We have several systems with DRAC (Dell Remote Administration Card) v5. It's inferior to HP's for many reasons, among them the simple fact that dell.com hits aren't available in Google and www.dell.com is horrible for finding useful information. www.hp.com, in contrast, is navigable and their forum answers are well indexed by Google (useful for general Linux info, not just HP-specific stuff).

For flavor, check out my recent DRAC rant, and my older DRAC rant.

More bad things about DRAC 5

  1. Finding things on www.dell.com is amazingly difficult (HP does better on all these sub-issues).
    1. Older versions show up alongside (above) newer versions.
    2. Documentation references are stale (referenced documents don't exist).
    3. Refining searches, and searching for only relevant hits don't work (both HP and IBM can show downloads relevant to a certain Linux distro/version on a particular hardware platform).
    4. Dell's site makes it very difficult to find technical information. For example, compare Dell's R900 specs page to Sun's X4540 specs page.
  2. Google doesn't return results from www.dell.com. This makes finding authoritative info on Dell products more difficult.
  3. Compatibility
    1. Remote KVM doesn't work on Mac (serves ActiveX; uses wrong keymapping -- workarounds include VNC & Parallels).
    2. Remote media doesn't work on Mac (HP's does).
    3. Remote KVM & media don't work on Linux with 64-bit Firefox. They haven't updated these plugins in years, and probably never will -- newer servers use DRAC 6 instead.
  4. Dell sells a lot of cluster systems, but doesn't support cluster toplogies (Dell Gold Server Support assumes a Windows administrative workstation on the cluster segment, and cannot cope with X11 tunneling to access DRAC on nodes).
  5. Dell only supports the operating system purchased from Dell. The word 'CentOS' is verboten, even though Dell's diagnostic tools are CentOS-based! I don't know how many people pay for dozens or hundreds of Red Hat licenses for cluster nodes, but I'm certain it's less than the number of people using free/free distros like CentOS, Rocks, Scientific Linux, or even Fedora. This is also a problem for dual-boot laptops...
  6. Dell's installer (dup) doesn't work. It generally tells me it's already running, even after rebooting. Booting from (virtual) CD for diagnostics wastes my time.
  7. Some of Dell's firmware updaters still use Windows boot floppies. I recently decided that I didn't really need to update that firmware, rather than dig up floppies and find a Windows workstation to make a boot floppy.
  8. Dell doesn't identify parts. Sun is very good about putting meaningful 7-digit numbers on everything. This is very useful. In contrast, I had to grovel through Wikipedia to find out that a Dell card I inherited was in fact a SAS card.
  9. Dell doesn't indicate MAC addresses anywhere. Sun puts them on the packing slip. We had to rack and boot up an R900 in a temporary location to get its MAC addresses -- are required before we can put it on the network, after we re-box and move it.
  10. DRAC's serial console only works on COM2/ttyS1 and at 57600bps

DRAC Trivia & Tips

  1. DRAC cards have what looks like a PCI edge connector, but it's not used in our 1950s or R900 -- instead they connect purely through a couple ribbon cables.
  2. Not all DRAC 5 cards are the same. Specifically, the R900 card has a larger ribbon connector, which goes with a longer cable. In contrast, the 1950 cable is not long enough to reach the R900 connector. I of course brought the wrong card to our machine room, but in that case the longer cable fit the 1950. When I got back, I discovered the other card wouldn't reach in the R900, so had to go back to swap cards. I never did find any identification of which DRAC was for the 1950 vs. the R900.
  3. Supposedly, Alt-F Alt-E should reset the syste BIOS, although it didn't work for me. DRAC has a 'reset to defaults' option, but not the main (Phoenix) BIOS.