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Ode to the Dell C2100/FS12-TY

Mirfster

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Okay, I figured that it was time for me to finally make a post about my preferred system along with reasons, justifications, pro and cons, etc. I have mentioned the Dell C2100/FS12-TY countless times and figured that it would be easier to simply have a single thread to point to. So without further ado here we go...

*** Disclaimer: These are just my opinion(s) and should be taken as such. This is not an "end all" definitive guide, but more along the lines of personal praise for a specific Make/Model. Consider it more of a "brain dump" and will/may be updated as I try to "fill in the gaps" :p

Okay, so like pretty much everyone else my journey began searching for a machine that pretty much "did it all"; but wasn't looking to mortgage my house for it. However, I wanted the ability to be able to "run with the big dogs" (well perhaps jog a distance behind them at least). In my endeavors I started out with a Dell C1100 (1U model) that was pretty cheap. Once I fired the unit up, I had an "oh crap" moment since it basically sounded like a jet engine at full blast constantly. In trying to find a way to quiet this beast down, I discovered that the main reason for the fans running so high was due to crappy BMC Firmware. So, luckily I was able to downgrade that to <= v1.7 and things were a lot better. Being a 1U it still would have trouble dissipating heat and the fans would have to spin up often (its way of reminding me that "psst.. I'm still here"). For that reason, along with the fact that it could only house 4 drives led me to look at the C2100/FS12-TY. Here is where my love affair began...

Before even considering this model there are a couple things you need to know right off the bat. Take these into consideration:
  • While Dell itself did sell the actual "C2100" model to the public, 99% of the ones you will see are the "FS12-TY" models
    • The "FS12-TY" were customized models sold under DCS "Dell Cloud Services" directly to specific customers who purchased a large amounts of them (think minimal order was like 10,000 units?)
    • There is also even more confusion since other names were thrown in like "Quanta" and "Sequoia"
    • I not had any issues with any of them thus far (maybe I am just lucky?)
  • You will not get any Official Dell Support for any of these
    • These puppies are way out of any possible warranty
    • Again 99% of the one for sale are the FS12-TY which were sold directly to large customers
    • Well aside from the way older drivers, firmware that you can download for the C2100 from Dell
  • Documentation is limited/scattered
    • Not everything is clearly laid out and described thoroughly
    • While there is an official manual (from Dell) it lacks information on some stuff like what each jumper does on the backplane
    • While a bit annoying, I have pretty much been able to find out what I needed via forums and searches though
  • There is NO EFI/UEFI BIOS for this unit
    • What this means is that the MB does not do GPT so if you were thinking of having a 3TB Boot disk directly attached to the MB forget about using/seeing the full space (you will see ~1.9 TB)
    • Don't freak out... This does not stop you from using larger drives that are going through a HBA for FreeNas (I currently do and it sees all the drive space)
    • This does make it a bit tricky for VM Guest where you want a single drive over 2TB, but there are "creative" ways to get around that if needed
    • Yes, you can still run modern OSes like Win 10
    • I actually prefer this since it simplifies things for me
  • Watch your backplane
    • While most of the models come with a SAS2 backplane there is the chance you will get caught off guard and get one with a older SAS backplane with SFF-8484 connectors
    • Usually a tell-tale of this is that they are selling the unit with a Perc 6/i card
    • While I do have one of these backplanes, I never tried to see if it fully supports > 2TB drives (on my list to check out)
  • This is not the most environmental friendly unit; but it won't kill Bambi either
    • You can make it very very quite (more on that later) by ensuring the BMC Firmware is <=v1.7; so "Noise Pollution" is not an issue
    • As far a power goes, well it does have two 750W PSUs (can just use a singe if needed; but not recommended)
    • CPUs are available in a wide variety of TDPs (from 40 to 130) so that plays a big part on wattage
    • Average for 3 of my units (all fully populated w/12 HGST Drives) is ~211 watts each (post #29) YMMV
  • Certain "desirable" parts are gonna cost ya
    • 2.5" Hard Drive Trays, yes there is a variant that will take 24 x 2.5" drives
      • Fun fact, if you don't get the unit with the trays, expect to sell a kidney to pay for them
      • The real 2.5" trays are EXPENSIVE; like ~$26.00 each (yeah EACH)
      • I ended up paying about twice as much just for the trays ($700.00) as I did the for two barebone units I bought, but was initially looking at ~$1,500.00 for just empty trays.. (See story Here)
    • 3.5" Hard Drive Trays, are pretty cheap; while not dirt cheap they should not be considered a "show stopper"
      • Bonus, the 3.5" trays will take a 2.5" drive without any modifications or additional hardware needed
    • Hard Drive Tray Screws (Really?... Um yeah...)
      • Being a Dell, they of course made this a PITA; while not a major cost you can't just use any standard screw in the trays
      • Always a good idea to ask the seller to include the screws
      • I personally use just two screws in each tray (diagonally) to save on them
      • Worst case you can buy them online for ~$10.00/24 pcs (I believe those are the correct ones; will have to double check to be 100% sure)
      • Update (thanks to @kngpwr): You can get 100 screws from Amazon for a little over $8.00.
    • This model offers two specialized "mezzanine" ports that can accommodate certain hardware
    • One is for a "Perc H200" that will run you about ~$130.00 on average
      • It is a "nice to have" since it frees up a PCIe Slot (which are 2 x 8 PCI Express Gen2)
      • Yes it can be cross-flashed just like the normal H200 (I use the "mezzanine" model mainly)
    • The other port is for an Intel Dual 10GB LAN
      • This puppy is really hard to find and usually too expensive (~$300.00 - $500.00)
      • It is best to either forget about this or wait and hopefully find it for a "reasonable price" if you really really want one
 
