Dell Removes 3rd Party Drive Support

Date February 10, 2010

This morning, Joseph Kern brought something interesting to my attention. Apparently, Dell is no longer supporting 3rd party drives in their current (Gen 11) Poweredge servers.

Just in case Dell decides to yank that discussion, here it is, verbatim:

From: linux-poweredge-bounces-Lists On Behalf Of Philip Tait
Sent: Friday, February 05, 2010 4:31 PM
To: linux-poweredge-Lists
Subject: Third-party drives not permitted on Gen 11 servers

I just received my first Gen11 server, R710, with H700 PERC. I removed
the supplied drives, and installed 4 Barracuda ES.2s. After doing a
"Clear Configuration" in the pre-boot RAID setup utility, I can perform
no operation with the drives - they are marked as "blocked".

Is Dell preventing the use of 3rd-party HDDs now?

Thanks for any enlightenment.

Philip J. Tait

http://subarutelescope.org

Howard_Shoobe at Dell.com Howard_Shoobe at Dell.com
Tue Feb 9 16:17:54 CST 2010

Thank you very much for your comments and feedback regarding exclusive use of Dell drives. It is common practice in enterprise storage solutions to limit drive support to only those drives which have been qualified by the vendor. In the case of Dell's PERC RAID controllers, we began informing customers when a non-Dell drive was detected with the introduction of PERC5 RAID controllers in early 2006. With the introduction of the PERC H700/H800 controllers, we began enabling only the use of Dell qualified drives.

There are a number of benefits for using Dell qualified drives in particular ensuring a positive experience and protecting our data.

While SAS and SATA are industry standards there are differences which occur in implementation. An analogy is that English is spoken in the UK, US and Australia. While the language is generally the same, there are subtle differences in word usage which can lead to confusion. This exists in storage subsystems as well. As these subsystems become more capable, faster and more complex, these differences in implementation can have greater impact.

Benefits of Dell's Hard Disk and SSD drives are outlined in a white paper on Dell's web site at http://www.dell.com/downloads/global/products/pvaul/en/dell-hard-drives-pov.pdf

I have mixed feelings about this. From Dell's standpoint, I can see wanting the customer to have the best possible experience, and trying to ensure data integrity by enabling drives that only have their specific firmware and so on. And to be honest, this sort of thing is very common in the SAN arena. Most SAN manufacturers openly state that only their drives with their firmwares will work with their arrays. Of course, the cynic in me wonders how much that has to do with technology and how much has to do with the 4x-5x multiplier premium they get for their drives.

That being said, the consumer in me rages. Look at the verbiage of Howard's response. "There are a number of benefits for using Dell qualified drives in particular ensuring a positive experience and protecting our data."

It's not your data, Howard, and it's certainly not Dell's. It's mine. And if I want to shoot myself in the foot by throwing in a drive with the cache enabled, warn me, but let me do it. If I ignore those warnings and deem my data unimportant enough, then that's my problem. Your servers aren't so expensive that I'm going to be leasing them in many cases. That means some day, I'm going to have a whole pile of old Dell servers that are unusable because I can't upgrade to new drives unless I buy them from you, and I'm sure as hell not going to do that at what you charge.

Grow up, issue a firmware that adds the warning back in, and let us use our hardware how we want.

[Update]
As of April 14th, Dell has reversed its position and has agreed to issue a firmware to permit 3rd party drives. Great job listening to your customers, Dell!

  • http://www.funnelfiasco.com Ben C

    That's really lousy of Dell, and I get the feeling it's aimed more at forcing people to buy the high-markup drives than it is any actual concern about user data.

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    Ben, you're not alone. I hope a lot of people don't get snared by this. I keep my servers around for a while, and if I can't ever upgrade them (and after 3+ years, I won't be able to justify the price for Dell drives, I promise), then I won't buy them at all.

