Quanta Winterfell FreeNAS Server

I recently acquired what is known as a Quanta Winterfell Open Compute blade.  Quanta seems to make a number of OEM solutions for large companies.  In this case, Open Compute is a standard for designing no-frills high-density server systems, utilized at least by Facebook.  So what I have here could have been processing my posts, likes, etc.

Quanta Winterfell with “cover” off

The no-frills means you get a very basic chassis, which doesn’t technically even have a front, or completely enclose the entire system!  Strange looking, but when it’s sitting in a datacenter by itself, who is going to care as long as it is doing its job.

The blade itself takes a 12V input (actually 12.5V nominal) from a large space connector.  Since I didn’t have the mating part, for now I just jammed some large-gauge wire into the spades and used one of my Agilent System DC power supplies, so I could also monitor current consumption.

Horrible connection for testing (don’t try this at home).
With 2GB RAM, it idles around 50W.

The barebones blade was $90 (free shipping), which included the heatsinks and a 10Gb SFP+ NIC.  The NIC alone runs about $50, so it wasn’t a bad deal overall.

All that was left to add was a CPU, RAM, and a video card.  The system can output the console over a built-in serial port and I believe serial over LAN, but for ease of bringup I opted for the video card for now.

I wanted to see if FreeNAS would boot, so I plugged a bootable USB key into a hidden USB port (there are only 2 total), and used the other port for a keyboard.  By default the hidden USB port is disabled, so after enabling this in the BIOS it booted right up!

FreeNAS boots.

It is actually very quiet too, at least when not heavily loaded.  The fans are large, so there isn’t any of that loud datacenter whirring sound you would attribute to that environment.

Next steps:

  • Replace Agilent supply with HP server supply (modify connector)
  • Add more RAM
  • Test external SAS card and hard drive shelf
  • Get 10Gb adapter up
  • Investigate headless boot (remove video card)
  • Order second CPU

Converting a NetApp DS4243 drive shelf into a vendor-generic JBOD array

NetApp makes some nice hardware that you can occasionally find for a low price on eBay.  Unfortunately, it is typically hard to reuse since NetApp tends to require specific firmware on the hard drives in their drive shelves.  So you are then locked into their harder to find and higher-priced drives.

With a bit of experimenting, I found a method to get around this for at least one family of hardware.

Netapp’s DS4243 is a 24-bay SAS 6Gbps drive shelf.  It typically is configured with a pair of supplies (can support up to 4) and two IOM3 modules (which only support 3Gbps, but other versions exist).  I managed to pick one of these up off eBay for just under $100 with the pair of supplies and IOM3 modules mentioned.

Note I didn’t even try to use the IOM3 modules.  There might be other ways around the limitations I read about online, but I found a simple and inexpensive option that allows the disk shelf to be used as a generic JBOD array.

I also had a Dell Compellent HB-1235 12-bay SAS  6Gbps drive shelf.  This drive shelf comes with a pair of much longer named controllers (HB-SBB2-E601-COMP) that already present the drive shelf as a JBOD array to FreeNAS.  It turns out, these were manufactured by a company called Xyratex, who just happens to also manufacture the Netapp DS4243.

So what would the chance be that a Dell controller would work in the Netapp drive shelf?

I did some research, and the form and fit of the controllers matched perfectly.  The connectors are identical and placed in the same locations.

Front of the modules.
Rear of the modules, showing identical connector types and placement.

Now there is a chance that the pinout could have changed, power rails could be different, or some other issue might exist due to the fact that these weren’t specified to be connected together, but I was willing to take that chance for the sake of research.  Designing hardware in a similar industry, I took a bet that they were at least close enough to do something without blowing up.  That only question for me was how well would it work.

So all there was left to do was to plug it in and power it up!

Status is green and SAS link lights all good to go!
Drives powered up and show activity.
The NetApp drive shelf even identifies properly!

I was curious if possibly the HB-1235 controller would only see half of the NetApp drive shelf, since it was specifically used in a 12-bay drive shelf.  I purposely inserted a 500GB drive in bay 24 to test if it would work, and it identified properly with no issues at all.

So they identified, but would there be any stability issues?  To at least get a first-order estimate of this, I copied roughly 250GB of data to the array of 6x 3TB drives and had no issues. This was done over a 1Gb link.  After the copy was complete, a scrub of the volume was also successful.

The HB-1235 with two modules and two supplies cost me $120, and the NetApp was around $80.  Each unit only needs one module to run (though the HB-1235 seems to want to run the power supply fans on high when only one module is inserted).  A separate modules runs about $50, so you on a good day on eBay you can have a full 24-bay generic disk shelf for less than $200.