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Attn server geeks - MegaZone's Safety Valve
The Ramblings of a Damaged Mind
zonereyrie
zonereyrie
Attn server geeks
I'm looking for some input. For work we need some more rack mount servers for some new projects. Nothing uber, single or dual processor boxes is what we were thinking. Mainly looking for boxes with good redundancy, which is why we might do dual CPU. I'm leaning towards Opteron boxes because A) I'm an AMD guy, B) Opteron runs rings around Xeon, and C) Opteron uses less power and costs less. The ugly part is we need to run Windows - 2k/2k3 Server - on most of them, but we may drop Linux on some. That eliminates Sun's Opteron boxes, and Dell since they don't do AMD. HP and IBM are the two big boys that come to mind, but I'm looking for any recommendations for other vendors I should take a good look at - or avoid for that matter.

Also, another thought I had was to look at blade servers instead of pizza boxes. It looks like there is more upfront cost, but then expansion is easier and management is easier as well. I don't have any hands-on experience with blade servers, anyone have anything to share?

Tangentially, I'm looking to standardize on a Linux flavor. (Yes, Linux. There are three of us in Ops, two of us are fluent in Linux and not really in *BSD.) Right now we have a few boxes that accumulated over time running Slackware, Red Hat Linux (non Enterprise), and Fedora Core. RHL is defunct. Fedora Core is an option, but the experimental nature doesn't sit well. RHEL seems like an expensive option. Slackware I don't have a good feeling for in a commercial environment. Debian is right out for a few reasons - just go with the slow releases as the main one. Gentoo is even more out - we're not compiling things every time we install it, no way. I think the two main options are going with SuSE Linux or CentOS. CentOS seems to be what we're leaning toward, but none of us have actually used it. CentOS is pretty much RHEL with the branding filed off. Any input?

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Comments
From: norikos_author Date: December 22nd, 2005 01:48 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Ubuntu? It appears to basically be Debian with a reasonable release schedule.
zonereyrie From: zonereyrie Date: December 22nd, 2005 01:52 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
We floated that too, but the impression we had was that it was more a desktop distribution. If it is a decent server distro too, we'll have to look at that.
From: pvaneynd Date: December 22nd, 2005 07:59 am (UTC) (Direct Link)

ubuntu server team

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================================

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  October 2005: Ubuntu 5.10 ships with a dedicated server installation
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From: ninjarat Date: December 22nd, 2005 01:52 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Sun's Opteron boxes can take a Linux install just fine. I put both RHELv4 and SLES9 on a V40Z.

I hate yast so SuSE can disappear as far as i care. Go with CentOS if you want a supported, stable, RPM-based OS.
zonereyrie From: zonereyrie Date: December 22nd, 2005 01:54 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Yes - but note the need for Windows as the primary. If all we needed was Linux/UNIX, Sun would be a contender.

Heck, Solaris would be - we're still kind of half-way thinking SolarisX86 might be an option, but probably not.
From: ninjarat Date: December 22nd, 2005 02:18 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
You can put Windows XP or Windows Server on Sun's Opteron boxes, too. That same box also had WIndows Server 2003 installed on it.
simonb From: simonb Date: December 22nd, 2005 02:58 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
The V20z and V40z are both certified for Win2K/Win2K3 - we've got a gaggle at work running both.
donnerjack From: donnerjack Date: December 22nd, 2005 02:20 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Even if you're leaning away from Xeon's as the procs, I'd recommend taking a look at Dell machines, I've used them at my last two jobs and had nothing but good experience with the gear and the support. I'm going to go ahead and guess that the Dell pricing structure is similar to HP/IBM, but we've found that a fully populated blade chassis is cheaper, per processor, than the equivalent number of 1U rackmounts, for basically the same gear. Dell's blades are identical to their 1U servers, etc. I think there's an argument to be made for individual rackmounts, as far as not having the need for a chassis to work with them, and the chassis does add a certain amount of management overhead, make sure to do some research into the chassis controllers/management software, etc. if that's the route you decide to take.

I'm biased toward AMD myself, for various reasons, but I've had good experience with Xeon procs, in Dell gear and commodity boxes. I heard some rumors that Dell was going to start an Opteron based offering some time ago, but I don't know if that ever came to pass, it might be worth at least getting in touch with a rep there. I don't honestly know that the performance difference is that great, I've never seen a significant amount of practical evidence that would support there being a huge difference between them, likewise on power consumption, at least in my experience, Opterons are power hungry, run hot, and, depending on the board, can be finicky about what gear they work well with. We had a lot of problems with our intitial Opteron offering at Rackspace, but it was all on commodity gear, going with a vendor would probably obviate a lot of the hassles we dealt with.

