Upgrading Mellanox ConnectX firmware within ESXi

Last summer, while reading the ServeTheHome.com website, I saw a great link to Ebay for Mellanox ConnectX-3 VPI cards (MCX354A-FCBT). These cards where selling at $299 on ebay. I took three of the awesome cards. These Mellanox ConnectX-3 VPI adapters where simply too good to be true… Dual FDR 56Gb/s or 40/56GbE using PCIe Generation 3 slots. Having three of these Host Card Adapters without a InfiniBand switch is limiting.

With my new Homelab 2014 design, I now have two vSphere hosts that have PCIe Generation 3 slots, and using a simple QSFP+ Fiber Cable, I can create a direct point-to-point connection between the two vSphere hosts.

The Mellanox Firmware Tools (MFT) that can run within the vSphere 5.5 and allow to check the state of the InfiniBand adapter and even update the firmware.

MFT for vSphere

Installing the tools is very straight forward.

# esxcli software vib install -d /tmp/mlx-fw/MLNX-MFT-ESXi5.5-

Install Mellanox MST

Unfortunately it requires a reboot.

The next steps going to be to start the MST service, check the status of the of the Mellanox devices and query them to check the current level of firmware.

I don’t need to have the Mellanox MST driver running all the time, so I will simply start it using /opt/mellanox/bin/mst start.

Next we will query the state of all Mellanox devices in the host using /opt/mellanox/bin/mst status -v from which we will get the path to the devices.

We then use the flint tool to query the devices to get their stats.

/opt/mellanox/bin/flint -d /dev/mt40099_pci_cr0 hw query


/opt/mellanox/bin/flint -d /dev/mt40099_pci_cr0 query

which returns us the current Firmware version and the GUIDs and MACs for the host card adapters.

Mellanox firmware upgrade 01

Well as I’m running only FW Version 2.10.700 its time to upgrade this firmware to release 2.30.8000

 /opt/mellanox/bin/flint -d /dev/mt4099_pci_cr0 -i /tmp/mlx-fw/fw-ConnectX3-rel-2_30_8000-MCX354A-FCB_A1-FlexBoot-3.4.151_VPI.bin burn does the trick.

Mellanox firmware upgrade 02

And we can quickly check the new running firmware on the InfiniBand adapter.



Homelab 2014 upgrade

I’ve been looking for a while for a new more powerful homelab (for home), that scales and passes the limits I currently have. I had a great success last year with the Supermicro X9SRL-F motherboard for the Home NAS (Running NexentaStor 3.1.5), so I know I loved the Supermicro X9 Single LGA2011 series. Because of the Intel C600 series of chipset, you can break the barrier of the 32GB you find on most motherboards (Otherwise the X79 chipset allows you upto 64GB).

As time passes, and you see product solutions coming out (vCOPS, Horizon View, vCAC, DeepSecurity, ProtectV, Veeam VBR, Zerto) with memory requirements just exploding. You need more and more memory. I’m done with the homelab, where you really need to upgrade just because you can’t upgrade the top limit of the memory. So bye bye the current cluster of four Shuttle XH61v with 16GB.

With the Supermicro X9SRH-7TF (link) you can go to 128GB easy (8x16GB) for now. It’s really just a $$$ choice. 256GB (8x32GB) is still out of reach for now, but that might change in 2 years.

I have attempted to install PernixData FVP 1.5 on my Homelab 2013 Shuttle XH61v, but the combo of the motherboard/AHCI/Realtek R8168 makes for an unstable ESXi 5.5. Sometimes the PernixData FVP Management Server sees the SSD on my host, then it looses it. I did work with PernixData engineers (and Satyam Vaghani), but my homelab is just not stable. Having been invited to the PernixPro program, doesn’t give me the right to use hours and hours of PernixData engineers time to solve my homelab issues. This has made the choice for my two X9SRH-7TF boxes much easier.

