Review: Supermicro ESXi 5 Whitebox Home Lab Servers
Now that my new vSphere lab is up and running, I wanted to write up a brief review on the Supermicro servers running ESXi 5. For details on the design and links to parts, review my previous post on the home lab.
Motherboard Bells and Whistles
This is my first build with Supermicro, and after building a server with their motherboard, it won’t be my last. The boards are well documented through both a CD and booklet (I always prefer to use the booklet) with pages of detailed diagrams on each feature that the board offers. The writing is easy to read and not broken English like you get with some manufacturers. Many explanations also include screenshots from an actual system. The board arrived with all of the latest firmware and bios revisions applied, so I did not need to update anything.
The IPMI feature is extremely valuable, and I refuse to build any system without some sort of out of band management. You can opt to either use the dedicated port for IPMI, or ride on top of the first NIC port. The web interface is very clean and simple to use and includes the ability to perform a number of maintenance tasks (firmware updates, system configuration, etc.) with a few clicks. I was also impressed with the amount of configurable options available: LDAP / Radius / AD integration, Dynamic DNS hooks, fan speeds, etc.
This is the main screen of the IPMI interface on the server, including a preview of the screen which opens the console when clicked.
The java based remote console is very peppy and feature rich, with the ability to pass along remote media to the server. I used this to install ESXi 5.0 update 1 on the internally mounted USB drive.
Here I have the console open, along with the virtual storage interface mounting the ESXi 5.0 update 1 ISO from my PC.
A number of configuration items available from the IPMI
The server provides every feature I can imagine in vSphere, from Fault Tolerance to DirectPath I/O, along with having 2x 1GbE NICs.
A look at the server from vSphere
Passthrough device selection.
A few points I’ll cover when setting up this server configuration.
Make sure to plug in the fans directly to the motherboard, don’t use the PSU 3to4 pin converters. The board will alert with a siren-like noise if it doesn’t detect any fans running.
Power Supply Fit (Lian Li PC-V351 with Seasonic)
I found that the power plug receptacle on the Seasonic slightly bumped against the rear housing of the Lian LI PC-V351. The housing has a curved shape while the Seasonic has a square guard around the plug. If you mount the Seasonic properly (open vents facing up) this will prevent mounting the PSU. To fix this, I cut a small notch into the housing with a pair of tin snips (just a few millimeters into the case).
I’m very pleased with how this build turned out, and feel that the extra features offered by the Supermicro board made the price tag extremely palatable. Realistically, these are easier to manage and have more features (both software and hardware) than my Dell T110, ending my habit of buying servers from a vendor for the home lab.
For those using Supermicro, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the board (both good and bad) in the comments below. I can also try to answer any questions you may have on this build.