Years of trying to make my LSI 9265-8i RAID controller play nice with ESXi

Posted by Paul Braren on Mar 26 2014 in
  • ESXi
  • Storage
  • Virtualization
  • This is a unique blog post. Not my usual how to. More of a heads up, instead. I'll start with why I headed down this path in 2011, and where I landed in 2014, with the recent release of ESXi 5.5 Update 1.

    Back in 2011, I was looking for a RAID adapter with a reputation for good ESXi support, and good speed, ideally with the ability to use an SSD for read and write caching of my planned RAID5 array. Redundancy, and speed sounded appealing. Alerting and safety were honestly secondary concerns, given this was intended for a non-production, home lab environment. I most just wanted to see if it all worked.

    Yes, it did. But wow, I didn't really know what I had gotten in to, and still not sure I'm happy that I did. Let me explain.

    I tried both the LSI 9260 and the Adaptec 2405Q card, then settled on the 9265-8i, once support for caching of both reads and writes was promised by LSI, even for RAID5 arrays. While waiting, I did get it all working, seen in the popular How to make ESXi 5.0 recognize an LSI 9265-8i RAID controller, Sep 24 2011. Interesting to note that this was well before Intel, an LSI OEM partner, wrote up VMware ESXi 5.0 Installation and RWC2 Tips and Tricks, Mar 2012.

    In 2012, while waiting for LSI to finally release a firmware that delivered on the caching promise, I mastered monitoring in How to make ESXi 5.1 see the health of an LSI 9265-8i RAID controller and array (seems to work with all 92xx controllers), Sep 15 2012. I then went on to figure out how to run MegaRAID in a VM in ESXi 5.1 host with LSI 92xx RAID adapter can run a VM with fully functional MegaRAID Storage Manager UI, here’s how Oct 01 2012. This was actually kind of fun, despite that how persnickity that bit of software LSI calls MegaRAID can be.

    Then, the arrival of CacheCade Pro 2.0, and my failed first stab at using what I had available to me at the time, an untested OCZ Vertex for the caching. I promptly corrupting my array's VMs that were running at the time, seen right on video here. Yes, entirely self-inflicted, and entirely unsupported. Oops. Going with a mirror for caching didn't seem terribly practical, or affordable, and buying the recommended enterprise SSDs was an even bigger barrier.

    But my persistence finally paid off in January 2013, when I was finally able to announce:


    LSI 9265-8i CacheCade Pro 2.0 is finally using my Samsung 830 256GB SSD for RAID5 read and write caching, boosting performance

    Jan 06 2013

    After those happy times, more woes. The speed was decent, but the move to ESXi betas, then release of ESXi 5.5 in September of 2013 left me without monitoring again. Boo. The battery backup unit (BBU) wouldn't show status either. And the speed of the array wasn't great now, about 30% slower overall, for mysterious reasons. Flashing the RAID adapter's firmware didn't help.

    According to LSI Support, the response I got was that they were going end of life with the 9265-8i support:

    Hello Paul,

    Have you updated the driver?
    SMIS -

    These two were released September 2013. They may work but because this card is EOL'd VMware 5.5 may not support BBU monitoring.

    That worried me.

    LSI 9266-8i
    LSI 9265-8i

    But that information was later shown to be misguided, since new drivers that LSI released in January 2014 got that RAID health monitoring back again, abeit with no battery backup status. I could live with that. And it turns out those January LSI drivers are the same exact drivers that Intel offers for its equivalent RAID controllers. Learned this from recent consulting experience, detailed here. I've also had a lot of favorable feedback from owners of the Dell PERC series of controllers as well.

    Running MegaRAID in a VM worked under 5.5 too, as long as the relevant hostname line made to the Window VM's hosts file perfectly matched the /etc/hosts file of ESXi, exactly. Yay!

    Things were good, for 2 months. Then came the release of ESXi 5.5 Update 1, released March 11, 2014. Yep, you guessed it, monitoring of RAID array health was once again broken. Sigh...

    What does this all have me thinking? Well, the revered LSI RAID 92xx family of controllers has been spotty at best, as far as it's ability for monitoring to just work in each of the latest and greatest ESXi releases. Sure wish it was all just baked in, including the SMIS provider stuff needed to know the array health and battery backup health.

    On the bright side, at least the basic LSI driver support that allowed me to see my data on my RAID5 array has been quite good all along. But it's not so good when you don't know if your RAID5 array has suffered a drive failure.

    Was buying this card worth all the hassle? Perhaps. And I sure enjoyed knowing that my various 9265 articles helped tens of thousands of others through the rough patches, particularly back in 2011. But wow, there is certainly room for improvement here!

    See also

    All 9265-8i related articles at TinkerTry.

    May 07 2014 Update - Good news!

    Good news to report, applying the Heartbleed patch brought down a bunch of drivers, restoring the visibility of my RAID array health, see:
    CrowdStrike Heartbleed Scanner finds my vulnerable VMware ESXi 5.5 U1 host, I patch, then rescan

    And more good news to report, under ESXi 5.5, I now got MegaRAID running inside an VM again by carefully paying attention to host file contents, see comment I made, with screenshots:

    May 16 2014 Update - Potentially more good news!

    On LSI's support page for the 9265-8i

    there are new May 2014 downloads available for ESXi 5.5. This is promising. Haven't had a chance to try these on a fresh ESXi 5.5 Update 1 install quite yet. Note, the bundles for the firmware and driver are the same, but for monitoring (RAID health, for example), it may be only the SMIS Provider that you really need, to get ESXi 5.5 Update 1 fully 9265-8i aware.

    Latest MegaRAID Firmware MR 6.3 Version: 6.603.55.00.1 Read Me and download:

    Latest MegaRAID Driver MR 6.3 Version: 6.603.55.00.1 Read Me and download:

    Latest MegaRAID SMIS Providers MR 6.3 - Certified Version: 00.51.V0.02 Read Me and download: