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Problems installing Windows Small Business Server Premium 2003 on a Dell PowerEdge 2850?

We just took shipment and started setting up a Dell PowerEdge 2850 as the server hardware for Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium.  In the setup process, a "minor detail" came to light (one missed in the sales process) - namely Dell does not support the installation of Windows Small Business Server on this PowerEdge server.  But according to Microsoft's hardware compatibility list, any server that is Windows Server 2003 certified is automatically Windows Small Business Server certified.  Dell still won't support this installation.  We aborted the installation of SBS 2003 until we get further information.

I have heard (online and from Dell technical people) that Dell customers have successfully installed SBS 2003 on the PE 2850.  I haven't been able to find out if it took anything special to install SBS 2003 on the PE 2850.  I don't want to install SBS 2003 if takes an unorthdox work around.  Does anybody have any experience or insight installing SBS 2003 Premium on a Dell PowerEdge 2850?

The PE 2850 was selected because the primary function of the server is data intense using very large databases - we need a good amount of computing power and data storage.  There aren't many users (10-15) that will be using the server.  So if you're going to question the hardware setup, please don't.  That's already been done.  I want to hear how this hardware and software can be made to play together even if all it takes is to simply install SBS on the server.

I look forward to hearing from you.  Thanks for your input.

Arno
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arnorite
Asked:
arnorite
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3 Solutions
 
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
There really shouldn't be a problem.  SBS is an optimized version of Windows Server 2003 for small business and the included software (Exchange, etc).  The install and drivers should all be fairly simply and without any more difficulty than installing Windows 2003 standard edition.

The exception to this is the Dell Server Assistant, which is designed to make the installation go much smoother.  Without it, you'll LIKELY have problems installing disk controller drivers which will cause problems with the initial install, problems with video, network, and other drivers as well.  BUT, you'd have the SAME problems if you installed Windows 2003 on the server WITHOUT using the server assistant.  It can be done.  With RELATIVELY little difficulty.  It's even POSSIBLE that the Dell Server Assistant will ignore the fact you have an SBS disk and install 2003 as if it were standard, only it won't be.

Personally, I'd say try it.  And personally, I wouldn't worry about it.
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mikeleebrlaCommented:
just b/c dell doesn't support this installation doesn't mean that it won't work fine on this PE.  As long as it passed the MS compatability test you will be all right.  There can be any number of reasons why dell doesn't support this installation, but more than likely its b/c they don't have their helpdesk trained to support it or b/c of some deal that MS has with Dell.  SBS 2003 differs from regular 2003 server in the way it's licensed, not in regards to hardware/software compatibility.  All you need to do is install SBS and you will be fine.
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Greg JacknowCommented:
Just to clearify a bit from the previous posts.

SBS 2003 is does use the same drivers etc as windows 2003.  (it is windows 2003, just packaged with some apps and with some limitations built in)

I have set up many windows 2003 installs on dell 2850s.  Windows will recognize almost everything on install but Dell recommends installing their updated 2003 drivers.

While you can not use the server assitant for the install, you can still install the server and then update the raid, NIC, and video drivers from the Dell CD.  (run CD and tell it you have 2003) or download them from support.dell.com.   There is also some driver for the Intel MB.  It is all pretty obvious what you need if you look at the available downloads for the 2850 for windows 2003 on the support site.



Greg J
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
These first 3 posts are very encouraging!  I suspected as much, but wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

I did start the installation with the Server Assistant CD.  I got through all the hardware installation and stopped when I got to the OS screen since SBS was not one of the menu options.  I called Dell tech support and was told to simply click on the Windows Server 2003 menu option.  I expressed my concern about choosing that and was reassured it would work because SBS and Windows Server 2003 are "identical" except for the apps.  Selecting that option did not work.  It was on the 2nd call to Dell's tech support that I found out that they didn't support the SBS installation.

The system is now at the OS install screen of the Server Assistant (it hasn't been turned off).  What is the best way to exit from this state to start the SBS install?

Thanks again for your input!

Arno
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Greg JacknowCommented:
Well if I remember correctly you have configured the RAID (or hard drives) and then it asked you a bunch of questions that have to do with the OS install. (that are useless now)

Assuming the raid is configured (if not, then configure it, either in the bios or with the dell CD)then just boot the server with the SBS CD in and start the install from there.

Greg J
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
arnorite,

There very well could be a troublesome install problem because of the RAID in the PE2850.  I've gone around and around for hours trying to get specific RAID configurations to work...    SBS and Windows Server 2003 ARE NOT identical, specifically when it comes to hardware configurations...  what RAID are you using in your Dell?