The Motherboard choice of the Supermicro X9SRH-7TF (link) is great because of the integrated management, the F in the X9SRH-7TF. Its a must these day. Having the Dual X540 Intel 10GbE Network Card on the motherboard will allow me to start using the network with a dual gigabit link,  and when I have the budget for a Netgear XS708E or XS712T it will scale to dual 10Gbase-T. In the meantime I can also have a single point-to-point 10GbE link between the two X9SRH-7TF boxes for vMotion and the PernixData data synchronization. The third component that comes on the X9SRH-7TF is the integrated LSI Storage SAS HBA, the LSI 2308 SAS2 HBA. This will allow me to build a great VSAN cluster, once I go from two to three serverss at a later date. Its very important to ensure you have a good storage adapter for VSAN. I have been using the LSI adapters for a few years and I trust them. Purchasing a motherboard, then adding the Dual X540 10GbE NIC and a LSI HBA would have cost a lot more than the X9SRH-7TF.

For the CPU, Frank Denneman (@FrankDenneman) and me came to the same conclusion, the Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2 is the perfect choice between number of cores, cache and speed. Here is an another description of the Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2 launch (CPUworld).

For the Case, I have gone just like Frank Denneman’s vSphere 5.5 home lab choice with the Fractal Design Define R4 (Black). I used a Fractal Design Arc Midi R2 for my Home NAS last summer, and I really liked the case’s flexibility, the interior design, the two SSD slots below the motherboard. I removed the default two Fractal Design Silent R2 12cm cooling fans in the case and replaced with two Noctua NH-A14 FLX fans that are even quieter, and are connected using rubber holders so they vibrate even less. It’s all about having a quiet system. The Home NAS is in the guest room, and people sleep next to it without noticing it. Also the Define R4 case is just short of 47cm in height, meaning you can lie it down in a 19″ rack if there is such a need/opportunity.

For the CPU Cooler, I ordered two Noctua NH-U12DX i4 coolers which support the Narrow ILM socket. Its a bit bigger than the NH-U9DX i4 that Frank ordered, so we will be able to compare. I burned myself last year with the Narrow ILM socket. I puchased a water cooling solution for the Home NAS and it just couldn’t fit it on the Narrow ILM socket. That was before I found out the difference between a normal square LGA2011 socket and the Narrow ILM sockets used on some of the Supermicro boards. Here is a great article that explains the differences Narrow ILM vs Square ILM LGA 2011 Heatsink Differences (ServeTheHome.com)

For the Power supply, I invested last year in an Enermax Platimax 750W for the Home NAS. This time the selection is the Enermax Revolution X’t 530W power supply. This is a very efficient 80 Gold Plus PSU. which supports ATX 12V v2.4 (can drop to 0.5W on standby) and uses the same modular connectors of my other power supplies. These smaller 500W power supplies are very efficient when they run at 20% to 50% charge. This should also be a very quiet PSU.

I made some quick calculations yesterday for the Power Consumption, I expect the max power that can be consumed by this new X9SRH-7TF build should be around 180-200W, but it should be running around the 100-120W on a normal basis. At normal usage, I should hit the 20% of the power supply load, so my Efficiency of the PSU should be at around 87%, a bit lower than Frank’s choice of the Corsair RM550. This is the reason why I attempt to take a smaller PSU rather than some of the large 800W or even 1000W PSU. 


For the Memory, I’m going to reuse what I purchased last year for my Home NAS. So each box will receive 4x16GB Kingston 1600Mhz ECC for now.

My current SSDs that I will use in this rig are the Intel SSD S3700 100GB enterprise SSD and some Samsung 840 Pro 512GB. What is crucial for me in the the Intel S3700 is that its Endurance design is 10 drive writes per day for 5 years. For the 100GB, it means that its designed to write 1TB each day. This is very important for solutions like PernixData or VSAN.  Just to compare, the latest Intel Enthusiast SSD, the SSD 730 240GB that I purchased for my wife’s computer, its endurance design is set to 50GB per day for 5 years (70GB for the 480GB model). The Intel SSD 730 just like it’s Enterprise cousins (S3500 and S3700) come with a Enhanced power-loss data protection using power capacitors. The second crucial design in an Enterprise SSD, is its Sustained IOPs rating.

