Part II: What I did with Lenovo TS140 in my Server and Storage I/O Review

March 31, 2014 – 9:36 pm

Storage I/O trends

Part II: Lenovo TS140 Server and Storage I/O Review


This is the second of a two part post series on my recent experiences with a Lenovo TS140 server, you can read part I here.

What Did I do with the TS140

After initial check out in an office type environment, I moved the TS140 into the lab area where it joined other servers to be used for various things.

Some of those activities included using the Windows Server 2012 Essentials along with associated admin activities. In addition I also installed VMware ESXi 5.5 and ran into a few surprises. One of those was that I needed to apply an update to VMware drivers to support the onboard Intel NIC, as well as enable VT and EP modes for virtualization assist via the BIOS. The biggest surprise was that I discovered I could not install VMware onto an internal drive attached via one of the internal SATA ports which turns out to be a BIOS firmware issue.

Lenovo confirmed this when I brought it to their attention and the workaround is to use USB to install VMware onto a USB flash SSD thumb drive, or other USB attached drive or to use external storage via an adapter. As of this time Lenovo is aware of the VMware issue however no date for new BIOS or firmware is available. Speaking of BIOS, I did notice that there was some newer BIOS and firmware available (FBKT70AUS December 2013) than what was installed (FB48A August of 2013). So I went ahead and did this upgrade which was smooth, quick and easy process. The process included going to the Lenovo site (see resource links below), selecting the applicable download, and then installing it following the directions.

Since I was going to install various PCIe SAS adapters into the TS140 attached to external SAS and SATA storage, this was not a big issue, more of an inconvenience Likewise for using storage mounted internally the workaround is to use a SAS or SATA adapter with internal ports (or cable). Speaking of USB workarounds, have a HDD, HHDD, SSHD or SSD that is a SATA device and need to attach it to USB, then get one of these cables. Note that there are USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 cables (see below) available so choose wisely.

USB to SATA cable
USB to SATA adapter cable

In addition to running various VMware based workloads with different guest VMs.

I also ran FUTREMARK PCmark (btw, if you do not have this in your server storage I/O toolbox it should be) to gauge the systems performance. As mentioned the TS140 is quiet, however it also has good performance depending on what processor you select. Note that while the TS140 has a list price as of the time of this post under $400 USD, that will change depending on which processor, amount of memory, software and other options you choose.

Futuremark PCmark
PCmark

PCmark testResults
Composite score2274
Compute11530
System Storage2429
Secondary Storage2428
Productivity1682
Lightweight2137

PCmark results are shown above for the Windows Server 2012 system (non virtualized) configured as shipped and received from Lenovo.

What I liked

Unbelievably quiet which may not seem like a big deal, however if you are looking to deploy a server or system into an small office workspace, this becomes an important considerations. Otoh, if you are a power user and want a robust server that can be installed into a home media entertainment system, well, this might be a nice to have consideration ;).

Something else that I liked is that the TS140 with the E3-1220 v3 family of processor supports PCIe G3 adapters which is useful if you are going to be using 10GbE cards or 12Gbs SAS and faster cards to move lots of data, support more IOPs or reduce response time latency.

In addition, while only 4 DIMM slots is not very much, its more than what some other similar focused systems have, plus with large capacity DIMMs, you can still get a nice system, or two, or three or four for a cluster at a good price or value (Hmm, VSAN anybody?). Also while not a big item, the TS140 did not require ordering a HDD or SSD if you are not also ordering software the system for a diskless system and have your own.

Speaking of IO slots, naturally I’m interested in Server Storage I/O so having multiple slots is a must have, along with the processor that is quad core (pretty much standard these days) along with VT and EP for supporting VMware (these were disabled in the BIOS however that was an easy fix).

Then there is the price as of this posting starting at $379 USD which is for a bare bones system (e.g. minimal memory, basic processor, no software) whose price increases as you add more items. What I like about this price is that it has the PCIe G3 slot as well as other PCIe G2 slots for expansion meaning I can install 12Gbps (or 6Gbps) SAS storage I/O adapters, or other PCIe cards including SSD, RAID, 10GbE CNA or other cards to meet various needs including software defined storage.

What I did not like

I would like to have had at least six vs. four DIMM slots, however keeping in mind the price point of where this system is positioned, not to mention what you could do with it thinking outside of the box, I’m fine with only 4 x DIMM. Space for more internal storage would be nice, however if that is what you need, then there are the larger Lenovo models to look at. By the way, thinking outside of the box, could you do something like a Hadoop, OpenStack, Object Storage, VMware VSAN or other cluster with these in addition to using as a Windows Server?

