So, we’ve had new hardware come out, and people have been asking me for a while “Phil, when are you going to update the BabyDragon? The Xeon X3450 and Intel 3420 architecture is pretty long in the tooth here.” Well, one doesn’t get to be the best by deploying new technology without testing (even if it’s other people testing it!) You don’t roll out brand new beta software in production, and that’s how I handle BabyDragon. I’m curating a hardware list that’s got to meet two key requirements. One, it needs to be fully compatible with VMware vSphere. Two, it needs to be true server grade – not just in terms of features, but in terms of reliability.
But finally, the wait is over.
Without further ado, let’s get right down to it. I’m in the middle of starting a business that will change the world of software (and enterprise storage!) forever. So I’ve been beyond swamped. I’m pulling on average 16 hour days, and running on little to no sleep. And I realized that we’d need a new BabyDragon to get the Linux/FreeBSD side of things done. It was a necessity. And we’d need a more powerful BabyDragon. It needed to handle virtualizing high impact databases, compiling software regularly, and all sorts of related nastiness. These systems would get absolutely hammered. And we needed them to be on the cheap. So how do I do this?
As usual, sure, I could call HP or IBM or Dell and order a micro server. But we already knew they’d collapse under our workload. We also knew they’d cost a lot more since we needed all those goodies like IPMI, virtual media, and so on. So let’s talk key features of the BabyDragon II versus the original BabyDragon.
Virtual Media in IPMI? Check.
Dedicated IPMI port? Check.
Onboard USB A port for internal flash drive? Absolutely.
Dual Gigabit Ethernet? Upgraded to Intel i82574L and i82579LM.
SATA? Upgraded to 2x 6Gbit (SATA-III) and 4x SATA-II via Intel C204.
Memory? Still at 32GB, the ESXi Free PRAM limit.
Power efficiency? Peak draw down by 20W, typical draw estimated down by as much as 30W. (Yes, that puts it in the sub-100W envelope!)
Internal disk? Upgraded to dual Solid State Drives. Because let’s be honest; you’re NOT going faster.
Sounds downright sexy when I put it that way, doesn’t it? There is no component in the system which has NOT been improved in some way, be it efficiency, clock, or well, take your pick. When I said “nothing will beat BabyDragon II”? You’re darn right I meant every word of it, and the proof’s in the pudding. Some major changes have been made in what you need to do with the BabyDragon II versus the BabyDragon though.
First and foremost, all the BIOS adjustments? Defaults. Leave ’em at defaults, unless VTd/VTx are disabled – those should be turned on for 4.1U1 and vSphere 5. Do NOT adjust the Power Profile either. Everything is fine as is this time around, with no tweaks necessary. (Hooray!) Make sure to set a static IP for the IPMI controller, either via DHCP server or directly in the controller. I recommend setting it in the controller; it’s the same controller as the BabyDragon and the latest version horks up on DHCP failures – not unexpected, but somewhat annoying and dangerous. Resetting it requires completely disconnecting power.
Another change is that your case options change, fan options change, and there are some new restrictions with certain recommended power supplies. The reason for this is pretty simple: fanless PSUs require very careful consideration of airflow. You can’t just throw them in any old chassis, even at 50% draw, and expect them to not melt. So when I get into which cases can accept the fanless PSU option, you really do need to take this as the word of god from upon high, unless you like damaging hardware. It really is that important.
Okay. Enough blathering.
BabyDragon II – The All Important Specs.
Intel Xeon E3-1230 “Sandy Bridge” – 3.2GHz, 4 Cores, 8 Threads, 8MB
Supermicro X9SCM-F – Intel C204, Dual GigE, IPMI w/Virtual Media, 2x SATA-3, 4x SATA-2
4x Kingston ValueRAM 4GB DDR3-1333 ECC Unbuffered Unregistered
2x Crucial M4 (CT128M4SSD2CCA) 128GB SATA-3 Solid State Drive (about $180 direct on Amazon, BTW!)
