Dell DRAC5 Virtual Media CDROM breaks OS installation, hangs on Windows boot, and makes megaraid_sas insane

We bought a dozen shiny new Dell 2950 and 1950 machines, with DRAC5 cards which seem quite handy.

So off we went to install Debian and Windows 2003 using only DRAC5’s virtual Console (kind of an IP KVM) and virtual media. No physical access to the servers is required. It all works very well, you point DRAC at an .ISO image, configure virtual media to attached in the Ctrl-E screen, hit F11 and choose to boot from “VIRTUAL CDROM”. This is where OS Installation, and problems, begin.

When installing Debian, when virtual media is attached, the PERC controller shifts stuff around so that the virtual media device can fit. That makes my RAID-5 array on the PERC be at /dev/sdc instead of the expected /dev/sda. This seems alright at first, but after the installation is done, GRUB goes insane. You can jackhammer GRUB to work, but then the megaraid_sas driver goes insane. Literally. Lockups, wierd and misleading messages. Insanity reigns.

When installing Windows without the help of the Dell Installation CD, it locks up right at the first “Windows Setup” blue screen, even before the “F6” driver prompt. The machine literally freezes (you can still restart it using DRAC, sweet). If you try using the Dell Install CD, it goes okay until the first reboot where the same thing happens. Complete lockup.

After spending a lot of time with Dell Support with clueless people (they were about to send us a tech to swap the PERC 6i controller which was “obviously” the culprit), we finally realized the problem was the Virtual Media in DRAC5. When we disabled Virtual Media and used a real, physical, spinning DVD drive, everything was fine. It turns out Windows locked up because it couldn’t figure out the “VIRTUAL CDROM” thing. Nothing was wrong with the PERC. Debian installed like a dream too, on /dev/sda.

If you really need to use the Virtual Media, you have to go through a very boring process. First, attach virtual media in Ctrl-E screen and mount the ISO in your browser. Start installing your operating system. When it’s time for the first reboot, go into Ctrl-E again and dettach virtual media. Now the install should proceed as normal…

All in all, DRAC5 is a very useful thing, it’s KVM capabilities have already paid for themselves if only in gasoline saved in trips to the datacenter. Now a Firefox 3 plugin, and fixes to the Virtual Media problems, would be very nice. Hello Dell?

9 Replies to “Dell DRAC5 Virtual Media CDROM breaks OS installation, hangs on Windows boot, and makes megaraid_sas insane”

  1. Dell DRAC5’s while handy I’ve found suck compared to IBM Remote Supervisor card especially on slow links I had a server in china I had to administer what a bugger it was to get access to the remote console timed out so many times it wants funny.

    IBM Servers you can change the timeout period (including setting it to never) on the intial login, there isn’t too many steps to get to the remote console and there is far better cross-browser support. You also dont seem to need to download a huge plugin from the remote server (why dell cant offer a simple link to download from their servers is beyond me from the DRAC page).

    Once you get to the remote console its great however as the linux console session doesn’t require much bandwidth to run.

  2. Thank you for this information… I was having the exact same thing happen and this fixed it up.

    Oddly, I had done a couple of pure virtual media installs through the DRAC on this same box in the past couple of days (long story) and they worked fine. It was just this one today that decided to not play.

    I’m guessing that it latched on to a virtual media component that I forgot to disconnect. When I started having this lock up on the “Windows Setup” blue screen the first time today I was doing it purely over virtual media. Got the same result the next time when I tried redoing the install with pure physical media. Weird, but solved. Thanks again!

  3. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones with DRAC issues. I’ve gotten vKVM working in 32-bit Firefox/Linux (it’s a known issue that it doesn’t work in 64-bit). Unfortunately, when I tunnel the X11 connection to my Mac, the keyboard doesn’t work. I run a Linux VM under Parallels, and ssh to the cluster head, and then run Firefox there to the compute node. That *usually* gives me a working keyboard.

    The Virtual Media plugin just doesn’t work — Mozilla 2 or Firefox 3. When I get it installed, the Connect button is dim.

    Another issue: their browser detect is broken, so it serves an ActiveX control to Firefox/Mac, even though they correctly serve the Java plugin to Firefox/Linux (and in fact I’ve gotten it to work within Mac OS X once or twice). Dell won’t fix this, because they don’t support Macs.

  4. Dell have now fixed Firefox support and virtual media in the next version of the DRAC (6) which comes with the new R610 and R710 servers by default (you pay extra for virtual media support). These things are a lifesaver. The DRAC card have been improving rapidly. The DRAC III was next to useless, but these new ones are great.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this very valuable information which is no where listed in DELL site. Mine too is a PowerEdge 2950. I tried installing thrice getting stuck in the same ‘Windows Setup’ screen. And after your advise on disabling the Virtual Media, it installed like a charm.. Thank you again for posting this valuable info. I belive still many would get benifietted from this site

  6. I know this post is a bit old but I just ran into this on a system I was building. I was able to work around the issue by changing the virtual media setting from “detach” to “auto attach.” I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it worked for me.

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