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Mirfster

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So how am I using this model?

Currently, I have four active running units in my home office. Earlier this year, I re-located my office from a smaller room to what used to be our guest bedroom on our basement. Now I have me a small walk in closet that is my "Server Room" (yeah for me). Along with two cubicles (yeah I am "funny like that") it all fits into a room that is ~ 20 x 20.

Remember when I said "You can make it very very quite"?; well this is true. The closet (which currently has the door removed, since I need to make it swing out instead of in) sits not more than 5 feet from my desk/cubicle and houses a Dell 42U rack. In that rack I currently have:
  • 3 C2100/FS12-TY units
  • 1 DLink 24 port GB Switch (go ahead an laugh)
  • 1 Dell 18" KVM
  • 1 Raritan PDU
  • 1 old Drobo 5N
  • 1 UPS, can't recall off the top of my head what make/model (and too lazy to walk the 5 feet)
  • 1 APC 4U UPS (not running yet since I need to drop a 30 AMP breaker in there)
With all of that running, my decibel meter reads ~60db (which equates to a "conversation"). However, I use speakerphone a lot (should just get one of those ear pieces instead to look important) and never have had any issues with people hearing the servers or noise interference... True story and I will get video up with my decibel meter to prove it eventually (c'mon, I too lazy to walk 5 feet and you expect me to get up and make a video right now?)

Server #1
  • OS: Microsoft Server 2012 R2 DataCenter
    • Only running like 4 VMs right now
  • CPU(s): 2x Xeon X5650 @ 2.6GHz
  • RAM: 24 GB
  • Perc H700 Controller
  • OS Drive(s): 2x 250GB SSD
  • Data Drive(s): 12x 2TB (HGST)
  • QLogic 10 GB SPF+ (Dual Port)
  • Dual 750w PSU
Server #2
  • OS: ESXi vSphere 5.5 Update 3
    • Has like 21 VMs, but I only run 4 or 5 at any given time
    • Thinking on it, I need to clean this up a bit...
  • CPU(s): 2x Xeon X5650 @ 2.6GHz
  • RAM: 64 GB
  • Perc H700 Controller
  • OS Drive(s): 2x 32GB SSD
  • Data Drive(s): 12x 2TB (HGST)
  • QLogic 10 GB SPF+ (Dual Port)
  • Dual 750w PSU
Server #3
  • OS: FreeNAS-9.3-STABLE-201602031011
  • CPU(s): 2x Xeon L5639 @ 2.13GHz
  • RAM: 32 GB
  • Perc H200 (Mezzanine Model) - Cross Flashed to 9211
  • OS Drive(s): 2x 32GB SSD
  • Data Drive(s): 12x 2TB (HGST)
  • Intel 10 GB SPF+ (Mezzanine Model Dual Port)
  • Dual 750w PSU
Server #4 (Currently on a cubicle as a "Test Machine")
  • OS: ESXi vSphere 6.0 Update 2
    • VM: FreeNAS 9.10
    • VM: SME Server (CentOS based)
    • VM: Win 7
  • CPU(s): 2x Xeon L5639 @ 2.13GHz
  • RAM: 64 GB (32 allocated to FreeNas)
  • Perc H200 (Mezzanine Model) - Cross Flashed to 9211 - Passed to FreeNas
  • OS Drive(s): 2x 120 GB SSD
  • LSI 9260-8i RAID - Used to make an "unorthodox BBU SLOG" for FreeNas
  • Data Drive(s): 12x 2TB (HGST)
  • Intel 10 GB SPF+ (Mezzanine Model Dual Port)
  • Dual 750w PSU
Servers #5 & #6
  • I manage these for SMB clients that love them
  • More in the works..
Servers #7, #8 & #9
  • Two of the 24 Bay models, that are just waiting for prices on 2.5" drives to get cheap
  • One is a "spare parts" machine, it originally came with the SFF-8484 connectors on the backplane. I replaced it, but have not gotten around to doing anything with it yet
 
