How to hide unused FlexNICs

When I configured an HP Blade Enclosure with VirtualConnect modules for the first time I stumbled over an issue that probably has bothered most of the people doing this, especially if they run ESX(i) on the blade servers:

The BL620c G7 blade servers we are using have four built in 10Gbit-ports, and each of them can be partitioned into up to four so-called FlexNICs (or FlexHBAs for FCoE if you use them together with FlexFabric VirtualConnect modules like we do). The overall 10GBit bandwidth of one port will be split among its FlexNICs in a configurable way. You could e.g. have four FlexNICs with 2,5 GBit each, two with 6 and 4 GBit, or any combination of one to four FlexNICs with their bandwidth adding up to 10GBit.
For the OS (e.g. VMware ESXi) that is installed on the blade server each FlexNIC appears as a separate PCI device. So an ESX(i) host installed on a BL620c G7 can have up to 16 NICs. Cool, eh?

However, we did not really want to use too much of that feature and divided the first two 10Gbit-ports in a 4Gbit-FlexHBA and a 6GBit-FlexNIC each. The third and fourth port we even configured as single 10GBit-FlexNICs.

Now, the problem is that every 10Gbit-port will show up as four PCI devices even if you have configured less than four FlexNICs for it. Even if you have not partitioned it at all, but use it as a single 10Gbit-NIC, it will show up as four NICs with the unconfigured ones being displayed as disconnected!
In our case we ended up with ESXi seeing (and complaining about) 10 disconnected NICs. Since we monitor the blades with HP Insight Manager it also constantly warned us about the disconnected NICs.

So, we thought about a method to get rid of the unused FlexNICs. If we had Windows running directly on the blades this would have been easy: We would just disable the devices and Windows (and also HP Insight Manager) would not be bothered by them. However, in ESX(i) you cannot just disable a device ... but you can configure it for "VMDirectPath":

PCI Passthrough configuration of a BL620c G7
This dialog can be found in the Advanced Hardware Settings of a host's configuration. What does it do?
With VMDirectPath you can make a host's PCI device available to a single VM. It will be passed through to the VM, and the guest OS will then be able to see and use that device in addition to its virtual devices.
This way it is possible to present a physical device to a VM that you normally would not be able to add.

In the dialog shown above you configure which devices are available for VMDirectPath (also called PCI Passthrough). You can then add all the selected devices to the hardware of individual VMs.
We really did not want to do the latter... but there is one desirable side effect of this configuration: A device that is configured for VMDirectPath becomes invisible for the VMkernel. And this is exactly what we wanted to achieve for the unused FlexNICs!

So we configured all unused FlexNICs for VMDirectPath, and they were no longer being displayed as (disconnected) vmnics. If you want to do the same you need to know what PCI device a vmnic corresponds to. In the screenshot I posted you will notice that for some of the PCI devices the vmnic name is displayed in brackets, but not for all. So, it can be hard to figure out what devices need to be selected, but it's worth it!


  1. Good info. I came across this just recently and couldn't believe HP doesn't provide the ability to mask these extra "NICs" or use the NICs regularly, without the FlexNIC capability. The information you provided helps. Thanks!

  2. Hi Andreas and Joe, just for an update, HP now supports hiding unused FlexNICs from Version 4.10 of Virtual Connect (Oct 2013) and SPP 2013.02.0 for the adapters.


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