Whither the floppy?

Sunday afternoon I began the process of adding a couple of 1TB drives to the Dell 2950 server I’m using as a VMWare Server at home.  This system is pretty beefy at 2x3GHz dual core 2×2 Xeons with 16GB memory, but the pair of 70GB drives it sported were just not enough. I kept running out of room for VMs and had to delete VMs that I could potentially have been interoperating with others.

To accommodate the drives we had to purchase a pair of carriers to replace the dummy covers on the drive slots.  First thing I noticed was that the carriers listed SAS and SATAII screw holes in the wrong positions.  After a momentary chill down my spine, I screwed the drives in and shoved the drives into the server with a little bit of force and everything fit.

Booting the system up, I noticed that the firmware was at 1.1.0 and gave a date of 2005.  This seemed odd for something that would need to work with these newer drives, but I gave it no thought.  Until I saw that the drives were not being recognized.  Bummer.  After reading a few forums I saw that some people had seen this and updating the firmware would fix it.  Luckily this server has another year of warranty left on it, so help was available.

I downloaded a BIOS update and the BMC update just in case.  The BMC was also pretty far behind, so it was worth doing that as well.  The server has no floppy drive.  A fully decked out server, and no one got the $20 floppy drive.  Well, in cases like this, I’ve used a BartPE disk with network support to mount a samba share off my file server.  The first disk I found was a couple of years old and didn’t have the necessary drivers.  So next I burned my own BartPE disk with the necessary Dell drivers and everything looked peachy.  Until I tried to run the 16-bit BIOS and BMC updaters that PE doesn’t support.  So I reached for another blank disk to make a generic DOS boot disk with the necessary updaters on it, when I noticed that I only had DVD-Rs left. The server has a CD drive, not a DVD drive.  OK, so lets go get some CD-Rs.  At 7pm on a Sunday, Staples has been closed for over an hour.

Things were conspiring against me, so I needed to take a new tack.  I discovered a spare USB keyfob that I had bought as a 3-pack for my two older kids on a back-to-school sale.  I found the HP USB Disk Storage utility and a Win98 boot files zip and quickly made a bootable flash drive loaded with the necessary files.  The server sees the flash drive as a hard drive and hitting F11 allows you to select it from the Boot menu.  In just a few minutes, I updated the server and could see the drives in the RAID controller.  I got a hold of the MegaRAID Manager software for Linux and used it to configure the drives from my CentOS 5 installation.  Right before bed, I started the fsck on the 1TB logical volume and when morning rolled around, I was greeted with a shiny new filesystem.

I think the lesson here is that if you are going to get a nice expensive system, spring for some of the cheap extras like the floppy or DVD drive.  No, you might not use it very often, but at the time you critically need it, it will save you some precious time.  At this moment I’m copying the VMs to the new partition so that I can free up that space on the main drive and start running more VMs.  I’m pretty lucky to have this system on hand, as it helps me train on systems that I might not be able to work with in the office.  It’s a great way to supplement one’s training, and if you think about it, not so expensive in the long run when you consider that you will be a better (and possibly better paid?) admin for it.

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