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Mirfster

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Buying a C2100/FS12-Ty:
So, your convinced and want to throw some cash at this... Lucky for you these things are all over the place on eBay and at pretty decent prices (IMHO)

Quick talking points:
  • For cheaper prices, have patience and be willing to "shop around" or even bid in an auction
    • Usually it helps on eBay to just list the "Auction" items and then if possible make the seller an "Offer". That is how I get most of my stuff cheaper
  • If possible, try to get as much included at once. Certain parts will cost you a lot separately
  • Only trust Sellers with high ratings, this should be for any place selling
If you want a "Turn-Key Solution", I would suggest asking the sellers to provide a quote/estimate for a C2100/FS12TY with the following:
  • Whatever CPUs you desire (I like the Xeon X5650 or Xeon L5639 myslef)
    • You want them to ensure the CPU Heatsinks are the ones that have the copper contact to the CPU
      • It is better and will "future proof" if you decide to up the CPUs to ones that run in the 130W range
      • Not a "have to have", but is a nice bonus
  • HBA (I recommend the Perc H200 here)
    • Might even think about getting this separate, if you can find it cheaper on its own (would just want the cables too)
      • They run ~$60.00 without cables on average
    • If you do decide to exclude this, then make sure the backplane included is the model with the two Mini-SAS connectors
    • If you can get the "mezzanine" model, that would free up a PCIe slot, but is like $130.00 more so maybe not for you
  • 32 GB of RAM (or more depending on your desire - think it maxes out at ~192 or 288 GB but haven't tried it yet)
    • DDR3 / PC3-10600 / 1333Mhz
    • Would want the RAM with the Heat Spreaders (which is pretty standard)
      • One of my servers has RAM without it and to me it runs a tad bit hotter
    • Would be a bonus if they at least did it using 4x8GB sticks instead of 8x4GB sticks
  • 12 HD Trays w/screws
    • FYI, these 3.5" trays can also accept 2.5" drives without any extra parts or mods
    • Don't forget the screws otherwise you are looking for something like this
    • Update (thanks to @kngpwr): You can get 100 screws from Amazon for a little over $8.00.
  • Dual Power Supply (should be standard)
  • Rails are optional, but if they offer it for free wouldn't hurt otherwise maybe you can get a discount to not include them
  • Free Shipping
    • Watch out for this otherwise it may be an extra $70.00 or so...

Example of a quick turn key quad CPU from Esisoinc for $415.00

I have bought from just about all the major sellers on eBay, I would recommend checking with (my order of preference):
I have not purchased from "IT Creations", they want way too much and were not at all helpful when I tried to contact them in the past.
 
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Mirfster

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[Reserved for "How Tos"/"Gotchas"/"Work-Arounds"]

So you got your system and fire it up only to realize that it is awfully loud. Then you think I'm gonna murder that punk who told me this thing is "very very quite". Well hold on there 'pardner, here is what you need to do:

