Diskless Dell PowerEdge R430 for pfSense

Hello, I have a PowerEdge R430 and the specs from Dell say “780-BBPE : Diskless Configuration (No RAID, No Controller)”. It does have dual 8GB SD cards with VMware loaded on it. Here are my questions.

  1. Can I run pfSense with current configuration by using the SD cards?

  2. It has 4 drive bays with SAS connectors. Can I just get some 3rd party drive carriers and install my own disks? I was looking at the Intel Datacenter SSDs. I know I wouldn’t have a RAID controller, but I should still be able to use the motherboard to connect disk drives, right?

  3. I like the idea of virtualizing pfSense in Hyper-V. Not really specific to this build, but does pfSense take performance hit by being virtualized? Could the networking get slowed down? This server has more than enough CPU to handle pfSense on it’s own.

I don’t have much experience using Dell servers with the SSD cards or the third party carriers. As for virtualizing pfsense, I know it can be run in Hyper-V, but check their forums for what issues you may encounter.

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If FreeBSD has a driver for the SD card, you should be able to install pfSense on bare metal.

I virtualize them myself and run a bunch in VMware without any issues. Just make sure you select the correct virtual hardware when building your VM.

As for the hard drive, you should be fine, but I recommend SSD with MLC vs TLC. There is a difference in the live span between the two.

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Update here:

I picked up 2 Intel SSDs and 2 aftermarket drive cages and they all seem to be working great. Even with “Diskless configuration” the system still has the Dell S130 software RAID, which only works for Windows installations. Since I installed pfSense/FreeBSD, I just turned off RAID and put it in AHCI mode and both disks were presented to pfSense. I used a ZFS mirror because why not?! This server has 64 GB of RAM so way overkill for just pfSense!

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Update with new issue. We’ve been running pfSense since the beginning of June 2020. In the last few weeks, it seems that pfSense has crashed twice per week, causing an approximately 10 minute Internet outage each time while the server reboots.

How do I start trouble shooting this? Does pfSense keep a log of each time it got rebooted? How can I tell if this is a hardware or software failure?

I would look into troubleshooting FreeBSD since that is the OS.