Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dell / EMC AX150i/AX150SCi and Windows Server 2003 x64 iSCSI Initiator Woes

Can I have a much larger post name? 

In summary, this post details troubles I experienced by doing the right thing: I RTFM'd, and the manual was wrong.

I'm not sure how many people this post will help, but I know I'm writing it under the same guidelines I usually follow for posting: I had a hard time solving a problem, and the internet at large really didn't offer me much help, so, here we are.

At work we recently purchased a new server and storage-area-network (SAN) device:

  • Server: Dell 2950
    • Dual Intel Xeon 5320's (quad-core!) (1.86Ghz, 4MB cache, 1066MHz FSB) - 8 cores!
    • 16GB RAM
    • 6 160GB hard drives - RAID5'd via the integrate PERC 5/i RAID card. (I have some gripes about the PERC 5/i that I may describe in a later post.)
    • Dual integrated gigabit ethernet adapters.
  • SAN Device: Dell / EMC AX150i SP (ie: EMC AX150SCi)
    • iSCSI interface
    • Single storage processor (ie: "SP" in Dell-speak, "SCi" in EMC-speak)
    • 8 250GB HD's in a RAID-5 config (with space for 4-more drives, and the ability to swap-in 750GB drives!)
    • Separate 8-port Dell PowerConnect 2708 gigabit ethernet switch for the SAN network backbone / 'fabric'.

The 2950 is great, we're got it running Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard x64 Edition (this is important for later...) We have another 2950 in the office, and the only complaint I have with both of them is the server management software's inability to notify you, in any useful way, of RAID-failure events.  This is actually a problem with the integrated PERC 5/i card, but that's not what this post is about read Eric Neale's post about the PERC 5/i for more details on that gripe.

The SAN is pretty great too, except it's setup software is giving me problems, but before we get to that, a little more information on the configuration, and steps I took to get to the problem.

I'm going to be using the AX150 in a less-than-super redundant configuration.  I have the PowerConnect 2708 switch configured to be the primary switch for a private network that is used only for this storage-area-network.  The 2950 does not have an iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA), it's going to connect to the SAN with it's secondary NIC. Installing the necessary software on the Windows side of this was very easy.  Getting that software configured to work with the AX150 wasn't so.

I've followed EMC's instructions to-a-'T', which pretty much proceed as:

  • Install the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator software
  • Install the latest EMC PowerPath software
  • Install the latest EMC Navisphere Server Utility
  • Install the latest EMC Navisphere Initialization Utility
  • ...then follow the configuration steps.

I downloaded and installed v2.0.5 of the MS Software Initiator - followed EMC's specification that I install the 'Initiator Server' and the 'Software Initiator' - but not the 'MPIO Multipathing  Support for iSCSI.' This gave me an icon in my control panel and on my desktop.  EMC's documentation didn't state anything about configuring it at this point, so I left it alone. (yeah, that's foreshadowing.)

I then downloaded and installed EMC's PowerPath v5.1.0 from their registration-only support site.  This required a reboot to finalize installation.

Next up I downloaded and installed  v6. of the Navisphere AX Server Utility. This is where I ran into a couple separate issues.  In the box of the AX150 there was a big-poster-style "Getting Started" guide that came with the AX150.  At the point where it says to install the Server Utility it states to install with the defaults, and to make sure that the 'Registration Server' is installed - which it states is the default.  But, it was disabled by default when I ran the installer.  The documentation I retrieved directly from EMC's web site stated that I should explicitly not install the 'Registration Service'.  Okaaaaaay. So, which is correct? First time through, I choose not to install it because I figured the online documentation was more recent/up-to-date. The second snag in this installation started when it asked me:

"Are you installing this utility on a server that is using the Microsoft iSCSI initiator to connect to the CLARiiON storage system?"

Neither the 'big-poster' or the online documentation stated what I should choose, so, since it sounded appropriate, I choose 'Yes'. It then presented this message/error:

"Microsoft Initiator is needed to setup your iSCSI devices. InstallShield does not find Microsoft Initiator installed on your computer. Please download Microsoft Initiator from and install it."

Whaaaaaaaat?  I had already installed MS iSCSI Initiator!  Strangely though, the installation didn't abort, and continued on to completion with no other errors or strange messages.

After this, I download and installed v6. of the Navisphere Initialization Tool. After this is installed, I was instructed to use it to initialize the AX150. The initialization process assigns IP addresses to the management interface and iSCSI ports on the unit. 

After initialization, I was instructed to open the Server Utility and choose the "Configure iSCSI Connections on this server" option. Well, look at the screenshot below and you tell me what I should choose:


Yup.  There's my problem summed up in a screenshot.  Figuring I had missed something, or done something wrong, I meticulously combed through my installation notes, and cross-referenced the installation documentation. I tried rolling back installations and re-installing with different options. (Specifically, I tried installing the 'Registration Service', and I also tried answering 'no' to the Server Utilities install question mentioned earlier.)  No combination of installation options made a difference. I spelunked through more documentation on EMC's support site.  I looked on Dell's site for documentation -- they kept pointing me to EMC's support site.  I tried Google for answers - I found nothing. 

I finally decided I'd have to get in touch with Dell.  I went to their support page, got to their 'online chat support' area, entered the AX150's service-tag, and, tada, found that everyone was busy with someone else.  (It's nice to see chat-support is no-more available than phone support.)  I tried a couple times, hoping to get through.  Nothing.  I really didn't want to email them because I needed to get this system online, and who knows how many days turn-around it would take to get resolved via email. 

I started looking for the correct phone number to call, and I somehow, probably because I'd entered the AX150's service tag, I found myself at a tech-support page specific to the AX150.  There's a section near the top: "Top Solutions : Frequently Asked Questions About Your Model":

  1. What is RAID 0 and RAID 1
  2. What is RAID 5
  3. How can I collect the SP event logs from a CLARiiON FC4700 or CS-Series array using the serial port?
  4. How do I configure the LUNs on my DELL|EMC® array?
  5. EMC® Navisphere® Server Utility iSCSI configuration is not available in Microsoft® Windows® 2003 64-bit

(Side question: What's with questions #1 and #2?  "You must be at least this smart to ride this ride." comes to mind. hehe.)

Number five!  Look at that!  That's exactly my problem! Dell's documentation had the answer, not EMC's!  Dell keeps redirecting you to EMC's documentation when they had the answer to my question all along. 

It's a bummer that I had to spend this much time finding this answer because getting things configured manually through the MS iSCSI Initiator is really quite simple.



Anonymous said...

I have a similar setup. AX150i, W2K3 R2 x32, using MS iSCSI Initiator. The server is a Dell PE1950. This was supposed to be our new fileserver solution. As we have moved more and more data to this 'box', the fileserver became slower and slower. It is to the point now that it is causing the entire network to lock up. That is right, the entire network. Has anyone else had this experience?

Jason Poll said...

Are you connecting your iSCSI SAN device to your P1950 over the same network that your clients use to connect to the P1950?

I'm no storage master, but I thought it was generally accepted that when using iSCSI storage, you should not use the same general purpose network for your storage network

In my setup, the 2950 has dual gig NICs. One is connected to the general purpose network through which my desktop clients connect to the 2950. The other NIC is setup as a private network that connects to a small 8 port managed switch that is used only to connect to the AX150.

If you do have it setup as a 'public' and 'private SAN' network, then maybe you need to sit down with perfmon and figure out what is really your bottleneck. (A bit of quick and good reading on perfmon can be found here.)