*** Updated 06/17/2016 to correct some broken links and suggesting BMC Firmware Version 1.66 instead of 1.70 ("BMC170" references changed to "BMC166" in instructions)
  1. Make an empty folder that you will be copying to the Bootable USB (I use Rufus to make a FreeDos Bootable USB)
    • I called mine "BMC166"
  2. Go to http://downloads.dell.com/published/pages/poweredge-c2100.html
    • Download the "pec2100bmc179.exe" ("Dell PowerEdge C2100 system BMC firmware A00 1.79")
      • File Info:
        File Format:Floppy
        File Name:PEC2100BMC179.exe
      • Extract the contents (can run the EXE or simply use 7Zip)
      • We just want to grab two executable files from this
    • Download the "PEC2100Bmc166.exe" ("Dell BMC Firmware, v.1.66, A01-1.66")
      • File Info:
        File Format:Hard-Drive
        File Name:PEC2100Bmc166.exe
      • Extract the contents
      • We just want the "firm.bin" file from this
  3. In the extracted "pec2100bmc179" folder
    • Navigate to the "SOCFLASH\dosflash" folder
    • Copy "DOS4GW.EXE" and "socflash.EXE" to the "BMC166" folder
  4. From the "PEC2100Bmc166" folder; copy the "firm.bin" to the "BMC166" folder
  5. In the "BMC166" folder; make a *.bat file
    • I called mine "dosflash.bat" (like Dell did)
    • Edit the file and put just put this in there: socflash cs=2 option=fc if=firm.bin skip=0x200
  6. Copy the entire "BMC166" folder to your bootable USB Stick
  7. Boot up using that stick and in DOS, just change to the "BMC166" folder and run the "dosflash.bat" in there.
That should get you where you need to be. Also, it might reset the BMC Settings (password to the default as well as to use "Shared NIC" instead of "Dedicated NIC"); but you can change that in the BIOS.

So, you fancy running ESXi on this beauty eh? Yeah 5.5 works fine so what about 6.0? 'Cuz you know "latest and greatest" stuff rulz... Being the savvy person you are you download the ISO and start installing, only your get a freaking PSOD! Quick search leads you to an article titled "ESXi 6.0 drops support for dell C1100/C2100 NOOOOOOOOOO!!"... Now panic sets in... No worries mate! Answer is actually located in that thread, but I will make it easy for you here..
  1. To run ESXi 6.0, you actually have to downgrade the BIOS since newer versions actually mucked with VT-D
  2. Download the "PEC2100BIOS3B16.exe"
  3. Extract it to whatever folder you want to make (which will be copied to your Bootable USB Stick)
  4. In that folder make yourself a batch file (like "FX.bat")
  5. Edit the file and add this line: Afudos C99Q3B16.ROM /P /B /K /X
    • This is the exact same as what is in the vendor's "F.bat", but with the "/X" switch
  6. Copy the folder to your USB
  7. Boot up with the USB, change to that directory and launch the "FX.bat"
  8. After it is done (never during), reboot and you can install ESXi 6.0 without any issues
*** Just so you know once it is flashed and after you reboot; it may reboot once/twice more (I think mine did since it was applying the "ME" update as well).
My proof:
 
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Mirfster

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[Reserved for Miscellaneous/Etc]

The C2100/FS12-TY has a nice feature where one can mount two 2.5" drives internally on the fan shroud. This makes it quite convenient to hide a couple extra drives (say for mirrored SSD boot or SLOG). Only issue is that due to the padding your normal screws are not long enough and the heads are not wide enough. So my solution was to swing over to Home Depot (Lowes did not carry them) and grab the following:

*** Updated 07/13/2016 to reflect 8MM length screws. Still prefer the #6 Flat Washers since they are wide and fit better ***
There problem solved and SSDs all set to go.

*** Side note, I have actually modded a few of mine to hold 3 x 2.5" drives (with drill and Molex Sata Power connector) and am thinking of going to =>5 using MSata to Sata carriers (thinking like this)...
 
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trekuhl

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you wouldn't have happened to stumbled across documentation for the prior fs12 model that came with socket771 xeon 54xx cpus? Have one collecting dust, can't use vt-d on it. debating a motherboard swap with something newer if i can figure out the pin out for header, etc. thanks
 

Mirfster

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trekuhl

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I have a fs12-cs i got from esiso back in 2013. My receipt has it listed as

Dell poweredge fs12-sc L5420 8GB ram | fs12-sc chassis

Its the same 2U chassis i see for the newer fs12 models with the 1366 sockets. this one has a single power supply non-hotswap. Around the same time I did also get a cs24 1U model with the 55xx CPU and 72GB ram as well

I've tried checking for numbers on stickers on motherboard on google to no avail.

I did find this on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B012E9KCP2/?tag=ozlp-20

the layout is the same pretty much. maybe the receipt i have is wrong...
 