Distribution wise, I'm using CentOS on all the boxes at work at the moment, and have no complaints whatsoever, it's been a pretty good experience so far. I'd recommend staying away from Fedora Core as a server distro, I get a distinctly desktop feel from it and what little I've seen of it in server use hasn't been terribly impressive. Likewise Ubuntu, that is, to my understanding, very much a desktop distro. RHEL, actually, is an option, keep in mind that RHEL doesn't cost a thing, it's the RedHat Network license that you're paying for, which is basically, uh, yum. up2date is a relatively slick tool, RH finally got their package manager right, but it's no way, no how worth paying for, so I've seen people do RHEL installs and switch over to package management with yum or the like. But, all in all, I'd say CentOS has a good rep, we've had really good luck with it thus far, it'd probably be worth your while to set up your own yum repo (it's, like, two commands) and manage your updates via that with automatic yum updates cron'd nightly or something.
bdragon From: bdragon Date: December 22nd, 2005 02:48 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
we're using Fedora Core on Rackable Systems blade servers. Those are probably more bang than you're looking for, but they also have standalone 1U jobs.
roninspoon From: roninspoon Date: December 22nd, 2005 04:27 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Use VMware, then it doesn't matter what hardware you use as long as it's I386 and you get more redundancy than you can shake a stick at. Want to change hardware? Move the live server to a different platform with 0.00 downtime. Is a particular server process monopolizing resources? Move it another box, or move other servers off allowing it to use all the resources.
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: December 22nd, 2005 08:14 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
That what our biggest customer does right now, sadly only for the internal machines - my babies are all 'net-facing and there was a decision that those will stay on their own hardware.

As for Linux distros, I'm very much leaning towards Debian for swervers - especially for the slow release cycle; if I need something more current, I backport it myself (which usually is no farther away than an apt-get -b source foo/testing) or use testing.
Ubuntu might also be an option for your more up-to-date needs, as it's not just similar to Debian, but actually is Debian underneath, eg the whole structure is the same, the tools are the same, essentially you just point your APT sources to different servers. I've no idea how it does AMD64, though, since I don't have such hardware.
RHEL3/4 I only have nothing but trouble with, though. As soon as you have a single problem (like, oh, piss-poor NFS performance with certain supported (by both Dell and Redhat) RAID controllers, they just shrug and you wonder why you've blown the money. Also see Tai's posts in the certain Other Place.
dsrtao From: dsrtao Date: December 22nd, 2005 11:25 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
First: As a hardware vendor for cheap dual-CPU P4 and Opteron systems, PogoLinux Does Not Suck. High quality hardware, low prices, good customer support.

Second: all distributions suck. But, Debian gives you the tools to make all the pain go away. Set up your own APT repository and use the Debian build tools to build and manage your company's software on top of a known stable base. Keep separate sub-distros for your development, alpha, QA, beta and production categories. Seriously, this is the way to sysadmin nirvana.
From: zeeke42 Date: December 22nd, 2005 05:10 pm (UTC) (Direct Link)
Just to pimp my previous place of employment, if you need a cheap pile of rackmount boxes, check out the cases at 2Ux2. You sound like you want vendor support and redundancy within the boxes, so this isn't the way to go for your application.

For applications where you want to build a bunch of cheap machines, these can't be beat on price. 1 machine per U case for $60/machine. Uses standard ATX power supplies and micro-ATX motherboards. No need for fancy/expensive low profile parts.
wickerdotus From: wickerdotus Date: January 6th, 2006 05:45 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
I just found this post in your LJ, so forgive me if the topic is cold at this point.

I work for a Fortune 10 company, and all our hardware goes through quite a bit of testing prior to being added to the approved hardware list.

That being said, HP's AMD systems are on that list and are the preferred Wintel servers in our data center. The financial control people try steer us to Dell, but the engineering group keeps winning those battles (for now).
zonereyrie From: zonereyrie Date: January 6th, 2006 05:59 am (UTC) (Direct Link)
Thanks. I like the look of HP's Opteron systems myself, I just need to see how it works in the budget - we're only a 30 person company so we can't always buy the designer jeans. :-)
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