Help with installing TrueNAS Scale on HPE ML350 GEN9 server with Smart Array P440ar on top of VMware ESXI

Hey All,

As the title suggests, I am looking for help to install TrueNAS Scale on VM hosted on VMWARE ESXI on top of HPE ML350 GEN9 server which is currently equipped with Smart Array P440ar RAID controller.

Yes, I have read the mandatory “What’s all the noise about HBA’s, and why can’t I use a RAID controller?” topic. Yes, I know that ZFS does not tolerate hardware RAID controllers and expects direct access to the drives.

My question is, can I simply pass through SOME of my drives (or I have to pass through them all?) to the ESXI, so they can be passed to my TrueNAS VM? Or should I replace my hardware RAID controller with HBA? Or should I just configure it as HBA card? Will the RAID really act as a HBA or just imitate one? If I have to purchase one HBA card, I have to remove my RAID controller from the motherboard, right? Can I connect my SFF drive cage to the HBA card? And if yes, what HBA card should I get (that will also work with the rest of my HPE system)?

Now, pardon me for the avalanche of questions, but this will be my second TrueNAS installation ever, and my first ESXI. I got the server for cheap, and I am trying to spin up my first homelab. As you can see (incase you didn’t tired yourself from my questions) I’m still in the middle of nowhere and wondering were could I start from.

Thank you for taking your time to read my post!

Hi @scotrod!

So I just looked up the RAID controller, and it does not look like it can be flashed to IT mode (turning it into an HBA) from first glance here.

With that I would say you have 3 options probably: (which all follow the ZFS best practices)

  1. Use something other than TrueNAS, as trueNAS requires ZFS. If you are just looking for a NAS OpenMediaVault can be hosted as a VM, and genuinely would cause you less of a headache. You can just pass through whatever amount of data you want to the OMV VM and be off to the races.
  2. Buy an additional HBA for TrueNAS, then you can pass through that entire PCIe device to the TrueNAS VM, with whatever disks are attached to it. This is the recommended way to virtualize TrueNAS. I still tend to avoid it, just because of headaches.
  3. Buy the HBA and instead use TrueNAS scale as your hypervisor (getting rid of VMWARE)

To summarize a lot of ZFS stuff: ZFS really likes direct access to the drives. That being said it can work without direct access. The only way to get ‘true’ direct access to the drives is directly accessing the HBA. Thats why the ‘supported’ way to virtualize ZFS is to pass through the HBA as a PCIe device. The TrueNAS VM would get full access to the HBA as if it was not virtualized.

For your boot media for VMWARE you would have to plug those boot drives into the RAID card you already have.

I unfortunately am not super familiar with HP’s setup for HBA’s so I am probably not the person to ask. But to point you in a direction (might not be the right one). You can buy a LSI (now Broadcom I think) PCIe HBA. It would connect to your internal connectors. What you need to make sure to match is if its SAS or SATA and the speed / connector. Lot of stuff out there.

That being said: You may really save yourself a ton of headache by virtualizing OpenMediaVault instead of TrueNAS. (this is coming from someone who really loves TrueNAS)

That was a quick one!! Thank you for the advice!

The thing is, I really, really want to run TrueNAS as my NAS system on top of ESXI. And the more I read about this topic, the more I confuse myself. Looking at the guide for installing TrueNAS CORE (should be the same for SCALE, right, right?):

I can safely install TrueNAS SCALE on top of ESXi, while giving it a virtual hard disk, which is labeled as LSI Logic SAS. I believe this includes another complication in the setup (another passthrough) but in this case, this is being handled by ESXI, correct? Wouldn’t that cover up the situation with the hardware RAID?

On a side note, can I have BOTH my hardware RAID AND another HBA installed on the server at the same time? For example, the hardware RAID would feed storage to ESXI, and the rest of my disks would go to the HBA, which would be passed from ESXI to the TrueNAS VM?

So this is that grey area within ZFS. If you read the forums and general recommendations ZFS wants physical access to the drives. This will prevent any weird timeout issues / freak-outs that ZFS might have. Technically what you can do is just do your RAID in VMWARE, pass a single virtual drive into TrueNAS (well 2x, 1 for boot 1 for storage). But this is risky to say the least (why I recommended OMV). This is breaking the ZFS rule of always having direct access to the drives.

Yes you can! You can just add in as many HBA’s as you like (I have 4x on this box). It’s a very common setup and this is how I would do it!

Pardon me, not familiar what exactly is OMV. So, Regardles, I will do some more research in TrueNAS’ forum about his, since the article doesn’t say much but provide the screenshots. Currently, I have raised a test TN VM on ESXI, and I have passed a virtual drive (which is being provided from the hardware raid. The virtual drive is just a RAID1).

So, about this. I know that usually having multiple HBA cards isn’t an issue. I just don’t know if having hardware RAID (which is acting like a true RAID, not just HBA) AND a real HBA controller wouldn’t cause any issues. My goal is for the HPE hardware RAID to serve to ESXI, and to purchase another LSI HBA which will bring all the disks to the TrueNAS VM… Or at least this is what I aim to do.


There will not be any problem!

Overall I think this is a solid plan. Pretty much what I was looking to recommend as ‘option 2’ from earlier!

Best of luck to you!