  • Anthony

    I'm always in favour of warnings over blockages. If they want to say "you're unsupported" that's fine, but if they want me to buy their hardware, they have to allow me to do whatever stupid things with it I want to do.

    If it wasn't such a pain in the * to do, I'd ship the thing back to them and say forget it I'm going elsewhere.

    However, I seem to recall a long time ago Apple used to do a similar (though technically I think it was different) thing with hard drives. They claimed that it had to be an "Apple Certified" hard disk, but if you opened it up and looked at it, it was just an IBM or Hitachi drive with the Apple logo on it. If you bought the same drives third party they would be 'accepted' by the system and work fine.

  • Alvin S

    I am a longtime Dell customer for laptops, desktops, and servers. They just gave me a strong reason to take my server business elsewhere. Does HP do this?

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    Alvin:

    I have no direct evidence, but on the LOPSA-NJ mailing list, I got this reply from Christopher Wawak:

    HP does the same thing -- I had an ML350 that just wouldn't take
    anything besides HP drives in its SmartArray (?) expansion card. I
    finally got a hack from the linux driver support guys, and all that
    did was enable the drives, but write caches were disabled...

    While normally I'm not a huge fan of whitebox computers, those
    Supermicro vendors are looking more and more attractive.

  • Stefaan V

    I fully agree with you there, Ben!

    Next thing you know, they will be requiring their servers to run with only Dell branded UPS's, to ensure that the subtle differences in electrical frequency, voltage and modulation do not impact their customer's experience!

  • Alvin S

    What are the options here? I want a server vendor that will provide 3-5 years of warranty with same day/next day onsite service. I also need to be able to repurpose/upgrade storage as needed (without paying through the nose for vendor-specific disks).

    Suggestions?

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    @Alvin: That sounds like a great question for serverfault. I don't have enough experience to recommend anything, but I'd be interested in hearing the answer! If you submit the question, make sure to let us know so we can check it out.

    @Stefaan: Don't give them any ideas ;-)

  • http://sysadminsjourney.com Justin Ellison

    I could even understand doing this on a SAN device, but a R710 isn't even in the same league of needing data availabilty. We've got tons of old PE's in our lab stack, and they all have had their drives upgraded. I couldn't justify the cost if I had to order drives from Dell.

    It seems to me that we need an open letter to Dell so that our voices can be heard. I can certainly do it, but Matt's a far better writer than I am, and he has "dibbs". Thoughts?

  • http://systemsamurai.wordpress.com/ Justin

    I understand the restrictions on storage systems. The higher price even makes sense to an extent due to the cost of maintaining availability for the lifetime of a device. Think about it, how many 1TB SATA drives you see at the store now will be available in 5+ years? And if they do exist, how exact will the specs be to be a hot spare for your existing RAID?

    What is disappointing is that Dell is pushing this into the general server realm. It would make sense in their dedicated storage server space, but not in the whatever server space where you may replace the server, or re-purpose it every 3-6 years.

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    @Justin Ellison

    I'm definitely open to the idea

    @Everyone else

    Would you support an open letter to Dell calling for the ability to add non-Dell drives to the server lineup?

  • http://serverfault.com/users/7200 Evan Anderson

    @Matt Simmons: I'd lend my name to such a letter, FWIW.

    I, too, regularly add storage to Dell server computers after their warranty period is up. I never change out storage in Dell server computers during their warranty period and I would expect Dell *NOT* to warrant any issues I have with 3rd party disks or their storage controller under any circumstance.

    It would've been a lot smarter for Dell to issue warnings instead of "blocking" access. I suppose they couldn't resist the siren song of gross profit, though (selling overpriced disks, forcing servers into retirement down-the-road, etc).

