Dual Quad Server: To build or Buy?

OoteR02

Senior member
Nov 6, 2002
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I'm trying to make up my mind on what to do for a mid-range server to host VM's for a school system of less than 500 users. This will run a 64 bit linux host (Most likely opensuse)

VM's likely to be placed on this:
Domain Controller/DHCP/DNS Server
Exchange (future possibility)
Intranet Site Server
Internet Site Server (small load)
Application Server (Client server apps, relatively light CPU load, some decent IO though)

Going this route to consolidate 5+ year old servers to one Server with an offsite backup of the VM's.

I've been looking at dell 2950's. I have been speccing them out with 6 SATA drives (250 GB) a piece and they seem to come in around $3300 with dual Quad 2.33 GHz Intels, with 8 GB of ram. I'm thinking that 750 GB of storage is plenty, but more is always better.

Then there is the custom option...

So far here is my breakdown:

Pros:
Cheaper (by about 1k or so)
Longer general warranties (Lifetime on Ram, 3-5 years min on HDD's)
More HDD space for the same costs (Dell is terrible, 150 for a 250 GB drive.. or could I just purchase hdd's to fill the slots instead of going to Dell for them directly?? )

Cons:
Support/Replacements come from several sources
NO NBD replacements (Assuming that it will take a bit of time for me to find a replacement part down the road)


Other thoughts:

Raid controller? Go Hardware or Software? I honestly am more comfortable with hardware, but am pressed to find a controller for sub $500 that is recommended.

I am looking for someone to perhaps ask me the right questions (Questions that would help present what my best options may be) as well as some insight into build options.

I am not partial to any one brand for motherboard recommendations etc. I'd prefer a tower case (I know the 2950 is a rack mount.), and hot-swap hdd's would be great. I would be running a RAID 10, as there will be a bit of IO on this box.

Thanks for any insight!
 

themisfit610

Golden Member
Apr 16, 2006
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buy it from Dell.

They're _so_ cheap. the 2950s are absolutely awesome. I use them every day :)

Just buy RAM and drives on your own.

~MiSfit
 

DSF

Diamond Member
Oct 6, 2007
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If you do go with a Dell you can definitely buy your own RAM and drives to save money.
 

RebateMonger

Elite Member
Dec 24, 2005
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As much as I like the idea of VMs, I think you are being a bit optimistic in your plans. Exchange 2007 with 500 users is going to be a bit busy to be thrown on top of all those other VMs. Especially combined with your "decent I/O applications". Databases (applications and Exchange) aren't the strongest selling point of VMs.

I'd probably put Exchange one one box and the Application Server on a different physical box. That'd give you a place to put a second DC, too, which wouldn't hurt. You can likely use a single server right now, but I'd assume that you'll find a second box necessary when Exchange gets installed.
 

OoteR02

Senior member
Nov 6, 2002
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DSF and Misfit:

I just want to be sure about the HDD's. If I order the system with a x6 backplane equipped for SATA, I can just drop in my own drives? The trays etc will all be ready to go? I would assume that it wouldn't be a problem, but I only have experience fixing 2600's and 1950's, I haven't had the joy of ordering my own new.

I could save a small fortune buying drives off the shelf and tossing them in the enclosures if it comes ready to go. RAM I knew I could just toss in, which was the plan all the long.

Edit: Seems Dell charges $150 extra for the extra CPU as well... But I'm betting that that has a proprietary HSF that they don't include if you don't purchase it from them.


RebateMonger:

Thanks for the warnings about exchange. The 500 users is 'total' not what would be on the exchange server, that would be more like ~70 tops. There is not a huge issue with instantaneous responsiveness, the database driven stuff gets worked hard only at update times (table restructures etc) and there are no users on when that is being done. To be honest a dual quad me be overkill. Currently an old 2600 with dual 2.6's in it has no issues as the DC, My best estimates place about 140 users at a time MAX throughout the day.

Thanks for more info all!
 

OoteR02

Senior member
Nov 6, 2002
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I just looked at the Mac Pro's, they seem to start at 2700 (2500 with .edu discounts) and the Dell would run about $2000 with a similar config, the drives and ram would need to bumped in both.

The Mac does have faster CPU's, but I believe my drives are going to be the bottleneck more than the difference of 2.3 vs 2.8 GHz. The Mac seems to only support 4 hdd's, the Dell I'd be able to get a stripe of 3 in Raid 10.

