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?