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Adding more disk space to your home computer is no big deal, but when you’ve run out of space on a rackmount server it has its own challenges.

Here’s how my morning went yesterday.

We had picked up a drive extender to add to an existing server using VMWare for virtual machines. This thing weighs about 65 lbs and only just fit into the trunk of my car by about a centimeter. It comes in a box that you can barely get your arms around. Once out of the box it’s 3.5 inches high (89mm), 17.2 inches wide (437mm) and 25.5 inches deep (648mm). Cumbersome? Yes!

I arrive at the colocation center (a secured location built for servers with power protection and redundant Internet pipes for access) and unpack the beast.



Installing the hardware

drive-extenderThe first issue we run into is that the rails – essentially a sliding drawer the drive extender fits in, does not fit the rack we want to put it in. The length of the rails is 1 centimeter longer than the space. Standard rack, standard rails, how can this be? I call the house tech down and we both ponder over this and eventually decide to extend the rails (they expand) to the very back of the rack. Problem is there are two long power bars attached to the back of the rack, which cover the holes we need to attach the rails to.
The only spot is at the very top of the rack, we try there and sure enough, the right-side rail fits there. Whew!

The tech leaves and I prepare to put the left-side rail up – only to find that the power bar on that side is one slot higher than the other one and the rail doesn’t fit. Okay, call the tech back and we now have to unscrew that mounting on the power bar and move it down a slot. All this of course takes time as he finds the right bit for his power screwdriver. Finally we can, together, lift this beast six feet in the air to slot it into the rails – kinda like threading a needle and about as difficult.

Now I need to put a card into the server itself that will talk to the drive extender. Powering down a server of this type takes about ten minutes because there’s a few steps involved. Once it’s down I slide it out on its rails, take the top off, and slot the card in – and discover that the accompanying cable that slots in the card is higher than the cover for the server. With some very careful bending I manage to get the cover on, only by bending that cable to its maximum. Stupid design!

“Seeing” the drives

Next is to fire up both the drive extender and the server and configure the server in BIOS to see and be able to talk to the drive extender. At the same time I’ll be configuring six disk drives into one big logical drive.

Problem is when I fire up the drive only four of the six drive lights comes on. Sometimes it just takes a little time to initialize the drives so I wait. Nothing. Power it down, remove the case, check connections, and fire it back up again. Nothing. I know the drives are there and I know they’re spinning so I’m going to be optimistic and assume they will show up later (they do).

When the server fires up there a special key sequence to get to the drive configuration – which for some reason needs a mouse?! Really?? Turn everything off, add a mouse, turn it all back on.

Here’s how it’s supposed to go: see the drives, select the drives, build the drive array. Well it sees the drives but it won’t let me select them. I go back and use the wizard in “automatic” mode and now it sees the drives and selects them – but won’t build the drive array. Grrrrr!!

It seems someone at the factory did some preconfiguration that made the drives unavailable and so I now need to select each drive, select “make available” then start again. Finally I can take move to the final piece.

VMWare, the Last Step

I now let the server fire up to the VMWare management level and bring this new drive array in so that VMWare recognizes it. This is remarkably trouble free, which is good because I really don’t want any further troubles at this point. The customer has been offline for a while and has been patient, but no doubt anxious.


drive-installed-2Here’s the final result – in the rack. Server at the bottom, drive extender at the top.

In the IT world when you plan a project the philosophy is to take what you think is the time required, and double it – and then add 50%. In my experience this is pretty well true.

I’m an optimistic kinda guy but even I’m surprised when things go without a hitch.

In a perfect world this whole process should have taken about half an hour. Overall it took a lot longer. Be patient with your tech because these crazy things come up all the time!