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.

27 thoughts on “Converting a NetApp DS4243 drive shelf into a vendor-generic JBOD array”

    1. Noise levels are pretty minimal given it’s rackmount hardware. It’s not silent by any means, and the two large fans on the power supplies run at a low RPM (at 25-30C) ambient. There is no high-pitch whining what you get from 1U enclosures/fans. I don’t think I would hear it in a closet with a closed door. I’ll get actual test numbers for power and noise once I get back from Thanksgiving holiday.

  1. Thanks for the info, I was going to get a DS4243 anyway so I decided to go this route with the Dell controller.

    Have the same setup but its not working for me. The HB-SBB2-E601-COMP flashes its green lights 4 times when I power the disk shelf on but then goes dark (no green check or connection lights or even orange warning). The front orange ! warning light on the DS4243 is on and I notice yours is not in the picture.

    Tried swapping the IOM3 to the top and Dell on bottom. Drive lights come on this way, but still orange ! warning and no lights on dell controller and no connection. Tried using the other IOM3 I have. Also tried two different 8088 cables.

    Tested with just the two IOM3s and the orange ! still comes on at the front, no warning light on either IOM3s in the back… Seems odd. 🙁 I dont have a SFF8088->QSFP cable to try connecting to a IOM3.

    Right now I dont know if the backplane of my DS4243 is bad, the Dell controller is bad, or something just needs programming with a serial port. Any help would be huge! I’ll keep you updated if I get it figured out.

    1. Seems like your chassis might be bad. Best bet is to use the IOM3 console port to try to determine the issue. I haven’t actually used the IOM3’s so you will have to research the systems manual online.

      I wouldn’t insert both the IOM3 and HB controllers at the same time as they are totally different systems that probably try to master the chassis in their own way and probably don’t talk to each other properly, so if that’s what you are doing then only insert one type of controller or the other. I put the IOM3 in the second slot but didn’t insert it fully just to use as a placeholder to ensure proper airflow through the system. I’d hope that inserting both types at the same time wouldn’t cause damage, but that is also a possibility.

      1. Oh I thought you had both installed! I seen the picture (now I can tell its not fully inserted), plus you said how the fans run on full with just the HB so I figured that you hadn’t left it that way.

        I did get the 2xIOM3 to startup without the orange ! light, think I had a extra PSU installed but not plugged in last time. So I think those may be working. I have a 8088->QSFP on the way I will see if that works. If so I’ll probably just use that because I dont want the fans on full. If not I’ll try to get a refund on the shelf.

        I tried to find terminal info but couldn’t find much. If you search for SBX_UserGuide_2.7.pdf it has info on the HB controller and the disk shelf warning lights. Said power+! at the front can be: Power fault or Module fault, or enclosure fault so not too useful.

        But no terminal commands or anything, just says the 3.5mm serial jack is for factory use only on the SB controller.

        Have you tested installing two HB controllers do the fans still run on full? Would be nice to know.

  2. On the Dell chassis the fans would run on full with only one HB controller and normally with two, but on the Netapp chassis the fans seem to run normally even with only one HB controller.

  3. Thanks for the useful info, just set-up one of these on FreeNAS and it is a cost-effective solution.
    Question: I have come across other modules: –
    LSI NetApp SAS 6Gb/s Controller 100504-576, P42153-08-A
    LSI NetApp SAS 6Gb/s Controller 100120-113, P41139-07-C
    Sometimes available cheaper than the HB-SBB2-E601-COMP but little info on them. They look pin-compatible, and visually appear more modern than the IOM3/6 modules. Can anyone comment on them? Also, my fans run at high-speed with only one PSU and controller. At present it has 4 x PSU, 1 x controller and 14 drives; fans are very quiet.

  4. Check this out……..
    Related to other “Autodesk” & Xyratex kit…..

    http://hardcoreforensics.com/blog/2018/02/07/xyratex-autodesk-5412e-any-drive

    But you should be really really careful about just changing controllers…..
    Specifically because there are “defense” mechanisms built into the system firmware.

    some “auto erase” the configs stored in other chips on the controller boards as “corrupt”
    There is also code on some of these devices to force upgrade controllers…
    that means if you put dissimilar controllers in, they may attempt to cross upgrade, so you can actually end up destroying all your copies of one type of firmware for a given model…
    Where they all get upgraded to whatever the device thinks is the current firmware. (if you think …well that did not work.. lets try another controller)

    you can actually run from just one controller. Which is ALWAYS safer for this sort of test.

    finally also be aware that there are drive firmware upgrades for a reason……
    some of these upgrade files are tagged with special drive ID numbers or additional software routines.
    This happens on the HP stuff related to temp sensor #29

    1. Thanks for the details. I have never installed more than one controller (the second is just sitting in the slot, not engaged with the connector) so maintain proper airflow. In the current configuration it has been running now for over 6 months with no issues.

