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Using an iDRAC7 on a Dell R720xd

31 Dec 2019 - by 'Maurits van der Schee'

I rent a dedicated server at LeaseWeb (this is NOT a sponsored post) for my virtual machines. It is a Dell PowerEdge R720xd and I recently re-installed it. You can let LeaseWeb do this for you, but I prefer to install the operating system installation myself. Fortunately this is possible from my own pc, with a cup of coffee next to me, surrounded by the piece and quiet of my home office.

About the Dell PowerEdge R720xd

I feel this is a very good server for various reasons:

If you want your virtual machines to be ultra fast, then choose a model with SSD drives.

Install any operating system

The re-installation can be done using the built-in iDRAC7 that is connected to LeaseWeb's management network that you can reach using OpenVPN. A Java applet on the web interface of the iDRAC provides remote screen and keyboard/mouse access. This allows you to enter the BIOS and follow the POST steps. You can also mount virtual media (an ISO on your computer) and boot that installation disc. This allows you to install any operating system you want.

Use Ubuntu 14.04

Unfortunately that Java applet uses Java Web Start, a technology that is no longer available in Java. I've tested several older versions and found that OpenJDK 7 runs the iDRAC7 software without any issue. Since Ubuntu 14.04 has OpenJDK 7 and has extended support (ESM until 2022) you can set that up and connect from there. If you want to quickly setup a virtual machine you may download and install VirtualBox from Oracle.

Setup OpenJDK 7

Once you have Ubuntu 14.04 running in a virtual machine you can run (in the Terminal):

sudo apt-get install openjdk-7-jdk

Log in into the iDrac7 and click the "Launch the virtual console" link to download the viewer.jlnp file. Now run this file using using IcedTea implementation of Java Web Start using:

javaws viewer.jlnp

This does show a few security warnings that you must accept before the application starts.

Black screen for minutes

The quickest way to install Ubuntu is to use the "network installer for 18.04 LTS" named mini.iso (for amd64) from ubuntu.com in the "Alternative downloads" section. Mount this ISO as virtual media in the virtual console and choose to boot the next boot from the virtual media. Now reboot the machine and perform the Ubuntu installation. Note that it will read a lot from the ISO on boot, while still showing a black screen with a blinking cursor (after showing the BIOS messages). It was uploading most of the ISO file at that point, so that took a while, as my upload speed is only 4 megabit per second.

Do not use WiFi

The installation process can not deal with disappearing (virtual) media. Think about it as pulling out your USB stick from the computer during installation. So when your Internet connection is temporary unavailable, then your upload fails and the virtual media is gone and the installation fails. Therefor I recommend to avoid the use of WiFi or 4G. Take extra care when you need to resize a partition as this process will cause data corruption when interrupted.

Only 1 month with instant delivery

The R720xd is available at LeaseWeb with "instant delivery". This means that you will get a dedicated server delivered in hours, not days. It can be rented on a 1 month contract, so no long contracts either. I feel that this is a very nice way to try out this cool hardware. Full disclosure: I'm a former employee of LeaseWeb and a big fan of this specific product.

Next: install OpenSSH

In the next post I will walk you through the the installation and configuration of OpenSSH. This will be your default way of managing your server and you will no longer need the iDRAC. We will also discuss setting up a firewall to block anything that is not SSH.

Click here to read the next article (on OpenSSH).

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