hardware. We do not offer support for it”.

For the record (and from what I have figured out), the Dell PowerEdge T110 II server only likes to use Dell NIC’s, though according to the forums you may have luck with Broadcom, Intel and Giga-Byte network interface cards. The Dell server I have does NOT work with NIC’s with the Realtek chipset in it.

11 comments:

  1. Glad the client was sorted out though. Great job on solving the issue.

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  3. Whoa, quite the harrowing situation you found yourself in! Kudos on getting it all sorted out, even though it did take much longer than you would have liked. Of course, because technology is always being worked and reworked to be better than before, there will definitely be a few bumps on the road. But that’s why there are upgrades. Congratulations again on keeping a level head throughout the problem and finding a solution eventually.

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  4. We have a client that have a Dell Power Edge T110 too, purchased in 2010 (i believ that not T110 II). In this server we work with Onboard Device (Broadcom) and one RTL8111/8168B PCI Express on Debian 5.0 original instalation (upgrade now to debian 6.0). Look:

    03:00.0 Ethernet controller: Broadcom Corporation NetXtreme BCM5722 Gigabit Ethernet PCI Express
    Subsystem: Dell Device 02a6
    Flags: bus master, fast devsel, latency 0, IRQ 34

    04:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller (rev 01)
    Subsystem: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8111/8168B PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet controller

    But we not have problem on instalation, the additional network as recognized normaly!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi all! I've just installed the additional PCI Express X1 Network Card "TP-LINK TG-3468" on my Dell T110 Server and it worked like a charm. My OS is Windows Server 2008 R2 64 bits and I used the driver for Windows 7 64 bits.

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  6. You may wrong, our T110 II works with PCI NIC - 1Gb card (realy cheap one)

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  7. Sorry, missed typing. Tt works with PCIe Realtek (cheap one) :).

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