Mirfster

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Interesting, I see the CS24-SC board on eBay for $44.00 (I've bought some stuff from the Seller before). Also, Esisonic appears to be selling a few of the entire FS12-SC 2u Servers. System chassis closely resembles a C2100/FS12-TY except for the a few things.

There was this whole debacle before where people stated that certain C2100 were actually CS2100 which are for the "Cloud Storage". I personally have never seen a CS2100 myself, but back them Dell was building a lot of "Custom" systems perhaps the FS12-SC was among those models sold to private sellers.

Not seeing anything from Dell on it, but could try reaching out to Esisonic or STI who appear to still sell them. I have put out a couple "feelers" to see if I can get some more info. Not really sure how much money and time it would be worth putting into it (says the guy who is preaching C2100/FS12-TY servers.. ;) ). But, at the very least it wouldn't make a half bad JBOD as long as it was able to be quieted down.
 

trekuhl

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right. so i have a c1100 cs24 1U model and it could support some L5630s ($20 pair on ebay) and give me vt-d. swapping the motherboard sorta works, but the power supply splits a bit different on each box so its not straight swap even if i migrate the power supply off the 1U server it does not have the right connector the the backplane on the fs12/c2100 2U. I bought both boxes in early 2013 but only use them occasionally for past couple years for CTFs and stuff. I have instead gotten a i7-3770 cpu and plopped that into an existing 1155 asrock mobo and did passthru for the LSI card for freenas (vm on esxi6) and passthrough for pfsense NICs in effor to consolidate things and bring the power bill back down. if i swapped the i7 setup into the fs12 chassis it means a bit of fiddling with the dell header, but the dell mobo clocks the fans down too, which is going to be more difficult to do with a consumer board; would probably be easier to buy new fans with their own controller of some sort at that rate.

I have 6 6TB drives and i have my old 2TB (5) drives lying around but cramming all that in an old antec case is difficult and makes any maintenance when a drive failure occurs a pain. Missed out on the ebay supermicro 24 bays that went for like $300 in Jan 2015 as that would have been a good resolution. Did want to plop too much $$$ into anything now. When get into a real house next year and have more space will then invest more into an ideal setup. I could get a newer fs12 barebones variant for $120 or so off ebay but then getting the sleds and everything is $$$ (i have sleds but id sell off the older fs12 cheap to recoup and most buyers want them). and it doesnt make sense to me to drop $200+ into a c2100 with sleds at this time as some deal will pop up in the next 12 months on a supermicro with newer CPU support that would also be more power friendly.
 

Mirfster

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Agreed. Looks like either route, is going to cost you money. Choice would be if it is worth the effort now or better to wait and just move up to C2100. I would personally do the latter. :)
 
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kngpwr

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I can confirm that these screws work for the 3.5" drive cages: http://amzn.com/B00353EKR8
You get 100 of them for a little over $8 USD.
 

Mirfster

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Spearfoot

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@Mirfster, can you tell us for certain whether or not these servers have any problems with drives > 2TB? Thanks!
 

Mirfster

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@Mirfster, can you tell us for certain whether or not these servers have any problems with drives > 2TB? Thanks!
No problem at all, two of my clients are using 12x3TB HGST drives.
Just wanted to make a note on this. Per Dell's Spec Sheet; it states "up to 38TB of disk capacity". Now, I have not had the chance to test this yet since the most I have put in a single system is 36 TB (12 x 3TB). I am however actively searching for some 4TB drives on eBay (cuz I am cheap) and may eventually be able to see if I can go beyond that. Thinking so since I am using a HBA (H200 cross-flashed to LSI 9211-8I).

If anyone else has already tested this their feedback would be greatly appreciated.
 

Spearfoot

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Mirfster

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Not bad, however I prefer to know the make/model of the HDs. Currently talking to a seller about potentially getting HGST 4TB SAS drives. Will see how those negotiations turn out. ;)
 

Spearfoot

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Not bad, however I prefer to know the make/model of the HDs. Currently talking to a seller about potentially getting HGST 4TB SAS drives. Will see how those negotiations turn out. ;)
I was only pointing out that particular system as an example of someone (possibly) using drives >3TB in a C2100 FS12-TY; don't have any idea whether or not it's a good buy. ;)

I say 'possibly' because we don't know for certain, so I sent the seller a message asking about the use of 4TB drives and will post his reply here.
 
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