It's a technology puzzle with many pieces. Each piece changes pretty quickly, so by the time you have figured out which things work well together, you can start all over again. That is most likely the impression that someone will get when he or she tries to understand the world of servers and networking.

No problem; you buy all your pieces from the same vendor, hire a few consultants and they will do all the puzzling for you... for a price. There is a reason why profit margins in this world are still high, and it might cost you more than just money. It is also not imaginary at all that you might suffer from "vendor lock-in", no matter how many sweet stories you read about how the market is now ruled by open industry standards. There are still quite a few tricks up the vendors' sleeves to make sure you or your company becomes totally dependent and locked in.

Of course if you are reading this, it means that you are not part of the "I don't care what is under the hood, as long as it runs my software" crowd. You want to be in full control, and understand all the hardware puzzle pieces. Just like us, you are probably on a rather tight budget, and so you have to weigh every option and research the alternatives. Just letting somebody else dictate how to solve your technology problems is not an option. And last but not least, you feel that understanding the latest hardware trends is fun....

That is what this new series of articles is all about. We'll explore the latest trends in the server hardware market and critically examine then. We'll try to give an overview of what is hot and what is not for certain applications. We are well aware that we don't have the monopoly on wisdom, so feel free to send us feedback. We'll research your feedback in depth, and we'll add it to the next server guide.

This first article might be a bit light for the server veterans among you. In this article we'll introduce new server administrators and desktop people who want to know more into the server world. In the next articles we'll discuss storage possibilities, virtualization and more.

What makes a server different?
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  • AtaStrumf - Sunday, October 22, 2006 - link

    Interesting stuff! Keep up the good work!
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, October 19, 2006 - link

    I'm guessing this is possible, but I've never tried it...

    Wouldn't it be possible to use a blade server, and just have the OS on each blade, but have a large, high-bandwith (read: gig ethernet) NAS box? That way, each blade would have, say (for example), two small hard disks in RAID-1 with the boot OS for ensuring uptime, but any file storage would be redirected to RAID-5 volumes created on the NAS box(es). Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.
  • dropadrop - Friday, December 22, 2006 - link

    This is what we've had in all of the places I've been working at during the last 5-6 years. The term used is SAN, not NAS, and servers have traditionally been connected to it via fiberoptics. It's not exactly cheap storage, actually it's really damn expensive.

    To give you a picture, we just got a 22TB SAN at my new employer, and it cost way over 100000$. If you start counting price for gigabyte, it's not cheap at all. Ofcourse this does not take into consideration the price of Fiber Connections (cards on the server, fiber switches, cables ect). Now a growing trend is to use iScsi instead of fiber. Iscsi is scsi over ethernet and ends up being alot cheaper (though not quite as fast).

    Apart from having central storage with higher redundancy, one advantage is performance. A SAN can stripe the data over all the disks in it, for example we have a RAID stripe consisting of over 70 disks...
  • LoneWolf15 - Thursday, October 19, 2006 - link

    (Since I can't edit)

    I forgot to add that it even looks like Dell has some boxes like these that can be attached directly to their servers with cables (I don't remember, but it might be an SAS setup). Support for a large number of drives, and mutliple RAID volumes if necessary.
  • Pandamonium - Thursday, October 19, 2006 - link

    I decided to give myself the project of creating a server for use in my apartment, and this article (along with its subsequent editions) should help me greatly in this endeavor. Thanks AT!
  • Chaotic42 - Sunday, August 20, 2006 - link

    This is a really interesting article. I just started working in a fairly large data center a couple of months ago, and this stuff really interests me. Power is indeed expensive for these places, but given the cost of the equipment and maintenance, it's not too bad. Cooling is a big issue though, as we have pockets of hot and cold air through out the DC.

    I still can't get over just how expensive 9GB WORM media is and how insanely expensive good tape drives are. It's a whole different world of computing, and even our 8 CPU Sun system is too damned slow. ;)
  • at80eighty - Sunday, August 20, 2006 - link

    Target Reader here - SMB owner contemplating my options in the server route

    again - thank you

    you guys fucking \m/
  • peternelson - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

    Blades are expensive but not so bad on ebay (as is regular server stuff affordable second user).

    Blades can mix architecture eg IBM blades of CELL processor could mix with pentium or maybe opteron blades.

    How important U size is depends if it's YOUR rack or a datacentre rack. Cost/sq ft is more in a datacentre.

    Power is not just $cents per kwh paid to the utility supplier.

    It is cost of cabling and PDU.
    Cost (and efficiency overhead) of UPS
    Cost of remote boot (APC Masterswitch)
    Cost of transfer switch to let you swap out ups batteries
    Cost of having generator power waiting just in case.

    Some of these scale with capacity so cost more if you use more.

    Yes virtualisation is important.

    IBM have been advertising server consolidation (ie not invasion of beige boxes).

    But also see STORAGE consolidation. eg EMC array on a SAN. You have virtual storage across all platforms, adding disks as needed or moving the free space virtually onto a different volume as needed. Unused data can migrate to slower drives or tape.
  • Tujan - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

  • Zaitsev - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link


    We are well aware that we don't have the monopoly on wisdom, so feel free to sent us feedback.

    Fourth paragraph of intro.

    Haven't finished the article yet, but I'm looking forward to the series.

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