Monday, February 18, 2008

All-in-one servers

One recurring theme as I build servers is that I often want a configuration that's not available.

Sun are the worst culprit as, while they generally have excellent products, the actual range of configuration options is rather limited.

And one of the reasons I was interested in the X4150 in the first place was the ability to have 8 internal disk drives. For many things I would prefer internal storage, if I can get it.

So what is wrong with external storage? Well, it can be very expensive, because you need to get a chassis, maybe raid controllers, and HBAs, not to mention the extra rack space, power cords, cables, and having separate boxes to manage and monitor. And if all you want is a few hundred gig of space, then it's just not worth it.

So consolidate on a SAN, you say. Maybe, but SAN storage itself is rather expensive. For small amounts, the cost of HBAs and the fibre infrastructure can be prohibitive.

I've been attracted to iSCSI, but while it does actually work great, it's limited to low-bandwidth light-use scenarios. (I just have regular gigabit ethernet.)

So a solution where the storage can fit neatly in the server is very attractive. At the moment I have something that takes about 500G, but is likely to grow slightly. So I think I need about a terabyte, and it's got to be reasonably quick, faster than iSCSI anyway.

So looking at the X4150 I would probably do something like use the first 2 drives for the OS and use the upmarket raid card to create a raid-5 array across the other 6 drives. So that's 5 drives worth of data, or about 700G.

Close, but it's not quite close enough. It's just a little bit tight. It would be nice to have larger drives, but as Ben has discovered, larger capacity drives in the small (2.5") form factor just can't be had.

So if we have to go beyond that then we might go up to regular 3.5" drives (which gets you 15K rpm and 300G or 450G capacities), or you need more than 8 internal drives. In either case that implies a larger chassis. (Sun have an X4450 which is the big brother of the X4150, but that's identical as far as supported drives are concerned.)

Looking at what Sun have available, there really isn't anything. And no I don't want a thumper, not for this application anyway. (It's a shame that there aren't more variations on the thumper theme.)

Ho hum. Off to see if I can find something different. A Dell 2900 is a lumpy tower. What about a HP ProLiant DL580 G5? (The DL 320s might work, but the max memory is a little too small at a mere 8G.)

Anyone care to suggest alternative options? (Must run Solaris!)


Ben said...

If you don't mind going a bit downmarket, Supermicro have some interesting looking stuff.

Anonymous said...

If you want only storage, and not *fast* storage, 2.5" SATA drives are available in 320GB sizes. Only SPUD can be pose a problem

Peter Tribble said...

ben - That's a *very* interesting suggestion. I don't mind going downmarket myself, although I think my management might frown on that a little bit. Trying to get anything "interesting" into our US datacenter and persuading our staff on another continent to allow it through the door and support it may prove more of a challenge than I'm prepared to take on.

tomasz - the problem with SATA is speed, of course. And while I can get round that with more drives, that gets us back where we started from, because then I need to find an even larger chassis!

Ben said...

Yes, it might involve an interesting life to some degree. Not all the boards run Solaris, and for those which do, they just say they installed it. However, the chipsets are very like Sun servers.

I was looking at them, and then just decided to be done with it and buy Sun kit. But when I need a bit more storage, I may have to have another look. As you say, there's nothing between an X4150 and a Thumper.

There is some Sun storage thing which is composed of many nodes which look like the X2x00 M2 line, but have four 3.5" bays, I forget the name and can't see it on a quick scan of the site. But they don't do that as a server on it's own, which is a pity.

Linus S. said...

Quite unrelated but I got to brag: Got my first Thumper today, lovely beast it is... =)

Anonymous said...

ben: you are thinking about StorageTek 5800 (aka Honeycomb). Storage nodes are in fact x2100 with 3GB of RAM.
But ST 5800 is only sold as complete system (service+storage nodes) for data archival uses.

Ben said...

Tomasz: Yes, that's the one. Sun's helpful naming scheme means you have to click on every single link. :-(

I would very much like to buy some of the storage nodes on their own. A low end Opteron with four 3.5" discs is a bit of a sweet-spot. As long as Sun doesn't multiply the price of the discs by four as they usually do.

Sun is very like Apple, with frustrating gaps in their product line. Perhaps that's just a problem with companies which do the entire stack?

Peter Tribble said...

ben - yes, frustrating gaps in their product line has always been a problem for Sun. And while they may be worse than other vendors, it's not as if the other vendors are doing well - they might have different choices, but there's actually a significant feeling of sameness among the manufacturers

Linus - welcome to the club, and enjoy the thumper!

Peter Tribble said...

I was intrigued, given the discussion being about the lack of choice in Sun's products, to get a mail campaign from Sun entitled "One size doesn't fit all". Who are they trying to fool?