Friday, March 27, 2009

Great deal on Dual, Dual-Core Opteron Server

There's currently a great deal on a dual processor motherboard on so if you're looking for a dirt cheap 1u server and willing to build your own server. For a single cpu setup with 8 gigs of ram and 1 hard drive in a 1u non hot swap chassis the components are less than $600. Here's the components you will need:

TYAN S2912G2NR Extended ATX Server Motherboard

The base of this build is the TYAN S2912G2NR server mother board, which is currently selling for $69.99. The board officially supports 2 Dual Core AMD Opteron processors but some people have gotten it to work with some of AMD's new Quad Core processors, though it's not officially supported and may cause you problems with certain power management features. There are 8 240 PIN DDR2 667 memory slots for up to 64GB of RAM if you're using two processors. The board only supports PATA and SATA II drives but you can hook up 6 of them with the onboard controller and select RAID 0/1/0+1/g and JBOD.

The reason the motherboard is so cheap is because it is being EOL'd. Likely because of the problems with quad core processors. If 4 cores (2 dual core CPUs) is good enough for you, then this is a great deal. The S2912 board is being replaced by a new model that has support for the Barcelona and Shanghai Opteron CPUs. Tyan Thunder n3600R (S2912-E) Server Board - nVIDIA - Socket F (1207) - 1000MHz HT - 64GB - DDR2 SDRAM - Extended ATX

Dual Core Opteron

If you want to be safe, the Dual Core Santa Rosa processors are a good fit for this board. Below is a selection of processors that will work with this board along with current prices (as of today):

CPU Cooler

This motherboard has a 4.1" mounting pitch which is less common. So you need to make sure you pick the right heatsink. A good one for this board is the Thermaltake 1U CPU Fan - 70mm - 4800rpm - 1 x Ball Bearing, 1 x Sleeve Bearing


You'll need a minimum of 2 sticks of ram per processor. 4GB DDR2 Ram is affordable enough to use these days at around $80/stick. Kingston 4GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM Server Memory Model KVR667D2D4P5/4G is a good choice to use with this board.

Hard Drives

For servers in a raid configuration, I like Western Digital RE3 Drives. Below are options you can use with this board.

1u Chassis

If you don't care about having hot swap drives, the NORCO RPC-170 Black 1U Rackmount Server Case is a good deal at $79.99. You'll also need an Athena Power AP-U1ATX40L 1U 400W Server Power Supply at around $95.

Hot Swap Chassis

Because of the size of the motherboard, options are limited for hot swap chassis. Chenbro has a 2U chassis that will support 4 Hotswap 3.5" Drives. The chassis includes a power supply.

Alternately, you can go with 4 2.5" hot swap drives in this 1U chassis from Athena Power which includes a 500W power supply. For a raid setup, the 2.5" Velociraptor 10K drives are very good and provide better performance than the 3.5" Drives. Not quite SAS but pretty darn close. They're a bit pricey but great for disk heavy applications such as databases. They are available in 2 different capacities, 150GB and 300GB. Put them in a RAID 1+0 configuration, or a mirrored pool if you're using ZFS and you'll get 300GB or 600GB of capacity and incredible performance.

Sata Cables

The position of the SATA ports on the board is a bit awkward. The included 18" SATA cables that come with the motherboard won't reach drive bays that are on the right hand side of the chassis. For this reason you should pick up some OKGEAR 36" SATA ll Cables depending how many drive's you'll be using.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Buying vs Building a Rack Mount Server

The savings you can achieve if you build your own rack mount servers is big. This can be an attractive choice for many, but not all.

The site is still being developed but I wanted to start off the blog with going over some of the benefits and drawbacks of building your own servers. The cost savings can be tremendous, but there are things you need to consider.

What size server can I build?

Theoretically, you can build anything from a 1U single processor server up to a 4 processor 8U server. As the servers get more complex, there might be some real benefits of buying from a good manufacturer such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard or IBM.

For that reason, this site is going to focusing primary on entry level rack mount servers. Any one who can follow instructions will be able to build a rack mount server in this class. With so much built into modern server motherboards, all you need to build a 1u server is a chassis, motherboard, cpu, memory and disks. as for tools it's nothing special. Just a screwdriver.

What you lose if you build your own server.

You can save about 50% of the cost of a server if you build it yourself, but don't be deceived into thinking that that server makers are marking up their servers by 50%. Profit margins on entry level servers are pretty thin. A good chunk of the price goes into support costs.

You buy an X2100 M2 server from Sun, for example, and even with the standard 1 year warranty that comes with the purchase, you get next day part replacement. Anything fails and you have one vendor to deal with to get replacement parts. For an extra $400 you upgrade that to 3 years same day replacement or for $700 you can get 2 hour replacement for 3 years. During the warranty period, and usually for a certain period of time they will have replacement parts available.

Need operating system specific support? That's over $1k for 3 years, but it's an option you don't generally get with building your own servers. When you build it, you maintain it.

But you're not completely shut out if you purchase your own components. Most of what you put into your server will have a manufacturer's warranty. It's a little bit more of a hassle and some manufacturers will not give you next day service, let alone 2 hour service, but you can manage hardware failure costs when a component fails.

There are other ways you can deal with hardware failures that might even give you a better response than 2 hours. This tip comes from how construction contractors buy power tools. It's nice to have an expensive Festool or Hitachi and they have their merits, but for the same price you could buy 3 or 4 Ryobi or Ridgid tools. These aren't the junk $20 tools people pick up at Harbor Freight either.

You can do the same with servers. The components in the servers that will be on this site aren't no-names or knock offs. They're from reputable manufactures that sometimes even produce the components that go into big name servers.

Lets take another look at that X2100 M2 server. It is similar to the 1u Quad Core Opteron Server that's currently on the front page of the site except the Sun server is only a Dual processor box but it has a remote management card and 4 network ports. With 2GB of Ram and 1 500GB drive it costs $1,537.

The 1U Quad Core Opteron Kit specified on the home page, with the same amount of memory and disk space costs $816 as of right now. That's a savings of a little over $700. A decent chunk of that is the cost of the chassis and power supply. The chassis is just a metal box. If it's safe and secure in a rack it should outlive the rest of the components. For that $700 you saved, you can buy an extra motherboard, CPU, heatsink, powersupply, drive and ram. If something fails, you have the parts on hand.

It's like you're getting the same day service for free. If the part is still covered by the manufacturers warranty, you can still get a replacement, but while you're wrangling with the manufacturer, your server is still up and running.

For some people, the support their vendor provides is worth giving up the savings. If your $1,000 server generates $1,000 a day in revenue, the savings is trivial and you might like the peace of mind vendor support brings.

There is something to say about the satisfaction of knowing you built and can maintain your own infrastructure.

Rack Mount Servers Are Loud

OK, this might be obvious to most, but while looking through reviews on various sites for different components, I routinely see negative reviews on components intended for use in rack mount chassis because the reviewer thought it was too loud.

They're usually talking about a fan that was meant for a 1U server chassis. 1U enclosures are very thin and you need good air flow through them to keep the components within recommended temperature ranges.

Fans that do that don't tend to be quiet. Don't even think of putting something with a fan, that was meant for a 1U server chassis in your home gaming system that's right next to your bed or under your boss's desk.

The following video shows a typical small office server room (with pretty bad cable management on the racks) to give you an idea what it sounds like.