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My First Server

2020-11-18

Table of Contents
  1. First thoughts!
  2. Starting Out
  3. Problems
  4. Solution

First thoughts!

Note - The server is Dell R510, F2 takes you to the BIOs.

The server was delivered a couple days early which was a nice surprise. It was waiting for me when I got home. It looked pretty big so when I went to pick it up I had braced myself but damn was it light.

It was a lot lighted than I had expected. I took it upstairs and cut the tape off. The packaging was minimal but effective. The box had Up arrows about the orientation. Inside was black sponge holding everything in place and then I pulled out the server. Quite light compared to what I was expecting.

It looks very much like a server which is really cool.

First thing I did was screw around with the caddies. The first two were tough, the second two came out easily and went in easily. I never used caddies before but I figured it out quickly. Push the button to release the latch and then pull on it to slide it out.

I tested it out with a hard drive just to see how it looks. It was a tight fit which is great but also a pain because I couldn't get it out easily. The caddy is too big for the drive which I was surprised about. It looks like it'll need to sit at the very end of the caddy and screwed in so that it'll connect properly.

I opened the server using the latch on the top and it came off really easily. The cover a bit warped but that's okay. Inside was standard fare. There was a plastic cover around the processors. I then noticed that the hard drives don't have power cables. I'm guessing that the board the hard drives connect to feeds power somehow but I'm not sure. Interesting, I had expected to have to plug in wires but it looks like I just push in the hard drives and away we go.

Which does make sense, you can't get to the insides of a server once it's in a rack so there needs to be a way to swap or add harddrives easily.

The other thing I noticed was on the inside of the cover it labels what is hot swappable. It looks like the hard drives and power is all hot swappable. On it, it also shows the power having a plastic loop that you tie your power cable too. It's there to make sure if the server get's yanked, the power won't just come out. Never noticed that before.

Lastly the most annoying thing! The server only takes VGA for output so I needed to buy a VGA cable as I had thrown them all out a while back. I had thought I had moved on but nope, my dumb self should have a kept a couple just in case.

Starting Out

I downloaded centos 8 and burned it to a USB. First problem was that all my usbs were 8gb. Centos unfortunately is about 9gigs for the full iso. I remember when 4gigs was a lot. Now I'm old. I remember old people saying how 4gigs was soooo big. Anyway I first booted the server without connecting the USB.

Dear god is the server loud, on boot up it sounds like it might take off and start flying around. The initial boot screen with the Dell logo was nostalgic. I could feel how old it is through the screen, I thought my old CRT made it feel old, instead it was actually something about the design of that screen, maybe the blocky letters.

I let it boot all the way through and it got to the point where it asked me what I wanted to do. I plugged in the usb and hit the F option to use boot media, I believe F1. The usb however didn't show up. I restarted the server.

This time I hit F11 to enter boot options, and here I saw C: Hard drive, but nothing that said usb. So I tried hard drive and inside there it showed back usb which was neat. Instead of a drive letter it told me physically where the usb was. Selecting the usb booted into the centos image and now I could begin set up.

Problems

Unfortunately now I ran into a major problem. None of hard drives were being picked up, I had 3 drives, 2 4TBs and 1 1TB, WD Red, WD Blue and a Seagate. I messed around with placements and made sure the lights were on. I also pulled out the drives and could feel the magnetic force so it was definitely getting power.

Attempt 1

Fiddled around with making sure the hard drives were screwed in, properly pushed in, I hadn't noticed the lights so I was trying to confirm the connections manually. I had take the top off and made sure everything was connected. I then saw the lights were blinking from the top and knew that the front must also show it. At this point I was sure the hard drives were connected and powered.

Attempt 2 - Partial Solution

I then tried using centos 7 as I read that redhat had moved out a lot of legacy drivers. Unfortunately the minimal iso of centos 7 also didn't pick up the disks.

Side Story A

I downloaded the full version of centos 7 just in case it had more legacy drivers bundled with it. When I went to go burn the iso to the centos 8 usb, windows wouldn't let me. The usb seemed to be all sorts of screwed up, formatting didn't work, diskmgmt did half the job, diskpart didn't work.