I’m also adding a Intel Ethernet Server Adapter I350-T2 Network Card for the vSphere Console management. I’m used to have a dedicated Console Management vNIC on my ESXi hosts. These will be configured in the old but trusty vSwitch Standard.

Another piece of equipment that I already own and that I will plug on the new X9SRH-7TF are the Mellanox ConnectX-3 Dual FDR 56Gb/s  InfiniBand Adapters I purchased last year. This will allow me to test and play with a point-to-point 56Gb/s link between the two ESXi hosts. Some interesting possibilities here…  I currently don’t have a QDR or FDR InfiniBand switch, and these switches are also very noisy, so that is something I will look at in Q3 this year.

I live in Switzerland, so my pricing will be a bit more expensive than what you find in other European countries. I’m purchasing my equipment with a large distribor in switzerland, Brack.ch . Even if the Supermicro X9SRH-7TF is not on their pricing list, they are able to order them for me. The price I got for the X9SRH-7TF is at 670 Swiss Francs, and the Intel E5-1650v2 at 630 Swiss Francs. As you see the Cost of one of these server is closing in the 1800-1900 Euro price range. I realize it’s Not Cheap. And it’s the reason of my previous article on the increase costs for a dedicated homelab, the Homelab shift…

Last but not least, in my Homelab 2013 I focus a lot on the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). I aimed for Small, Quiet, Efficence. This time, the only part that I will not be able to keep, is the Small. This design is still a Quiet and Efficient configuration. Lets hope I won’t get into too much problems with the wife.

I also need to thank Frank Denneman (@FrankDenneman) as we discussed extensively this home lab topic over the past 10 days, fine tuning the design on some of the choice going into this design. My prior design for the homelab 2014 might have gone with the Supermicro A1SAM-2750F without his input. A nifty little motherboard with Quad Gigabit, 64GB memory support, but lacking on the CPU performance. Thanks Frank.

VSAN and the LSI SAS 9300-4i Host Bus Adapter

As part of my VSAN Cluster that I’m building, I wanted to dig deeper and test hte LSI Host Bus Adapters. These cards have been used extensively in past few years with storage appliances that migrate the mangement, compute and error handling to the operating system, rather than to use RAID adapters. I have build various storage appliances using Nexenta Community Edition. Even as I speak, my office lab, is using such a Nexenta Community Edition 3.1.5 server, to provide shared storage to my vSphere 5.5 Cluster. I’ve used various LSI Host Bus Adapters in my Nexenta boxes, like the LSI SAS 9207-8i in my recent home storage, or the LSI SAS 9201-16i in my office storage. These are very reliable cards that I highly recommend.

For the implementation of the VSAN in the office lab, I have decided to turn to the latest LSI SAS 9300-4i card, so that each of my Cisco UCS C200 M2 LFF host (4x 3.5″ Disk slot), can have a powerful & stable card. The LSI SAS 9300-4i is a PCIe Generation 3 card, but it works great in my PCIe Gen2 slot. The LSI SAS3004 Chipset, supports 12Gb/s SAS connection using an (x4) internal mini-SAS (SFF8643) HD connector. The card is affordable, and should be around $245 (as advertised on the LSI store). For servers with only four disk slots (1 SSD and 3 HDD), the LSI SAS 9300-4i is a nice fit, and provide futur usage.

I added an Adapter HD-SAS Cable 2279900-R (Right Angled) to ensure, the cabling fits nicely in the 1U server.

Here is a view of a Cisco UCS 1U server with 1 SSD (Intel S3700) and 3 Seagate Constellation CS 3TB hard drives. I think this kind of server is the right configuration for the VSAN building blocks.

Cisco UCS C200 M2 LFF

Here is the view of the Storage Adapter in vSphere 5.5

Storage Adapters

The interesting thing is that the LSI SAS 9300-4i presents the four devices  in the ESXi (esx14.ebk.lab) host with a Transport Protocol “Parallel SCSI“, instead of the expect Block Adapter.

Claim Disks for VSAN Use

This has not stopped the claiming of the Disks to create a 24.55 TiB VSAN Cluster.

