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I'm about to install ESXi 5.0U2 on a RAID10 exposed by an HP Smart Array P400i. (The server is a DL580 G5.) However, I notice that the ROM-based utility lacks many of the features of the browser-based HP Array Configuration Utility, but the latter only runs in Windows or Linux distros.

I can't do any PCI passthrough on this server, so as far as I can see I can't just install ACU into a guest OS and expect to get anywhere.

The only way I can see to use ACU is to have an installation of Windows on a separate drive to boot to when I need to do array management, but this is very inconvenient and also does nothing for monitoring.

Do I have any better options for managing the hardware RAID on such a host?

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Kevin, I may be misunderstanding, but wouldn't you be able to boot the server using an HP SmartStart CD, from which you can run the ACU? Or are you looking for a solution that does not require rebooting an operational ESXi server just in order to run ACU. – JasonAzze Jan 24 '13 at 20:25
I've not used PCI passthrough much but I think that would present a bit of a catch 22 anyway. How could you install vSphere on a RAID array being presented via that card and then pass that card though to a VM? It's my understanding that any PCI device configured for passthrough can't also be used by the host. – joeqwerty Jan 24 '13 at 20:41
@JasonAzze Actually, I hadn't realized you could run ACU from HP SmartStart as I've never used it before, I was just looking at the download page for ACU itself and it made no mention of that option; thanks for clueing me into that! That worked. Ideally I would rather not even have to reboot the server, but it's not the end of the world if I do. – Kevin Jan 26 '13 at 20:44
@joeqwerty In theory a RAID adapter should expose entirely separate I/O interfaces for disk access vs. array management, in which case PCI passthrough could work. In practice, few devices are ever engineered so beautifully, so I too would guess PCI passthrough wouldn't work. I was just stating for greater certainty that passthrough is definitely not an option on this system. – Kevin Jan 26 '13 at 20:45
@kevin Would you also consider ESXi 5.1? Just because :) – ewwhite Jan 28 '13 at 5:51
up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are several good options for handling this nowadays. The HP BIOS-based RAID utility is only meant for quick and simple logical drive configuration. For more complex arrangements, you need to use one of the following:

  • The HP SmartStart and Service Pack for ProLiant bootable disks allow fine-grained array configuration, as they boot the server into an offline Linux configuration environment.

  • The new Array Configuration Utility Offline CD is a 100mb bootable CD and a quicker way of doing the initial configuration. It boots into either an ACU command line tool or a full ACU graphical interface.

  • A Linux boot disk with the hpacucli tool was my old approach before I start making use of the bootable HP CD's.

My typical VMware ESXi install would look like below, where I'd carve out a 16GB or 18GB logical drive for ESXi to live on, then give the rest to VMFS:

/opt/hp/hpacucli/bin # ./hpacucli ctrl all show config

Smart Array P410i in Slot 0 (Embedded)    (sn: 5001438010A99E30)

   array A (SAS, Unused Space: 0  MB)

      logicaldrive 1 (18.0 GB, RAID 1+0, OK)
      logicaldrive 2 (392.1 GB, RAID 1+0, OK)

      physicaldrive 1I:1:1 (port 1I:box 1:bay 1, SAS, 146 GB, OK)
      physicaldrive 1I:1:2 (port 1I:box 1:bay 2, SAS, 146 GB, OK)
      physicaldrive 1I:1:3 (port 1I:box 1:bay 3, SAS, 146 GB, OK)
      physicaldrive 1I:1:4 (port 1I:box 1:bay 4, SAS, 146 GB, OK)
      physicaldrive 2I:1:5 (port 2I:box 1:bay 5, SAS, 146 GB, OK)
      physicaldrive 2I:1:6 (port 2I:box 1:bay 6, SAS, 146 GB, OK)

   SEP (Vendor ID PMCSIERA, Model  SRC 8x6G) 250 (WWID: 5001438010A99E3F)

Once you have ESXi installed, you should be adding the HP CIM drivers and HP Utilities packages. These will give you HP-specific reporting to VMware and the HP ILO and array command-line configuration utilities.

This will give you the ability to fully manage your storage array from the VMware command line.

PCI-passthrough of a Smart Array controller works when the server hardware supports it. The system in question is too old and doesn't support VMware VMDirectPath I/O. In newer ProLiant systems, I'm fully able to pass a Smart Array controller or otherwise to a virtual guest.

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Thank you for the tips. As for the passthrough, @joeqwerty was referring to the specific case of passing through (for management purposes) the same RAID controller that the hypervisor is stored on - a trickier situation. But HP's VMware-based management tools you mention should make this unnecessary anyhow. – Kevin Feb 3 '13 at 23:48

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