Jeff @
TechSoEasy
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
Jeff,

There are 2 entries on the order form:

- Embedded RAID-PERC 4 Embedded Integrated (341-1056)
- MR5, ROMB RAID 5, Drives attached to PERC 4ei, PE2850 (341-1356)

We have 3 ea 146Gb SCSI U320 drives configured with RAID 5.

I'm very interested in what you have to say about this.  Let me know if you need any more info.  Thanks,

Arno
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
I'm on my way out the door... so I can reply later, but in the mean time take a look at this newsgroup post which offers a good reason to keep your Operating System out of the RAID 5:  

http://groups-beta.google.com/group/microsoft.public.windows.server.sbs/browse_thread/thread/cfb7cb046342c66e?tvc=2&q=PE+2850&fwc=2

Jeff @
TechSoEasy
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the link, Jeff.  Unless I'm missing something, however, there's no discussion here about RAID incompatibilities/problems, but rather a discussion on preferences of how to configure the system.  Apparently any of the discussed configurations would technically work.  It just comes down what would be best for the environment.

I look forward to hearing form you.  Thanks again,

Arno
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Greg JacknowCommented:
I am pretty sure your raid controller(ie Dell server) comes with a floppy disk with the drivers on it.  If you need to you can hit F6 (I think) durring the device detection to add the drivers their.  But I would be very surprised if SBS did not have a basic driver that will work for these Perc cards as they are very standard.  Then you can update them later from windows

As to the whole question of What type of RAID and partition size.  :)  that is another kettle of fish.  Basically the more disks the better and for anyhitng that needs decent write performance RAID 10 is best RADI 1 is next and RAID 5 is worst.

Keep in mind that multiple partitions on the same raid set (ie volume) do not change the performance.  So puting logs, or data bases on a seperate partition wont help performance.  If you like to keep things seperate though I always like 10GB for OS and then seperate exch, SQL and file data partions depending exactly what your needs are.

Given you have 3 drives you are pretty stuck with raid 5.

More smaller disks would give you beter performance and RAID 5 is the worst performing RAID for writes so if disk access is the bottleneck then it will be the worst for SQL apps that do any significant writing.  I have two 2850s with external SCSI as well as internal and 20 36GB drives each for our hign end SQL stuff.  If possible it is good to have your file data and OS on RAID 5 and then a seperate RAID 1 or 10 (10 is RAID 1 striped) set for your SQL or Exchange data.  ( say 3 drives raided together for OS and flat files and then 2 in a RAID 1 for SQL)

All of this will make little difference if you are not stressing the server and disks though.

If performance is a problem down the road and you testing indicated it is a disk bottleneck, you can always add two disks later.

Greg J

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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
My personal experience with an SBS RAID install nightmare (it was an Intel 82081er SATA controller) has caused me to take special care in future installs.  Basically, I would never put the OS on the RAID.  There really is no benefit to doing so, in fact, it's probably a detriment to overall performance.  If you can, I'd suggest putting in a 40GB 7500RPM drive just for your OS, and then you can configure all of the data storage on the RAID.  

Essentially, you are asking for an "opinion" rather than a solid solution.  So, my opinion is offered above (based on 12 separate SBS2003 installs in the past year which have involved RAID configs).  Because there are many considerations you must make which can't necessarily be discussed within the EE environment, I would just suggest that you take a look at these messages before you make a final decision:  http://tinyurl.com/5q3vz

Jeff @
TechSoEasy
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Greg JacknowCommented:
That is funny.  I would never put anything on a server class machine NOT on a RAID partition.

The whole point of A hardware RAID controller is so the OS and apps will keep going if one of the hard drives dies.

I am not sure what an experience with an (obviously not ready for prime time) SATA RAID controller has to do with the Dell Perc controller he has.

The question is are the drivers built in to windows 2003 or does it come with drivers that work well.  If the answer is yes then you are fine.  

I realize that having anything other than a single IDE drive in the system adds some complexity.  (ie if the raid controller dies you are out of luck until you replace it) but there is a reason for the complexity, the benifit of having redundant hard drives.  Also performance benifits, more with RAID 10, and 1 than 5 though.  (5 is faster read and slower write)

The OS on an IDE may be easier, but the OS on RAID is better and typically not any harder.

My experience is much more in the plan jane windows server areana, not SBS, but my limted experince with SBS has not led me to think it is that different when it comes to drivers, etc.