  • Jim

    This is foolish on Dell's part and not much more than a thinly veiled cash grab. At my shop, we tend to buy from the Dell outlet site because we just don't have the funds to purchase brand new hardware most of the time. As such, we also look for 3rd party drives to increase savings (we do our research too, we're frugal, not cheap) I could easily see this policy causing problems for us as we tend to use a server til it's no longer useful in any capacity. That end of useful life could come much quicker if we're paying 2x what a drive should because Dell says it's "better"

  • Nate Smith

    If this continues, the bottom line is that I will simply no longer use Dell servers. Did this start on PERC700, and PERC800? I have perc5 and perc6 systems, and I was thinking about upgrading this year, but I may go to a generic server if this garbage keeps up. This is nothing more than a money making ploy.

  • http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com Matt Simmons

    @Jim: 2x if you're lucky. I've heard of 500GB drives into the thousands because they needed to be in large SAN arrays.

    @Nate: I agree completely. Thanks for backing me up on this.

    And here's the quote: "With the introduction of the PERC H700/H800 controllers, we began enabling only the use of Dell qualified drives."

    So PERC H700 and H800 controllers, apparently.

  • Nate Smith

    As bad as Dell's traditional drives are overpriced, their Solid State Drives are REALLY overpriced. Furthermore, I don't even know if I'd trust them.

  • sysadmn

    Wow. Thanks for the warning.

    There is a big difference between "We do not support" and "We will not permit". I can understand the enterprise vendors doing this for systems when they are on the hook for support and four-nines uptime - you figure it into the cost of doing business. Requiring it in hardware, for a server I might be using for a sandbox or test machine is for Dell's benefit, not mine.

  • http://None Rafael

    I'm writing an email to Howard and telling him how seriously disappointed I am with the direction Dell is going with that decision. Hey Howard - I think that whatever language it is you speak we'd all be able to understand Dell's decision to block hardware > LAME!

  • http://jeffhengesbach.blogspot.com/ Jeff Hengesbach

    I'm not a fan of the restriction being exclusive. A better option would be a flag indicating non compliant hardware. Everything still functions but support beyond hardware failure would be null and void. It seems most people may be adding drives out of warranty anyway so not much is lost.

    The interactions between raid controllers and drive firmware is very intimate and I understand wanting to keep that a "controlled" environment. Data loss on any level is a major stigma for a Vendor. I think it is a move to protect people from themselves, as well as Dell's image of data reliability and performance.

  • Alvin S

    I would support/put my name on an open letter/online petition.

  • Nate Smith

    IMO, if you want 4 9s uptime, you're not buying dell anyway.

  • John Gardeniers

    You can add my name as well.

  • Benjamin

    This is ridiculous. HP gear is looking pretty good right about now. I'm down for participating in an open letter to Dell.

  • Travis

    Well, I can understand their reasoning on this. What you're purchasing is a guarantee that their parts have been tested and qualified to a certain degree. It's called a Value Add. And by forcing a "consistent" set of products to be used on their equipment, they do drive down their support costs (note: I said *theirs* not *yours*).

    In the end, it's going to take a large number of small shops *actually* leaving Dell or one or two large shops threatening it to get this changed. Don't get your hopes up. I suspect far more people are willing to pay the extra cash to get all Dell-branded parts just for the sheer simplicity of being able to point the finger at one vendor and get a fixed and working system.

    If cost is that important to you, you should be bidding your systems out against multiple vendors anyway. That's the only way you're going to get significant cost savings.

    (And before you accuse me of it, I'm more of an HP fanboy than a Dell one)

  • John Gardeniers

    I was just thinking about this a bit more and got to wondering how long it will be before someone makes available the firmware and suitable installer available (ignoring whether that would be legal or not) to allow end users to convert regular drives to "Genuine Dell" drives. After all, it's only the firmware that makes them different. I was once given the tools and instructions to do the same for an IBM Netfinity so that I could keep the old beast going. We got more than 10 good years out of that machine.

  • http://n9kju.wordpress.com/ Ken Schumacher

    I agree that DELL should warn users that the drives they want to use are not supported. I certainly prefer the idea of the warning over blocking. But at the same time, I feel a need to highlight the fact that these 3rd party drives are "not supported".