Virtual SAN is Turned ON

I expect another two LSI SAS 9300-4i by the end of the week, and then I will be able to start some serious VSAN scalability and performance testing (which I can’t publish due to the VSAN Beta agreement)

I’m aware that the Intel S3700 are only 100GB, and are way undersizes by the amount of total storage provided in each hosts, but I just don’t have the budget for 400GB or 800GB Intel S3700. I might test this config at some point with Samsung 840 Pro (512GB) if I see that the VSAN Observer is reporting excessive Congestion or WriteBuffer Fills. It’s going to be interesting.

At the time of the writing of this article, the AHCI bug identified in the VSAN Beta has not yet been fixed. This has contributed to the reason of my selection for the LSI SAS 9300-4i Host Bus Adapter. I have added the LSI SAS 9300-4i to the VSAN Community HCL.


vBrownbag TechTalk “InfiniBand in the Lab” presentation.

For the past few weeks I have slowly begun to build a working InfiniBand infrastructure on my vSphere cluster hosted in the office. I’m still missing some cables. With VMworld 2013 EMEA in Barcelona behind us, I’ve now got the time to publish the presentation I did in the Community zone for the vBrownbag Tech Talks. On Tuesday noon, I was the first one to start the series of Tech Talk and the infrastructure to record and process the video/audio feed had not been tuned properly. Unfortunately you will see this in the video link of the presentation. So in my video, the first 2 minutes 08 seconds, the audio is just horible… So I URGE you to jump into the video at the 3 minute mark if you value your ears.

Here is the direct link to the Tech Talk about “InfiniBand in the Lab” and the link to the other Tech Talks done at VMworld 2013 EMEA.

I’m not used to doing a presentation sitting in front of multiple cameras. Some of the later slides are too fuzzy on the video, so I’m now publishing the presentation in this article.



The InfiniBands Host Card Adapters (HCA) for Dual 20Gbps ports (DDR Speed) can be found on ebay for $50 or $35 pounds.

I hope this video link and the presentation will be useful to some of you that want to increase an intra vSphere cluster backbone for the vMotion, Fault Tolerance or VSAN traffic.

I enjoyed doing the presentation, as I have to thank the following people making this presentation possible : Raphael Schitz,William Lam, Vladan Seget, Gregory Roche





VSAN Observer showing Degraded status…

This is just a quick follow-up on my previous “Using VSAN Observer in vCenter 5.5” post. As mentioned recently by Duncan Epping (@DuncanYB) in his blog entry Virtual SAN news flash pt 1. The VSAN engineers have done a full root cause of the AHCI controller issues that have been reported recently. The fix is not out yet. As a precaution, and because I use the AHCI chipset in my homelab servers, I have not scaled up the usage of the VSAN. I have been monitoring closely the VMs I have deployed on the VSAN datastore.

VSAN Observer DEGRADED status on a host

VSAN Observer degraded

This is curious as neither the vSphere Web Client or the vSphere Client on Windows have reported anything at a high level. No Alarms. As can be seen from the following two screenshots.

VSAN Virtual Disks

VSAN Virtual Disks

To see any glimpse to an error, you need to drill deeper into the Hard disk to see the following.

VSAN Virtual Disks Expanded

VSAN Disk Groups

VSAN Disk Groups


So what to do in this case. Well I tried to activate the Maintenance Mode and migrate the data from the degraded ESXi host to another.

Virtual SAN data migration

There are three modes how you can enter a host in the Virtual SAN Cluster into Maintenance Mode.  They are the following:

  1. Full data migration: Virtual SAN migrates all data that resides on this host. This option results in the largest amount of data transfer and consumes the most time and resources.
  2. Ensure accessibility: Virtual SAN ensures that all virtual machines on this host will remain accessible if the host is shut down or removed from the cluster. Only partial data migration is needed. This is the default option.
  3. No data migration: Virtual SAN will not migrate any data from this host. Some virtual machines might become inaccessible if the host is shut down or removed from the cluster.


