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by Russ Bellew · phone 954 873-4695

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My suggestions for servers 
  

 

Blade Servers

 

Blade servers pack more servers into a given volume -- an entire server is housed in a 'blade', which plugs into a backplane. The blades share a common power supply(s).

 

They're compact, but proprietary.

photo:Robert Kloosterhuis

IBM Bladecenter, with an HS20 server partially removed. Click for close-up

From top to bottom: Dell RAID, rackmount Poweredge server, and two blade servers

Servers must 
  1. Respond quickly to simultaneous requests from multiple users.
  2. Be available whenever users need them.

 

Disk channel bandwidth is critical in most servers. 

 

Before specifying a server that will fit your needs, define the server's function. For typical workgroup file sharing, disk speed is critical. For an application server, CPU speed is critical.

 
In all cases, 
  1. Add lots of RAM to cache disk sectors.
  2. Protect the server from brownouts, blackouts, and voltage spikes.
  3. Provide redundant hardware.
  4. Provide a reliable data backup system with removable media.
       

 

Place your server(s) in a secure server room.

 

Troubles Clustering Windows Server 2003

 

Rackmount Proliant Servers

 

RAID Storage Systems 

 

Heavy-Duty UPSs

 

 

 

 

Four HP Proliant rack mounted servers with hot swap drives.

 

There is a slide out rack mounted laptop computer fitted between them. 
 

  

 Here's what I look for in a server:

CPU

  • Fastest that the budget will allow, with lots of on-chip cache
  • Consider two or more CPUs only if the operating system supports them. Otherwise, it's a waste of money.

 

Disk

A technician replaces a hot swappable hard drive 

 
 
 
SCSI or Fiber Channel interface. The faster and wider, the better.
 
7200, 10,000, or even 15,000 RPM
 
 
Some form of RAID (I prefer RAID-1: keep it simple!)
 
Hot swap drive carriers are nice. Otherwise, I'll swap drives while the server is off-line during scheduled downtime.
 
Considering ATA disks? Think again.

 

Memory

  • ECC. Lots of it. The more memory, the less often the CPU needs to access the disk - that means faster disk fetches for the users.
     
  • Power

    Supply

     

    Plenty of reserve power (in terms of output Watts), capable of powering the maximum number of drives that the server enclosure can accomodate.

     

    Redundant Hot-Swap Power Supplies

     
    Redundant: (2 or 3 supplies). The possibility of supplying AC power to one power supply from one circuit and supplying AC power to a redundant power supply from another building circuit adds more redundancy.
     
    Redundant supplies are nice, but not as important as redundant disks, since power supply MTBF (mean time between failure) is greater than disk and power supply failure rarely causes data loss. When budget is tight, dispense with redundant power supplies before redundant disks.

     

    Cooling

  • Multiple ball-bearing fans (Sleeve bushing fans, common in cheap PCs, are junk.)
  • Plenty of airflow around each disk drive
  • Ducted airflow away from CPU(s)
  • Low drag internal airflow path, from bottom intake to top exhaust
     
  • Packaging

  • Plenty of empty drive bays to allow addition of more drives
  • Rackmount preferred. Minimizes footprint. Accomodates expansion with same footprint.
  • If rackmount, mount server chassis on slides to allow servicing
  • Consider an external RAID drive enclosure.
  •  

    Status

    Monitor

  • A front panel LCD display of system status is helpful.
  • Motherboard enclosure monitoring software with thermal sensors, intrusion interlock switch(es).

  • Is a MIB available for SNMP monitoring, or Landesk or similar remote management? In a small office it's not a deal killer, but is desirable in larger environments.

  •