Greg J
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
Greg,

You're thinking Enterprise there... come over to SBS land... we're talking 10 - 15 users with EVERYTHING operating in one box.  Read what the experts have to say...  (see my links above).  It is typically harder on an SBS... mostly because SBS will not install on dynamic disks, so you have to flip them to dynamic in the middle of the install.  SBS IS DIFFERENT... especially when it comes to drivers! That's one of the main issues... because it's all in one box.

I think your last line sums it up... and I don't mean to sound abrasive... but why would you offer an EXPERT opinion on something you have little or no experience with?  (sorry... I'm at the end of a very long night.....)

Jeff
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Greg JacknowCommented:
I have enogh experience with SBS to know where is is similar and disimilar with enterprise servers and I am extremely familiar with the hardware in question here.  (enterprise class hardware)

Just your comments about dymanic partitions show that you are on a different page.  This is hardware raid, you set it up in the bios then forget it, you just have to have a driver for the controller that works, and it probably is built in the SBS 2003.  No reason to have the partions be anything but basic.

Software RAID would be a while different bad of worms. :)

There realy is not much worth discussing here.  He has 3 hard drives so he does RAID 5 and partitions it.  He installes SBS and it either takes the driver or doesn't.  The next step is obviously to try it.

My comments a couple posts up were more on the optimization of RAID config for performance than on this config (which folks seemed interested in)

Good Luck arnorite.

Greg J
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the follow-up Jeff and Greg.  I do appreciate it.

I agree with Greg, that's why I went with a RAID configuration.  As I mentioned in my original inquiry, I wasn't looking for a debate on the hardware configuration.  I considered that a done deal unless it just wouldn't work with SBS 2003.  After 25+ years in this field, I found everyone has an opinion about how stuff should be done.  I used to get bogged down in those discussions, but I don't anymore.  I also got a favorable response from a Dell project engineer about this installation.

I'm going to start the installation tomorrow and see how it goes.  Based on my results and the help I have received (and continue to get) here, I will award the points appropriately.

Thanks again for all your help!

Arno
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
No problem... good luck and let us know how it turned out.

Jeff
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you all!  The installation went so smooth that I had to wonder what all the original fuss was about.  Here's what happened ...

Even though Dell doesn't support installing SBS 2003 (Std or Premium) on their PE2850, it's a great box to install it on - fast and smooth!  The one and only hickup in the install process was that I needed the drivers for the RAID controller on floppy disk ready to install when SBS starts the installation process in text (not GUI) mode.  It had to be on a floppy - no USB stick works!  Since we didn't get a floppy drive on the server (thinking everything can be done from CDs/DVDs/USB Sticks), we had to get a USB floppy drive and connect it to the server.  That worked perfectly.  From that point on, the installation went by the book.

I wondered afterward why Dell doesn't support this combination, SBS on a PE2850.  At first I could rationalize it, but after doing the installation myself, I say they're losing out on support money.  SBS is so easy to use and install on this system that I would have to think they would have fewer service calls.  But that's their issue, not mine.  I'm just happy that everything worked out.

Thank you all for your help.  Greg had the best answer, but I felt compelled to give 2 of you some points too for taking time to help out.  Thanks again!
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
Congrats!  When I just saw that you posted points... I thought to myself that I forgot to warn you about one thing... but it looks like you didn't get caught... I did.

The first time I installed SBS with a 3rd party raid... I put the floppy disk in, let the drivers load, and then I walked away after the install started... so, of course it rebooted by itself to go to the GUI setup... with the floppy in the drive.  This didn't stop the reboot, by the way, it only reloaded drivers which caused the AD not to build.  It only took me a few hours to figure that out!  

If you did leave it in, and slid by because you were using a USB floppy drive, don't tell anyone.

:-)

Jeff @
TechSoEasy
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arnoriteAuthor Commented:
Thanks, Jeff.  I guess we got lucky, then!  Because we didn't have a floppy drive in the original server configuration, it wasn't one of the boot-up options.  So it never touched the floppy drive on boot-up.

Arno
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Jeffrey Kane - TechSoEasyPrincipal ConsultantCommented:
Shhh... I told you not to say anything!  Actually, I've made the suggestion to someone in the Small Busines Server group at Microsoft... to have it pause before rebooting, and tell you to make sure the drive is empty.  There really isn't any reason for it to boot unattended, since about 2 minutes later you have to enter info in order to get it going further.  

(Actually... that's been an issue I've had for a long time... wouldn't it make sense that you enter all of the options you need to select for an install on the first screen?  (Like time zone, admin password, etc)  The answers could be held in a small file until needed, and you wouldn't have to watch all of the Microsoft "Congratulations, you're very smart for picking Windows" advertising!

One of these days we'll standardize the way to note sarcasm as well... it always gets lost in emessaging.
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