Maintenance Mode - Full Data Migration

So I selected the Full data migration option. But this didn’t work out well for me.

General VSAN fault

I had to fail back to the Ensure accessibility to get the host into maintenance mode.

Unfortunately, even after a reboot of the ESXi host and it’s return from maintenance mode. The VSAN Observer keeps telling me that my component residing on the ESXi host is still in a DEGRADED state. Guess, I will have to patiently wait for the release of the AHCI controller VSAN fix. And see how it performs then.


Open Questions:

  • Is VSAN Observer picking up some extra info that is not raised by the vCenter Server 5.5 ?
  • Is the info from the vCenter Server 5.5 not presented properly in the vSphere Web Client ?


Supporting Information.

My hosts have two gigabit network interface. I have created two VMkernel-VSAN interface in two differents IP ranges, as per the recommendations. Each VMkernel-VSAN interface goes out using one interface, and will not switch to the 2nd one.

Using the VSAN Observer in vCenter 5.5

VSAN observer is an experimental feature. It can be used to understand VSAN performance characteristics and as such is a tool intended for customers who desire deeper insight into VSAN as well as by VMware Support to analyze performance issues encountered in the field.”  This is the tool any tester of VSAN can use to monitor his hosts, disks, VMs and see the distribution across hosts.

Rawlinson (@PunchingClouds) has created two very interesting articles on the VSAN Observer, which I’ve been hearing about for a few weeks. In his posts, Rawlinson shows how to use the VSAN observer that comes with the vCenter Appliance Using RVC VSAN Observer Pt1 and Using RVC VSAN Observer Pt2. I will show you here how to use the one that comes with the Windows implementation of vCenter 5.5

The VSAN Observer runs on the Ruby vSphere Console (RVC). Ruby vSphere Console (RVC) is a Linux console UI for vSphere, built on the RbVmomi bindings to the vSphere API. The vSphere object graph is presented as a virtual filesystem, allowing you to navigate and run commands against managed entities using familiar shell syntax.Your vCenter 5.5 ships with RVC installed.

Starting your own VSAN Observer

In the vCenter 5.5 server under the path C:\Program Files\VMware\Infrastructure\VirtualCenter Server\support\rvc you will find the rvc.bat file. Edit the rvc.bat file with notepad or notepad++ and jump at the end of the line to change the name of the user that will connect to the vCenter and the name of the vCenter. That can be seen from the output below in the first orange box.

  • Remember that the Ruby vSphere Console and the VSAN Observer tool are an experimental feature. There is no user authentication to the VSAN Observer website, and I’ve found out that the VSAN Observer process dies after a few hours.

Once you launch the RVC tool and enter the password for your vCenter account, you can use RVC commands. You can use ls to list objects, or cd <number> to drill down in an object. William Lam (@lamw) has some interesting articles about RVC (RVC 1.6 released)

But the command you want is to launch the vsan.observer program that will launch a webserver to which you can connect on port 8010 (Second orange box).

vsan.observer <vcenter-hostname>/<Datacenter-name>/computers/<Cluster-Name>/ –run-webserver –force

or for me

vsan.observer vcenter01.bussink.org/Home/computers/Management\ Cluster/ –run-webserver –force

VSAN Observer on Windows 01

To stop the vsan.observer process you can stop it with a double Ctrl+C.

VSAN Observer Web interface

So now that you have your vsan.observer running, let’s connect to it with a browser on port 8010. This is the About section  that will list your VSAN hosts.

VSAN Observer About

But you can get some very interesting information about your Hosts such as VSAN Disks (per-host).

VSAN Observer VSAN Disks per-host

Here is the VSAN Disk (deep-dive) to see the performance of the SSD caching in front of the magnetic disk. Here the vCenter Log Insight appliance kept on the VSAN, had a peak during a reboot.

VSAN Observer VSAN Disks deep-dive

You can also drill deep with the Full graphs to get more details of the write operations on the SSD.

VSAN Observer VSAN Disks deep-dive SSD 01

VSAN Observer VSAN Disks deep-dive SSD 02

These charts are not always the easiest to read. But you will find great stuff here.

