I had a server running Windows 2003 that resided on a RAID5 array formed by Promise FastTrak SX4100, which I thought was hardware-based because of its dedicated processor and buffer memory and its ability to boot DOS and Windows. As it turns out, however, that controller is only hardware-assisted, with higher level logic carried out by x86 firmware running on host processor. Now that the aged motherboard (or processor?) has died, and I tried to migrate to a more modern UEFI-oriented hardware, the RAID controller cannot initialize even in legacy (BIOS) mode — it hangs when scanning disks, i. e. its firmware receives the control from UEFI/BIOS and prints welcoming messages on screen, but makes no progress in identifying connected SATA drives.
Therefore I thought I may have better luck running Windows inside a virtual machine with PCI card passed through to it, the more so that NT 5.2 is unlikely to be compatible with modern chipsets, while Qemu provides totally comfortable emulated environment in classic BIOS mode. The problem, however, is that SeaBIOS does not list the RAID controller as a bootable device, despite being able to communicate with it successfully.
- The controller firmware does receive control and is able to initialize the RAID array before the boot menu is displayed by SeaBIOS, however that menu lacks any mention of the array disk.
- The array configuration utility that can be invoked during POST process clearly shows that the array is healthy.
- When Windows installer is run and loaded with RAID drivers, it also clearly displays the disk contents, proving its availability.
In other words, the array seems totally operational inside the VM environment, but for some season not recognized by SeaBIOS as a bootable device, although the later does support PCI devices for Boot ROM option, as is evident with iPXE network boot ROM built into SeaBIOS itself.
I also had an idea that GRUB may be of any help here, i. e. booting from SeaBIOS into GRUB (on a small separate disk) and then chain-loading to Windows. However I was not very successful at configuring it, since Linux environments do not see the array due to the lack of drivers and thus cannot assist with menu creation, yet GRUB itself is not too friendly nor verbose — I could not even understand whether it actually sees the array as a disk drive, or needs some drivers to be loaded beforehand, or any other prerequisites. Rescue kits like RescaTux or PartedMagic are not helpful either, since they are focused on repairing existing GRUB installations — not setting up new ones.
For reference, I experimented with Xen 4.7.2 using upstream Qemu 2.6.2 with SeaBIOS 1.9.1, on top of openSUSE 42.2 with Linux 4.4.62. Forums and mailing lists indicate that booting from PCI RAID was already possible in much older versions, for over a decade, so I assume that it is my particular setup to blame. But I cannot understand, is SeaBIOS indeed capable of booting from my RAID controller?
The ultimate goal is to get the server back by any means available, including by acquiring another compatible old hardware. But I just got curious with this specific technology, as virtual machines seemed more versatile and future-proof method of prolonging the life of legacy systems.