  5. Recent testing reveals that the top controller slot is the “best” one to use. The bottom controller slot apparently is connected to the secondary SAS controller IO, and since SATA drives don’t have the second port available on the connector that means they won’t be visible to that controller. The shelf also lights up the yellow error lights on any SATA drive when two controllers are inserted. If you remove the bottom controller while powered the fans will also spool up to full speed until the controller is reinserted or the shelf is power-cycled.
    So , in summary use the top controller slot only if you plan on using SATA drives.

  6. I also tried this just because of the price of mimisas to qfsp cable. Haven’t put in any drive yet but seems the dell controller can work with the chassis just fine. only problem i notice is the front fault led is flashing and shelf id is not displayed, this may or may not be a problem if you try to dasy chian multiple shelves.

  7. any firmware to unbrand netapp IOM6’s

    unsure what’s up with my system I can do badblock checks everything works, try and format and get I/O errors and looks like the IOM just goes into a reboot loop

  8. Microsoft Azure StorSimple 0991017-01 6Gbps SAS Controller HB-SBB2-E601-MS

    was best I could try and get and it’s not playing ball

    Turbo speed FAN regardless of 1 or 2 controllers in
    no HDD activity

    and with my dodgy home made console cable

    Image available
    Stored CRC : 57DE1955ed CRC: 57DE1955
    Image valid
    B*

    * *

    #********D Test: 0x14 [t1], [t2]:type: Power-on reommand st=8, block size=ount=8, be 2097152 bytes.Starting fresh SRAM log 65536 bytes
    Starting fresh nv temporary log 65536 bytes
    VPD Lock enabled
    CanisVPD: Failed to parse VPD image onarse VPD
    Midplan VPD Structure: 0x06

    P-E6EBD , FirCanister0
    e ID: 45nclosure g SGPIO: Isolated
    Services…
    Discovery : OK
    : OK
    rhelp0+00:01:0 S0 GEM>
    0+00:01:03.921 S0 GEM>:04.233 S0 GEM> Arch 3
    Image B active

    Stored CRC : 57ic Enclosure Man*

    * ight(C) 2 Xyratexogy Ltd *

    * All Rights Reserved *

    #************* Version 0x14 [t1], [t2]: PASSED
    Startupower-on reset
    16bit AMD commandsh devic size=65536
    Regiock size=8192
    rving 13g
    fresh S65536 byCanister enabledCanisterMidplaneD image on bus 1 Isolate0x06

    olated
    : OK
    BattMgr HA : Interface. Type ‘helpst of commands.

    0+00:00:04.29help S0 GEM> S0 GEM>setupn command.
    0+00CRC : 5valid
    Booting image: Of0x14 [t1lash devin 0: couck size=k size=8ults
    e ID: 45abling SGPIO: Iscovery : OK
    : OK
    date: OK : OK
    ands.gr cs : OK

    0+00:00

  9. Is everything still working well? I can get my hands on a DS4246 and I want to do the same thing. From what I read they are the basically the same unit. What are you using for a controller? HP SAS Expander?

    1. Reading the differences between ds4243 and ds4246 it looks like the ds4246 will support up to 6TB drives and 6Gbps vs the ds4243 3Gbps). The controller for the HB-1235 supports 6Gbps. I hope it works. Will post back results.

      1. Actually it’s probably only the controller that is different. They probably share the same chassis so it *should* work.

  10. Thanks for sharing this awesome article for a economical solution to expand storage system. I am going to build a same one to expand my FreeNas box. I am not very clear about your cabling setup. Do you need 3xSFF SAS cable connect to HB-1235 controller from your storage server? I only got H200e flashed into IT mode which only has two port, how can I get this around? Do I need install a expander or another HBA to apply this? Thanks

  11. I am thinking of following your guide and creating the same FreeNAS setup using R620 with the netapp disk shelf. Was wondering if this is still working for you? Also I was thinking of either using a LSI 9207-8e HBA or a LSI9300-8e HBA ….. in both cases would I connect two cables between the disk shelf and HBA? One to each port…… looking for maximum performance.
    Also I was going to use WD RE 4TB Sata drives….. will this setup recognize the 4TB disks ?