8-16GB Flash Drive; be careful of clearance! Smaller is better. I like the Lexar Echo ZX best. Wide/thick USB flash drives cannot be used as they may block SATA ports.
Chassis and power supply to suit. Lots of options here. And it probably will be closer to $200.
- TOTAL: $1,230.00-$1,330.00 USD
WHERE’S THE CHASSIS AND POWER SUPPLY?!
Here’s where we get into the fun and I develop a god complex. You have two key recommended options for the power supply.
Option one, fanless. If you go fanless, you have one option: the Seasonic X400 Fanless. Do not use the 460, do not use any other fanless – the rest are junk. The 460 will run improperly because of load imbalance – the 400 hits the 20/50% load points almost exactly. I like fanless myself, because it’s a true zero-noise solution. However, it comes with extremely strict restrictions on which chassis and fans can be used. When I say “NO SUBSTITUTIONS” here, I am not joking. You cannot just change chassis or fans. You will damage the power supply. Airflow must go in a specific prescribed direction and at a specific rate to ensure the PSU is cooled properly.
- Lian-Li PC-V351 with any two fans rated for >40CFM in the front 2 positions. (Stock fans are a no-no.)
- Lian-Li PC-V352 with any two fans rated for >40CFM in the front 2 positions. (Stock fans are a no-no.)
- Lian-Li PC-V353 with any two fans rated for >25CFM in the front 4 positions. (Stock fans are a no-no.)
- Lian-Li PC-V351 and V353 with Panasonic FBA12G12H1BX or Delta WFB1212H-R00 in front positions.
- The FBA12G12 is a 120x38mm deep fan, and can interfere with cables. Install fan grills ALWAYS.
- This is a HIGH PERFORMANCE configuration for systems with frequent load/temp spikes.
- Lian-Li PC-U6B Special Edition with Arctic Cooling F12 PWM High Performance fans in all positions configured to exhaust.
- Negative air pressure design; do not locate on carpet or foam. Must be on wood/concrete/etc.
- Silverstone SUGO SG03 (all colors) with any fan rated for >35CFM in the front positions. (Stock fans are a no-no.)
- Lian-Li PC-V351 and V353 with Delta FFB1212EH-PWM.
- These are very loud fans. BIOS power management settings may need to be changed.
- Only for use in systems with average loads of over 70%!
- Seriously guys. These are extremely powerful and potentially loud fans (56dBA+).
- Never install grills on the exhaust side of FFB series fans. It actually disrupts airflow severely.
It’s very important to note that if you’re loading your BabyDragon II past 70%? You are still miles and miles within spec for the power supply. Your absolute peak draw is around 220W (around 230-240W at the wall.) The reason for such high airflow is twofold. Every chassis except the PC-U6B Special Edition must be positively pressurized (pressure inside the chassis higher than outside the chassis) to force cooling air through the fanless. Only the PC-U6B is able to operate as a negative pressure (pressure dropped so that air convection naturally draws through the chassis) design. For any other chassis, you need to ensure a high positive air pressure/air flow rate relative to it’s size. For any fanless configuration, the smaller the chassis, the better. (Good news, everyone! The indicated fanless PSU is modular, making that easier!)
For PSU option two, a quiet fan cooled PSU, there are no chassis restrictions. To be truthful, I’m still in love with my Lian-Li PC-V351B. However, you can absolutely use any chassis you like, and I’d tend to recommend the updated 351, known as the Lian-Li PC-V353. It will set you back a pretty penny ($100-140.) If you want something that’s less dust prone, the Fractal Design Define chassis is a good option here as the front fans have a washable filter built into the door. There’s also the Lian-Li PC-V352, V353 and V354.
