Building a virtualization lab is a common scenario both for domestic needs, or when budget is limited, and for testing needs like trying new software or checking compatibilities and updates too risky to be run into production.
We have tested the Primergy TX 1310 M1: this entry-level solution by Fujitsu in the tower-format field is available online with a starting price spanning between 400 and 500€ (vAT included). Considering that the processor -an Intel Xeon Haswell with support to Intel’s VT for Direct IO technology- is sold for ~250€, it’s a tempting offer.
Hardware and equipment
The model we tested is equipped with an Intel Zeon E3-1226v3 (quad-core, 3.3GHz, 8MBytes cache but no Hyper Threading), coupled with 4GByte DDR3 1600MHz ECC RAM and a spinning 500GByte SATA III disk. As for connectivity, on the back there’s place for the classic VGA video out, a serial port, 4 USB 2.0 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. Four USB 3.0 ports are distributed between the back and the front, where a SATA DVD burner is also available.
The case is very compact, the space occupied is equal to a common desktop, and noise is equal to a traditional PC as well (there are laptops from a few years ago that are sensibly louder). The server is very tidy on the inside: there are four slots to host 3.5” hard disks with quick-release rails and five SATA cables that are already fitted with power connector (ports on the motherboard are six). The down side is the lack of a space between the place of insertion of SATA connectors on disks and the side wall of the case, thus obliging to use of 90° angular connectors. If using a dedicated SAS controller with SAS-SATA cable and classic connectors, this lack of space becomes a serious problem, especially if using 3.5” disks.
On the inside there’s also place for an USB 3.0 port which is very useful for booting USB drives. The starting configuration is naturally quite limited if we want to use this server as a virtualization host: the Xeon processor allows to configure peripherals in pass-through to make, for instance, an all-in-one system with an integrated NAS, but the integrated controller, which is a fake RAID as a matter of fact, is not supported by vSphere.
Therefore we have powered the server with a supported RAID controller and added more RAM (four 8GBytes banks by Crucial -- a total of 32GBytes, the max allowed amount). As for storage, we added two 500GBytes Samsung 850 Evo SSDs, which is a good product not suited for a server usage but still satisfying for homelab usage.
The server is equipped with two PCI-express 3.0 and two PCI-express 2.0 slots, which is a good gateway to upgrade the basic equipment.
ESXi and Compatibility
Primergy TX1310 is certified for the use with the main Operating Systems and with Hyper-V Server up to 2012 R2, however ESXi (we used version 6.0 update 1) isn’t present in the compatibility list by Fujitsu. The lack of VMware certification is a constant in the panorama of lab and entry-level solutions: the two components that usually require a dedicated analysis are network card and disk controller.
On this Fujitsu, we noted that the two onboard Gigabit NICs (Intel p217 and Intel p210) are correctly identified by the hypervisor, the only problem is about disk controller as we just said. USB 3.0 ports can be used with no problems at alls, indeed we succeeded in assign them to a Windows virtual machine using a virtual USB controller in xHCL mode.
Disk controller and SSD: problems and solutions
The onboard controller is an Intel Wellsburg that can also run in RAID mode and configurable thanks to the LSI MegaRAID firmware that can be accessed after boot. We configured two SSDs in RAID 1 but -as we expected- if we tried to add a LUN datastore in ESXi, disks were identified as two single units and not as one single RAID volume. That’s because of the incompatibility between RAID software management of this controller and ESXi.
Having to look for a controller, we performed a first test with a Dell PERC H200 (a branded version of the LSI 9211-8i) which was immediately available in our lab. This controller doesn’t have an integrated cache memory nor additional batteries: LSI favoured data conservation when designing this model, and, as an added safety measure, asks not to use any additional internal cache should the connected disks come with, thus avoiding a degrading in writing performances. In a quick test with Windows bare metal installed and enabling disks’ cache we went from a poor 85MBytes/s (sequencial writing) to a worthy 465MBytes/s. However, things went worse once installed ESXi: the performances recorded inside a VM -just this one running- lowered to 10MBytes/s in both reading and writing. Indeed, vSphere doesn’t even allow the use of local disks without a supported controller with cache memory and battery.
To improve these results we’ve installed an IBM Serveraid M5015 with 512MBytes of cache and integrated battery (the equivalent of an LSI 9260-8i which can be easily purchased for circa 150€ on eBay). The performances of VMs finally proved to match our expectations with this controller, scoring proper sequencial reading and writing speeds for the Samsung SSD units used. We also emphasise the improvement in reading thanks to the Mirror configuration: the controller indeed simultaneously reads from both SSDs, reaching peaks past the Gbytes/s mark.
A good homelab, provided you’re ready to spend a few more money
TX1310 M1 is a good starting point for a virtual lab: its compactness and its low noise volume makes it suitable even in situations where a dedicated room is not available. Hardware integrates well with ESXi and the upgrade capabilities are good: its aggressive price leaves room for upgrades while keeping the overall expense low. Nonetheless, it’s fundamental to equip it with a suitable controller if you want to leverage local storage.
Unfortunately this model doesn’t come with the Fujitsu iRMC management console, the equivalent to Dell’s iDRAC and HP’s iLO for server remote management, but it’s a lacking feature that can be beared considering the price tier where this machine falls in and its purchasing price.
|Technical Specifications||Fujitsu Primergy TX 1310 M1|
|Processor||Intel Xeon E3-1226v3 (quad-core, no HyperThreading)|
|RAM installed/max||4GB single module /32GB|
|Type of RAM||DDR3 Unbuffered ECC|
|Number of RAM slots||4|
|Disks included||1 x 500 GB|
|Internal 3.5" disk slots||4 + 1|
|6 Gbits/s SATA 3.5" disk slots - frontal access||0|
|3 Gbits/s SATA 3.5" disk slots - frontal access||0|
|8,5 mm CD-ROM slots||1|
|Disks controller||Intel Wellsburg|
|Supported RAID modes||0/1/10|
|Supported disk types||SATA|
|Controller's onboard cache||-|
|Extra SATA ports||1|
|Remote control system||-|
|Processors available on other models||Intel Celeron, Core i3, Pentium, Xeon E3-1246v3|
|Officially supported Operating Systems||Windows 2008 R2, 2012, 2012 R2, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5,6 and 7), SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (11 and 12), Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 and 2012 R2.|
|Frontal USB 3.0||2|
|Rear USB 2.0||4|
|Rear USB 3.0||2|
|Internal USB 3.0||1|
|Gigabit Ethernet ports||2|
|Management Ethernet ports||-|
|Micro SD slot||-|