VM VSAN Stats with Backing Storage.

The is the most interesting charts I’ve found. This is where you can see the different component of the storage backing your VM. My Storage Policu for the vCenter Log Insight is placed in the vCenter with a VSAN Redundancy policy (Number of failures to tolerate = 1).

I recommend you see this picture in full size, to better see the various details.

VSAN Observer VMs vCenter Log Backing

This below is the original view you get with the vSphere Web Client view from the Monitor, Virtual SAN and on the VM.

vSphere Web Client vCenter Log Insight VSAN Redundancy


After having played a bit with the RVC VSAN Observer in the last 24 hours. I think this will be an interesting tool for Storage IO analysis. I really hope this makes it into a Fling or a full plugin for the vCenter server.


VSAN Observer Firewall rule

If your vCenter Server 5.5 is running on a Windows hosts with the integrated firewall activated. Here is the rule to open the port on your system to check the VSAN Observer, from another machine.

netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name = “VMware RVC VSAN Observer” dir = in protocol = tcp action = allow localport = 8010 remoteip = localsubnet profile = DOMAIN



Homelab with vSphere 5.5 and VSAN

This is to give you a quick insight in my 2013 Homelab that is running vSphere 5.5 and has a running version of Virtual SAN (VSAN) in Beta code. I have been quiet on the blog for a while, as I’ve been doing some tests with vSphere 5.5 and VSAN, but the NDA has limited my communications.

This is probably the smallest VSAN implementation you can do without going with a Nested VSAN (Awesome design by William Lam) or with three Mac Mini’s.

This VSAN is only 24cm x 22cm x 20cm (High x Depth x Width), and runs with 130 Watts total consumption. On the following screenshot you see the Homelab next to an old Synology DS1010+

Homelab running vSphere 5.5 with VSAN

Homelab running vSphere 5.5 with VSAN


It is composed of three Shuttle XH61v with a quad-core i7-3770s processor (65W) and 16GB of memory (Two 8GB Kingston SO-DIMM). The Shuttle XH61v also comes with two Gigabit network cards. Each Shuttle XH61v has the following storage

  1. Kingston USB 3.0 DataTraveller 16GB Key to boot vSphere 5.5
  2. Intel mSATA 525 SSD 120GB which is used by vFlash
  3. Intel 530 SSD 240GB 2.5″ or Samsung 840 Pro 256GB
  4. Seagate Momentus HD 2.5″ 750GB 7200rpm

That is a lot of storage in such a small case, but it works, and you don’t even hear the ventilator (for Wife Acceptance Factor approval).

I’m not going to cover in this article how you need to create a VMkernel interface for VSAN, and that you need to disable HA before turning VSAN on. This article “VSAN How to Configure” by David Hill does an excellent job, and his follow-up post “Configure disk redundancy in VSAN” adds more information.

From the vSphere Web Client, this is the configuration of my VSAN after I enabled it.

VSAN Disk Management

VSAN Disk Management

So once you enable the VSAN with three hosts that each have an empty SSD and HD (in my case 240GB SSD and 750GB HD) you get the following.

VSAN Datastore created

VSAN Datastore created

Another great functionality of the VSAN, is that if you take another ESXi host and configure it’s VSAN VMkernel interface and add it to the VSAN Resource, it automaticaly mounts the VSAN Datastore. This will greatly simplify the provisioning of storage in a vSphere Cluster. The VSAN Datastore is also the first implementation of Virtual Volumes (VVOL) that I have seen. Cormac Hogan has a great Virtual Volume (VVOL) Tech Preview article.

The Virtual SAN from VMware should be available in Beta for a wider audience very soon, so go over to VMware VSAN Beta Register.


  • Concerning the Shuttle XH61v, it’s only down side is the two SO-DIMM slots of memory. There is no current capacity to increase beyond the 16GB the memory of a Mini-ITX motherboard.
  • The Shuttle XH61v cannot boot in USB3 mode from the USB key, you need to modify the BIOS and downgrade the USB3 to USB2 mode.