Yup.

Granted you wont have as much internal storage, as the TS140 only has two fixed drive slots (for more storage there is the model TD340 among others).

However it is not that difficult to add more (not Lenovo endorsed) by adding a StarTech enclosure like I did with my other systems (see here). Oh and those extra PCIe slots, that’s where a 12Gbs (or 6Gbps) adapter comes into play while leaving room for GbE cards and PCIe SSD cards. Btw not sure what to do with that PCIe x1 slot, that’s a good place for a dual GbE NIC to add more networking ports, or a SATA adapter for attaching to larger capacity slower drives.

StarTech 2.5" SAS and SATA drive enclosure on Amazon.com
StarTech 2.5″ SAS SATA drive enclosure via Amazon.com

If VMware is not a requirement and you need a good entry level server for a large SOHO or small SMB environment, or, if you are looking to add a flexible server to a lab or for other things the TS140 is good (see disclosure below) and quiet.

Otoh as mentioned, there is a current issue with the BIOS/firmware with the TS140 involving VMware (tried ESXi 5 & 5.5).

However I did find a work around which is that the current TS140 BIOS/Firmware does work with VMware if you install onto a USB drive, and then use external SAS, SATA or other accessible storage which is how I ended up using it.

Lenovo TS140 resources include

  • TS140 Lenovo ordering website
  • TS140 Data and Spec Sheet (PDF here)
  • Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 Manual (PDF here)
  • Intel E3-1200 v3 processors capabilities (Web page here)
  • Lenovo Drivers and Software (Web page here)
  • Lenovo BIOS and Drivers (Web page here)
  • Enabling Virtualization Technology (VT) in TS140 BIOS (Press F1) (Read here)
  • Enabling Intel NIC (82579LM) GbE with VMware (Link to user forum and a blog site here)
  • My experience from a couple years ago dealing with Lenovo support for a laptop issue
  • Summary

    Disclosure: Lenovo loaned the TS140 to me for just under two months including covering shipping costs at no charge (to them or to me) hence this is not a sponsored post or review. On the other hand I have placed an order for a new TS140 similar to the one tested that I bought on-line from Lenovo.

    This new TS140 server that I bought joins the Dell Inspiron I added late last year (read more about that here) as well as other HP and Dell systems.

    Overall I give the Lenovo TS140 an provisional "A" which would be a solid "A" once the BIOS/firmware issue mentioned above is resolved for VMware. Otoh, if you are not concerned about using the TS140 for VMware (or can do a work around), then consider it as an "A".

    As mentioned above, I liked it so much I actually bought one to add to my collection.

    Ok, nuff said (for now)

    Cheers
    Gs

    Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)

    twitter @storageio

    All Comments, (C) and (TM) belong to their owners/posters, Other content (C) Copyright 2006-2014 StorageIO All Rights Reserved

    1. 11 Responses to “Part II: What I did with Lenovo TS140 in my Server and Storage I/O Review”

    2. At the risk of being redundant, I just posted this on part I

      Update 4/5/14: As of yesterday I can confirm that at least with my new TS140s (just arrived) with no factory RAID 1 enabled the ability to recognize and use internal SATA drives and install VMware 5.5.x. This is different than the system I tested which had a two drive RAID 1 with Windows Server 2012 that for what ever reason prevented being able to recognize internal drives for other uses.

      Thus I convert the provisional “A” to an actual “A” for the TS140 for use with VMware (and other things), not to mention it (TS140) is playing nicely with my other servers ;)

      By greg schulz on Apr 5, 2014

    3. Hi Greg: I’m not sure if I understand correctly: is it true that the TS140 will run VMware 5.5 WITH soft Raid (provided by the MB).
      I try to install ESXi 5.5 after setup Raid 1 (soft) and the installation can see both drives, not the Raid.
      Then I installed a Raid Controller (LSI 9240 and never got into the Raid setup (Ctrl+H), when doing this the server hang up)
      In any case my situation is that I have this new server loaded with 20 Gb Memory, 2 HD’s 1TB each, and can’t get it work with ESXi 5.5
      Any suggestion?
      Thanks for your help.
      Ceka

      By Carlos Kloos on May 3, 2014

    4. Hello Carlos, I never tried the TS140 with VMware (any version) and the RAID on Motherboard. However using the internal SATA ports along with an adapter or RAID card, am able to install ESX 5.5 (1746018) just fine.