Thanks for the suggestion, I'd prefer to stay with Dell as I have their hardware here, and for the price they seem to beat most others.
 

corkyg

Elite Member | Peripherals
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Mar 4, 2000
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Here is a factor to consider. A system in a school will be used and abused by countless kids. This brings up the aspect of maintenance and repair. If you build it, you will probably always be on the hook to fix it. If you buy it, consider an extended warranty or service contract. And, consider establishing a student monitoring/maintenance team who can deal with their peers. There's an old adage that I find true - "Something that is everybody's is nobody's."

 

OoteR02

Senior member
Nov 6, 2002
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Originally posted by: corkyg
Here is a factor to consider. A system in a school will be used and abused by countless kids. This brings up the aspect of maintenance and repair. If you build it, you will probably always be on the hook to fix it. If you buy it, consider an extended warranty or service contract. And, consider establishing a student monitoring/maintenance team who can deal with their peers. There's an old adage that I find true - "Something that is everybody's is nobody's."

Well, that is a consideration. Except this is a server. The 'abuse' is simply load. The only way I can think of to really bog the server in general would be an infinite loop of refreshes or file download attempts. They won't be touching it physically ever. The desktops that are out in the labs have a ton more problems (Poor things get kicked, bumped, and greasy little fingerprints all over them.)

The server will have the same load issues any server would have on the net, possibly DOS style attacks, and not much else. Commodity server parts are cheap, keeping spare hdd's (even CPU's) on hand wouldn't be a large issue, the motherboard could be, but the most likely parts to fail on a 'home-brew' server are a quick replacement, assuming a spare is on hand. Dell has NBD standard 3 year warranties on their servers, which is definetly a plus. I have one quad server here already, that will act as a cold-backup for the new box. I'll be backing up the VM's to it nightly, ready to bring them up at a click of a mouse, but having Dell show up and get the primary back up in a day is a definite plus.



 

RebateMonger

Elite Member
Dec 24, 2005
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Originally posted by: OoteR02
Edit: Seems Dell charges $150 extra for the extra CPU as well... But I'm betting that that has a proprietary HSF that they don't include if you don't purchase it from them.
I haven't looked at the manual for that model, but Dell almost always uses non-standard heatsink/fans. And some motherboards require (or used to require) a Voltage Regulator Module that was best acquired by just ordering the second CPU. Although, come to think of it, some of the servers would let you order the server to be set up for the second CPU for free, without ordering the CPU itself from Dell.

I suggest reading the Dell 2950 manual.
 

themisfit610

Golden Member
Apr 16, 2006
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Yep. Get the extra CPU from Dell, for sure.

The hard drives are a no-brainer. I sneakernet terabytes of data into our server room every day on commodity SATA drives - just toss them in the tray with at least 2 screws, shut down the server, plug them in, and reboot. Mount them in the RAID BIOS and volia :)

~MiSfit
 

OoteR02

Senior member
Nov 6, 2002
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Great!

I just looked at the manual some, and they show one weird looking HSF. At least IMO. I think that is what I'll do, buy the server with both quads, ( 2.66 ) relatively bare bones (they are tossing in dual 80 gigs for free...I'll just remove them and use them as spares for desktops) and grab 6 WD 640's. A clean 1.8 TB of storage, on $85 drives. Not to shabby.

I'll probably bump it to 10 (add 8) gigs of ram from newegg as well.

I looks like a total price of around $2700 + shipping.

Not to shabby.
 

RebateMonger

Elite Member
Dec 24, 2005
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Sounds like a good route. I was going to suggest that it wouldn't hurt to up the memory. It'd definitely be needed if you install Exchange 2007.

I haven't priced that particular RAM, but I was able to buy Kingston ECC (non-registered) memory for my new Dell SC440 for around $15 a Gigabyte. That's really not horrible. Don't know what Registered RAM costs right now.

One other trick with Dell is to buy TWO servers, the second one barebones, and pull the spare CPU. Sometimes this makes financial sense when the bare server is on some sort of "super-special". You get a complete backup server, some memory, and a second CPU for less than paying for extended warranties.
 

themisfit610

Golden Member
Apr 16, 2006
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Stoked. You'll like the 2950s, they're great servers! I use 10 of them + 10 1950s for encoding video all day :D

~MiSfit