    We all hate it when vendors point fingers at each other. The vendor who supports the RAID controller says the problem is with the drives. Then the drive vendor says the problem is with the RAID controller. I had problems like this years ago with a large Compaq/DEC server. I ended up having to pull all the 3rd party drives from the RAID set and recreating the problem using a small number of OEM (supported) drives. Then we found and fixed the problem.

    After the problem was solved, we replaced the 3rd party drives and got back to normal operations. The cost that needs to be considered here is the time and effort that went into diagnosing this issue. Had we used only OEM drives, then Compaq/DEC would have been responsible for all the effort to diagnose this.

    Those big servers (DEC, bought by Compaq, bought by HP) are all gone. Now we use white box hardware running Linux for the majority of our systems. But some of the more critical central services are running on systems like DELL's where we can tell the vendor to fix it. Consider that if the service is worth setting up redundant servers, perhaps it is also worth using the more expensive, value added and vendor supported hardware as well.

  • John Gardeniers

    Ken, I think you need to keep in mind that all drives sold by Dell are in fact third party, as Dell do not make their own drives. Nor do they have them manufactured any differently to those we can buy at a fraction of the price elsewhere. It's only the firmware that's different. Why do they not cover all bases by providing the firmware so we can install it ourselves on otherwise identical drives? No, this is a money grab, nothing more.

  • http://n9kju.wordpress.com/ Ken Schumacher

    John, I'm well aware that the difference is in the firmware. The firmware is a copyright protected piece of software that provides a specific interface between the drive that it was written for and the hardware controller. You pay more to get this firmware that DELL developed with their controller in mind. The firmware has value.

    My point earlier was that one pays a 'supportability cost' if you don't use drives with this firmware with this controller. It is a choice and I was trying to help others avoid what I went through by knowing the consequences of their choice.

    I won't get into "money grab". I agree their stuff is very high priced. But I will say I would not hold my breath waiting for DELL to to provide the firmware at no cost. The answer to whether someone else providing such firmware "would be legal or not" is obvious.

    Don't buy their controller if you don't want to buy their drives/firmware.

  • http://www.hollenback.net Phil Hollenback

    So everyone realizes this is the best argument ever for software raid, right? Stop using those PERC cards. :)

  • http://2guyz.info knudsen

    Sheesh. They may be junk, but at least they're expensive. I'll sign the open letter.

    I wonder what happens if we replace the drives and the controller card.

  • http://www.sbits.biz Russ

    WOW if this is True I'm not buying ANY more Dell Servers....

    And I know a Lot of people who aren't either.

    Dell's HD Warranty on HD's is 1 YEAR!
    Just 1 Year
    So if the 1TB HD dies in 13months Michael Dell wants you to shell out over $500 for a $89.00 Solution?

    I agree with Knudsen
    What If we don't buy their Controllers?
    Can we buy Third party Controlers?
    (That might be the only option.)

    Other than Not buying Dell at all anymore
    (Too Bad I've bought Dell for over 10 years now)

  • http://kudzia.eu/b/ pQd

    i just got e-mail from dell:

    DELL H-SERIES CONTROLLER BLOCKING OF 3RD PARTY DRIVES
    TO BE REMOVED IN Q2FY11

    Dell will no longer prevent customer use of non-Dell hard drives attached to PERC H700 and H800 controllers on our 11th generation of PowerEdge servers. A Q2FY11 PERC Firmware Update is planned to allow non-Dell hard drives to be used with these controllers.

    which is nice..

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  • Adam

    Still not fixed completely. OpenManage now shows the drives in warning state (Non-critical as reported from SNMP). This basically forces us to ignore all non-critical alarm states on those drives when monitoring by SNMP.

    The firmware needs to be update to only issue an informational message that the drives are not dell certified. There is no reason to force openmanage to report the drives as warning because of it.

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  • jheckler

    HP is the worst offender of using firmware for profit.