Dell Management Plug-In for VMware vCenter Review

Ok, I’ve had the plug-in running for a few weeks and have gone through some of the primary functions of it (firmware updates, inventory, monitoring, warranty retrieval, create hardware profile for deployment)

I’m not going to go through the initial setup, that’s been covered pretty well on DellTechCenter.com.

Here are the claimed major functionalities with my notes as far as day to day usage as well as some miscellaneous thoughts at the end.

Deep-level detail from Dell servers
The level of detail here is quite good; much deeper information and more clearly laid out than the basic ‘Hardware’ tab in vCenter. But what stands out to me is the efficiency of not having to rely on another tool, be it OpenManage, iDRAC, IT Assistant, etc. I spend a lot of time in vCenter and it’s fantastic to not have to leave that for another program.
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The amount of detail for hardware information is ridiculous. All of this information is available if you have the Enterprise iDRAC in your server, but to be able to get the serial number and manufacturing date of your RAM in the same place that you can check your warranty status is just beautiful.
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Deploy BIOS and firmware updates within vCenter
This is a wizard based process that requires you to have a CIFS or NFS repository, which the initial setup walks you through for configuring. I’ve found it pretty straight forward, easy and quick. Well, the wizard is quick. While this feature is fantastic and works very well, the actual upgrade, however, takes quite a while. The server goes through multiple reboots throughout the process. After the updates are downloaded to the repository, the server is automatically put into Maintenance Mode and then reboots into an EFI environment to do the updates. After each update, the server reboots and re-enters the System Update environment to continue with the next update (firmware/bios). If you attempt to perform many updates at once (NIC firmware, BIOS, HD Firmware, etc.), be prepared to wait.

 

Build hardware and hypervisor profiles and deploy any combination of the two on bare-metal Dell PowerEdge™ servers without a preboot execution environment (PXE)
This is accomplished through the magic of the combination of the LifeCycle Controller and the iDRAC. While I’ve built the profile which seems very straight forward, I’ve yet to be able to test this (spare Gen11 PowerEdge servers are hard to come by, though if one were donated, I would not complain). Although I have a new server coming to replace an out of warranty cluster host that I was planing on testing on, I found this little nugget in the Admin Guide
The system needs to have a Virtual Disk for installation of the OS.
The Plug-in will not install the hypervisor to an internal SD card.
Bummer. This is the standard config for my cluster going forward. No Hard Disks. My great hope is that this is resolved in the next version. If not, this is a huge feature and potentially massive time saver that’s not available to me.

 

Automatically perform Dell recommended vCenter actions based on Dell hardware alerts
The Plug-in adds a whole host of new Dell server specific alarms to vCenter. These range from power consumption to OS driver version monitoring. If something critical enough happens, say a single power supply in a dual power supply system dies, the Plug-in will automatically put the host in maintenance mode until the issue is fixed. This can theoretically save you from encountering an HA event, which, while cool, is never fun.

 

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When I first installed the plug-in, I was immediately alerted to the fact that I was running on a quite old RAID controller driver. Handy.

 

Receive proactive renewal alerts from Dell before your warranty expires and access the Dell hardware warranty page online
I’ve always been bad at doing this myself. It seems easy to track on my own, but we’re all lazy in some areas, I guess this in one of mine. So, thanks, Dell, for enabling me to not have to come up with a better solution on my own :) I have yet to receive this because the server I’m testing on still has almost 1500 days of warranty left. But I see the link to click to renew it if I like, and its status is in the Overview page in the Dell Server Management tab.

Misc Thoughts and Issues

  • Hardware Provisioning and Deployment
    • Unfortunately, v1.0.1 cannot deploy a hypervisor to an internal SD card. This is how we plan to move forward with our ESXi installs (including the R610 I just ordered)
  • Pricing
    • Retail pricing is $299.00 for up to 3 hosts, $799.00 for up to 10, $1,799.00 for up to 50 and $2,999.00 for up to 1000 hosts
      • If you have 1000 hosts, you can probably afford this. It might be hard to sell $800 to my management to manage my 5 hosts. Essentially, we’d have to save about 25 hours of work to break even
      • I’m not asking for it to be free. It does too much to be free and is really bordering on what you can define as a plug-in. What I’d like to see is up to 3 for free (throw the SMBs a bone and gain market share in the process), $300 for 5 hosts, etc.

 

 

 

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