In terms of recommended PSUs? I suggest reading up on JonnyGuru for who’s hot and who’s not. You need something with ripple of under 70mV typical and in the range of 330 to 400 watts rated. The most important aspect is the ripple – all Supermicro boards are ripple sensitive. Power supplies over 400W will see a severe negative effect on efficiency – you want your peak draw at ~50% and your typical at 20-25%.
Speaking of the Lian-Li options, let’s break it down for you. The V352 is the updated V351. It adds USB 3.0, a card reader, swaps the PSU location horizontally on the rear panel, and adds a third hard drive bay. (Do not install 3 10K RPM disks. You will melt things.) Airflow performance is more or less identical between the V351 and V352.
The V353 is similar to the V351, but relocates the disks entirely and steps up from 2 fans to 4. The entire front panel is perforated, giving it excellent airflow potential (thus the lower CFM requirements.) It also requires no adapter for the 2.5″ SSDs, and has washable fan filters. If you want to run quiet, this is the chassis to go with. But it will collect dust.
The V354 is an entirely new beast with some significant airflow potential, but slightly hobbled by it’s design when it comes to silence. The power supply is oriented horizontally across from the expansion slots – you cannot use a fanless PSU in this chassis. There is a strict orientation requirement for fanless PSUs for a reason. All the positive pressure in the world won’t help you when you’re heat-soaking anyways. That said, it offers the most disk space – 7 3.5″ disks possible. Like the V353, the 2.5″ bays are built in so no adapters required, and are separate from the 3.5″ bays. It also adds a 140mm fan directly above the CPU. It’s your best option for large quantities of disks. (Which will be covered in “BabyDragon IID – MOAR DISK SPACE.” Spoiler alert: it has a lot more storage.)
No, you CANNOT substitute motherboards!
I cannot emphasize that enough. You cannot use a Tyan, an Asus, or anyone else. There is a reason: only the Intel C204 chipset is supported, and only the Supermicro combination is tested and verified for full functionality. You cannot use C202 chipset motherboards! The SATA controller on the C202 is different and entirely unsupported. The Seasonic X400 Fanless also only works properly with the Supermicro X9SCM-F; no other motherboard works properly with it.
Tyan’s boards are, bluntly, garbage. The IPMI doesn’t work with the machine turned off (completely defeating the purpose of it), shares an ethernet port (which causes problems), and power management just doesn’t work at all. It only works with a limited number of large EPS12V power supplies as well.
Asus? Don’t make me laugh. The PCI slots are a kludge (and disable onboard video, which means you then have to buy a PCIe 16x video card. And it has to be a true 16x card.) The stock heatsink hits the bottom DIMM socket – way to fail mechanical engineering, guys. Need I go on about the extremely high failure rate? Didn’t think so.
That leaves one, and I DO MEAN ONE, motherboard capable of powering the BabyDragon II. Even if you’re not copying the rest, take away this message: for a MicroATX vSphere 5 system, the Supermicro X9SCM-F is your sole and only safe option.
Whoops, I forgot the Ethernet drivers?!
There’s ONE glitch here, and it’s unavoidable. The i82579LM Ethernet does not work on ESXi 4.1 out of the box. Sorry guys. This is entirely on VMware, because really, it’s not that complicated a driver to add. (Seriously guys. It’s adding PCI_IDs to e1000. C’mon.)
A gentlemen by the name of Bill Fung comes to the rescue – click the link over there. This will take you to his blog, where he shows you how to add the i82579LM driver to 4.1 using the oem.tgz method. Even if you don’t want to go this route, the i82574L still works out of the box, so you won’t have a “oh gods, no network!!” moment. I highly recommend going the oem.tgz route for 4.1, and if you’re experienced, vm-help has the goodies.You only need the i82579LM driver for 4.1U1. Honestly though, I’d recommend vSphere 5 strongly.
But, as mentioned, I’m buried in startup stuff – you can learn more about us over here, shameless plug – so that’s all for now. I’ll talk about the BabyDragon IID when I can find time, I promise. I just can’t promise that I’ll find time any time soon.