I ended up download diskgenius, I had tried MiniTool but that didn't work. DiskGenius worked though and I got the usb back to working.

Attempt 3

Well I'm dumb. After some more reading, I found out that I need to first set up the raid controller and that there is no way to turn it off. Well to turn it off would be to remove the raid controller completely.

So the first step is to get another hard drive unfortunately. I had wanted to use my 3 terabytes that I had but I'm going to need another one. I think for now I'll just pair 2 WD Red 4 TBs.

I went ahead and got into the Raid Controller by doing Ctrl R during the boot up process. This took me to the PERC screen where I could see that my hard drives were getting picked up so that was a good sign. I had thought it was a centos issue but really it was a hardware level issue which is really cool.

Attempt 4

After more reading! I found that PERC actually lets you use disks standalone, so I can use my drives. Maybe. We'll see in the morning. However, definitely should do my reading on my computer instead of on my tiny iphone 5s. I read the first part and assumed that only raid was possible. It didn't help that some forums also said the same thing but that was specifically about the H700 which I generalized to PERC. I cancelled the order for the second WD Red 4 TB and will go ahead with the original plan.

Attempt 5 - Partial Solution

I went ahead and tried to set up my hard drive as non-raid but unfortunately I don't have that option. It might be my bios is out of date or my model doesn't have that option but I went ahead and tested setting up the virtual disk first. Now with the virtual disk set up and initialized, I then tried centos 08. It still didn't see the driver. However when I went to the boot menu and selected hard drive, I can now see PERC as an option which implies that the hard drive is bootable.

I then tried centos7 and voila! I can see the hard drive. So the problem was 2 fold, I had to first setup the hard drives in the raid controller. Then I also had missing drivers in centos 8 that are in centos 7.

Unfortunately I had to set it up as 2tb as I needed to set up raid. This means that I'll need to order another drive. Shouldn't have cancelled so quickly!

Side Story B

I screwed up. The PERC 6/i raid card is incapable of seeing anything over 2tb. It was just by chance that the first time I did it I used a 4TB. In the raid controller I saw it as 2TB which I thought meant I was using 1 drive to mimic raid functionality. In reality I saw 2tb because that's all I can see. So now I'm stuck with 2 4TBs that I immediately lost half their space on. I feel so stupid. The only saving grace is that the price difference between a 2TB and a 4TB is 12 bucks, 112 vs 124. I probably would have gotten the 4TB anyway in case I ever upgrade the raid controller. Still I should have sprung the 50-100 bucks extra for a proper raid controller and skipped the headache. I did no research and just ordered the server. I got too excited and overestimated myself. I'm so annoyed because had I just checked the differences between the various controllers and processors I would have learned quite a bit. But I saw that PERC was free so assumed it was fine. I basically went with the cheapest option for everything instead of actually deciding the best option. Ugh.

Solution

Now that I knew that I had to set up the hard drives first in the raid controller and that I had to use centos 7 due to the legacy drivers it was easy sailing. I set up drives in raid 0 to maximize space, I'm going to be diligent with backups but at some point I do want to upgrade my raid card. I set up the drives as 2 seperate drives with raid 0. Hopefully this makes it easier later instead of having both drives getting combined.

I then went through the centos installed which was straighforward. I set up my network, hostname, users and did the minimal installation. It was relatively quick. I saw that there was only 301 packages to install and I knew some of them. I saw that ssh was getting installed and the network had been set up so it looks like everything would work out of the box. Which it indeed did. Once centos was installed and rebooted, I tested ssh quickly and it worked flawlessly. I had two things I wanted to do before switching to my PC and using ssh. I wanted to give the server a static IP, and also disable selinux.

Redhat did mention disabling it could be problematic in the future but I need to disable it for the unifi controller I want to install on it.

Once I did those two things, I rechecked ssh, and every was still good. At this point I went upstairs and now I have ssh working. At this point I don't need to physically do anything!