      The challenge seems to be when using Lenovo motherboards and any native or on board RAID and VMware.

      When you startup the TS140 with the LSI 9240, does it appear during the POST and give you the option of doing a Ctrl+H (also try Ctrl-M)? Or does it keep booting?

      If you remove the LSI card, do a clean boot, then put the card back in, does the TS140 ask about adding a card?

      What BIOS version are you running?

      As a very quick work around test, take one of your 1TB drives, assume its a SATA drive, and assuming you have an extra SATA internal cable laying around, attach it one of the drives and plug the drive into one of the available sata power connectors, turns out there are quiet a few extra open power connectors if you look for them.

      Then using USB or CD to boot and install VMware, see if you can see the 1TB drive and install on to it.

      Hope that helps, let me know how it goes… cheers gs

      By Greg Schulz on May 3, 2014

    5. Hello Greg, Yes, seems like Vmware can’t work with Soft Raids. Therefore I installed the 9240.

      Yes, I see the Ctrl H at boot up time and by pressing both keys the systems hangs. Ctrl M is not listed so I didn’t try that (I returned the card since the return window time was about to expire.)

      I did remove the card and the system boot up correctly. Since I never got into booting with the card I never managed to have drivers installed nor any OS. So in response to your question I couldn’t get into that point.

      The Bios is FBKT48AUS

      Here is what I found:
      I took the 9240 card (since sys was hanging) then at the Bios I setup Raid 1 for both 1TB drives. Then boot up again with ESXi in the CD drive, And proceed with the installation which was smooth. But the ESXi was incapable of “seen” the Raid, instead it listed both 1 TB drives and asked me where to install.. I choosed the first one.

      Once the ESXi ran I can’t see the 2nd HD but for the rest runs as expected.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      cheers back,
      Carlos

      By Carlos Kloos on May 5, 2014

    6. No worries Carlos, sounds like what Im seeing which is if using the onboard RAID drives are not visable, yet if using the on-board SATA ports, or other drives via adapter etc, then you can access them. Btw, which processor do you have in your TS140?

      By Greg Schulz on May 7, 2014

    7. Hi Greg, I own a TS140 model 70a4001LUX and I use all 4 SATA ports with 4 x 3Tb WD Red. I don’t want to use my RAID volume to put my Hyper-V so I need a PCIe SSD. Did you tried this setup?

      If I want to use SR-IOv or passthrough to write on my physical disks, do I need to add a RAID controller card or it can write on Sata ports?

      By Jean-Michel Aubry on May 13, 2014

    8. Hello @jeanmichelaubry:disqus and thanks for the note, I have not tried Hyper-V yet on the TS140 only VMware from a virtualization perspective. Without the RAID card you should be able to access the internal connected SATA drives as just individual drives, and then put the PCIe SSD into one of the top x8 PCIe slots unless the card is an x16. Btw, assume you have a single processor vs. two?

      By Greg Schulz on May 13, 2014

    9. Hi Greg, thx for prompt answer, I will create a RAID 5 volume, should it be accessible too?
      I effectively have a single CPU who is E3-1225v3.

      By Jean-Michel Aubry on May 14, 2014

    10. @Jean no worries, hopefully your Hyper-V will see the RAID-5 volume. The E3-1225v3 is the make and model of the CPU/processor.

      By Greg Schulz on May 15, 2014

    11. Hi Greg
      Good posting above.
      Can you confirm that the TS140 is capable of supporting 2x4Tb HDs in RAID 1 with standard/updated BIOS. We need to create 1x300Gb Server 2012 boot partition and the remaining 3.4Tb (or so) as data.

      Had problems with a Fujitsu server and can’t get a definitive statement from Lenovo as they don’t appear to have a Pre Sales Tech Team.

      Thanks

      By Trevor White on Sep 29, 2014

    12. @Trevor I can not confirm that the 2 x 4TB in RAID 1 using standard BIOs would work, however, put the most current BIOS on the TS140 as it will clean up some other things. If you have the CDs that come with the TS140, you should be able to go ahead then and create the mirror, partition and use the server 2012 setup.

      The main reason I can not confirm is that I do not use the built-in on board RAID, for RAID I use a RAID adapter card.

      I can tell you that 4TB drives work just fine in general both with WinSer2012 (and R2) bare metal as well as VMware 5.5, same with the newer 6TB drives as have some of those on a TS140. Also recently added yet another TS140, they are a bargain when you can find them in diskless config.

      Hope all is well and thanks for the note, let me know how things progress for you.

      By Greg Schulz on Sep 29, 2014

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