Dell M1000e blades: First impressions

Scott Lowe is overhauling his data center and just received a new Dell M1000e blade system. Here are his first impressions of installing and powering up the new servers.

I've posted a couple of times regarding my server room/infrastructure overhaul project. This last week, we received our Dell M1000e blade system and I thought I'd share with you some of my first impressions.

The arrival was something of a surprise; not because we weren't expecting the shipment, but mainly because I didn't really expect the entire chassis, five blades and all of the various modules to ship in a single box. Yes - the entire system that we ordered came in one box. With enough manpower, it would have been possible to simply unbox the chassis, mount it into a rack, plug it in and get started!

Our original plan was to stage our installation. That is, remove some old hardware one day, install the chassis the next day, get the unit configured and then begin to bring servers online one-by-one. As they say, the best laid plans... well... sometimes don't go quite according to plan. An unrelated event on campus had the end result that one of our new servers had to be brought online sooner than expected. In short, we needed a new server up pronto -- our last ditch effort to correct a serious service problem affecting our ability to register students for classes. In a college, course registration is sort of important. The details for that problem aren't important except for the fact that a new server was needed.

We installed the chassis into a new server cabinet in our server room after installing the rail kit. We simply removed each of the five blades from the chassis to lessen the load and then two of us lifted the remaining weight and slid it into the rail kit that came with the shipment. That was it for physical installation. Besides being a little heavier, it wasn't much more dramatic than installing a single server.

Our blade chassis has six power supplies, two 24-port gigabit Ethernet passthrough modules and two gigabit Ethernet swtich modules on the back. We also have a KVM and two management modules. To get our chassis up and running, we connected one of the management modules and one of the switch modules, and also connected a keyboard, monitor and mouse to the KVM. With that out of the way, we ran through the initial chassis configuration routine, which was quite simple. The process grabbed DHCP IP addresses and displayed them on the chassis' integrated LCD display.

Next up, powering up one of the servers. We pushed the power button and... nothing. Each server's power LED blinked a few times and then the server shut down. A call to tech support resulted in the removal of the gigabit Ethernet daughter card on the server after which the server booted with no problems. We're still left with two onboard Gigabit Ethernet ports, which is all that was necessary for this server for now. Eventually, however, once we get our iSCSI SAN in place, we'll need these ports and we're working with Dell support to determine the cause of the problem.

With the server booted, we were able to get things up and running and return our problem service to operation.

So, here are the good points:

  • One box! Honestly, I was stunned to see this. Sure, it was darn heavy, but made for a very easy installation.
  • Easy initial setup. The initial setup was quick and painless. We got the chassis to a usable point within minutes.
  • Good servers. They're fast, they're economical and well designed.

And now for the cons:

  • Boot much? I'd really love it if the servers booted with all of the add-ons installed on the first try. Although I'm certain that Dell will get this solved, it's just annoying.
  • CD/DVD. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'd like to see a CD/DVD drive connected through the KVM and integrated into the chassis. Sure, the M1000e/M600 combination provides a number of ways to access a CD/DVD drive, including USB ports on the front of each server, but a chassis-integrated DVD drive would make like a little simpler for administrators.

The support forums are still somewhat lacking for the M1000e, but I can't fault Dell for this. I knew going into this that I was buying a brand new product.

At the end of the day, even with the cons I listed, I'm still very happy with the solution. As things develop, I'll continue to report back, particularly once I find out what's wrong with our daughter cards.