  12. Hello,
    i put 3TB SATA HDD to my netapp DS4243 with Backplane from Year 2008 and see in the hp smart Array P800 Raid Controller only 2.199 MB per Disk.
    has anyone testet 3TB SATA HDD with Backplane form Year 2010 in a ds4243 ?
    best regards

    Jürgen

  13. I have been reading about sata on sas infrastructure, and the expanders for some time but I have yet to get a solid answer.

    In the photo you have of the Dell module in the top slot, you have 3 sas cables connected.

    From everything I have read, between an hba and expander, using additional cables provides more lanes and theoretically more throughput.
    Has this been what you have experienced and do you have any issues using two(or more) cables with your hba and software?

    Is it actually faster?

    I am looking to try this in a couple weeks with a ds2246 shelf and I am hoping that additional lanes will give me more throughput to try some bad ideas with ssd pools.

  14. Hello, i have bought a DS4243 with 2x IOM6 but is so hard and expensive to buy Mini SAS to QSFC+ cable that i am thinking in buying HB Compellent you refered, but i dont understand if i need to buy just one or two modules… Also this solution is only compatible with SAS drives or also SATA ?

    1. You only need one module to make it work, the second one is essentially useless in this setup and you just need something there to cover the slot for proper airflow. Insert the module into the top slot if you want it to work with SATA, the bottom module communicates with the secondary port on SAS drives, which isn’t present on SATA drives.

  15. Hi,
    this looks very intersting, as i have a Netapp Fas System lying around i will give that a try as well!
    I am just wondering what kind of HBA Card you have installed(because of the 3 Sas Cables)
    Regards
    Adrian

  16. Surprisingly 🙂 there’s not much other chat about doing this on the Internet, so despite the long time since you did this I thought I’d ask:

    I have an HB-1235 with the same model IOMs as yours, and just picked up a nearly free NetApp 4243 same as yours, after seeing your success story above. I’m using an LSI 9207, IT mode, firmware 20.00.07.00.

    Unfortunately… not so much joy here. I’ve tried both Xyratex IOMs in the NetApp, and either way I get a SAS link light and it shows up as a NetApp in the HBA BIOS but with no disks on board. Worse, no “here’s a disk!” green lights on the front caddies and no disks visible from the server.

    With the NetApp IOM3s in my test disks do show green lights on the caddies but presumably because they’re not NetApp they don’t get acknowledged or shared to the server either. Boo.

    I’ve tried all combos of IOMs (one at a time, or in matched pairs, no mixing). I don’t have access to any NetApp disks to try out. Sounds suspiciously like Jon P’s situation.

    Just asking for any ideas really. I’m considering taking a screwdriver to both and transplanting the brains of the HB-1235 to the NetApp. I haven’t opened anything up to see if it’s possible though.

    1. There’s no way to get into it, all rivets. Oh well.
      The NetApp IOM3 and IOM6 modules turn out to support max 3TB drives, which I didn’t realise. Still no joy with the Xyratex IOMs, so I guess I’ll give this up. Glad the box was nearly free!

  17. Thanks all for the feedback and comments. I tend to blog in bursts, and it’s been awhile since I’ve bothered to do anything on this site. Answers to a few questions:
    I’m still using this hardware, and it’s run fine for me. I’ve actually expanded utilization and am now serving storage for multiple VMs (including the one that serves this site) off this setup.
    I’ve used up to 4TB drives in this configuration. I haven’t purchased anything above 4TB yet so I can’t comment on any higher capacity.
    Many have mentioned that I used multiple cables. Yes this is to get higher throughput. The controller I’m using figures this out automatically. I’m using a LSI 9201-16e controller. I tried a 9206-16e and it wanted to see each cable as a separate endpoint so that didn’t work as well. I couldn’t find any documentation on which controller does what, so I’d stick with the 9201 which is readily available and cheap.
    I tried a IOM6 module in my DS4243 and it still would only connect 6Gbps SAS drives at 3Gbps. Since I’m not pushing throughput on my chassis frequently I didn’t dig into this any further.

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