building a server

I've been thinking about converting my current system into a server after my next upgrade, what I am wondering is what kind of performace I can expect from the following configuration:
Dual PIII 450's on either the GigaByte or the Asus board (haven't decided yet),
192 MB of PC100 10ns SDRAM,
and hopefully a ~5.5-6.0 ms SCSI Ultra2 HD.

My website is based around an Access database (I use ASP with it), and barely has any graphics at all, so bandwidth should not be much of a problem.

Ability to serve around 150 concurrent usersusers should get me through the next year or so - do you think that would be feasible?
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Jjeff1's point about raid for reliability is a good one, and if NT does it natively then I'm assuming Win2K will, but don't quote me on that as I mainly fiddle with hardware and only use operating systems as a last resort, hah hah!

A 2 drive raid with ide drives will be a good cost effective solution for you.  Don't sweat 3ms of drive access time.  Be realistic and ask yourself  "what's 3ms difference over the web? "

Besides, with you almost 200mb of ram, it will only have to read once to stay in the read cache, especially since this machine has no other tasks.  For a test now, without anything else running load Access, see how long that takes, then immediately close it and reload it.  How long did it take the second time?  Less time, I bet.  Your happy read cache at work.  

You can always fiddle with the disk read/write cache size settings to force them bigger than the maybe conservative Windows default.  A 10mb database + Access + some html and other assorted web stuff probably is less than 200 MB, so you're all set.

As for connecting to your ISP's hub, well, as long as we're recommending dual drives for reliability then try to talk the ISP into letting you use two network cards.  Most serious servers use two to start and heavy duty ones will have four or five.  I've seen server motherboards with 9 PCI slots so you can really go wild with the redundant NICs.

Why two network cards?  Well, on one hand, the same reason you use two hard drives for redundant reliability.  One flakes out and the other one is still there.  

Also, most ISPs charge by the bandwidth so maybe two or three 10Mbit cards would be less expensive to hook up to them than a single 100Mbit cards.  You'd have to ask, but it's something to consider.  This sounds awful!  Why downgrade from 100Mbits to 20 or 30?  As Jjeff1 points out, the T1 from your ISP to the rest of the net is only 45 so what good does it do to have 100 to their router?  Any good ISP will doubtless have several T1 lines (mine has 4) but you have to share that with however many other users they have logged in.  

So, my advice for network cards:  Try to talk them into two or three 10Mb connections if you can get the price the same or less than a single 100.  This all hangs on a big IF: getting Win2K to span network traffic across several NICs.  (NIC=network interface card, BTW)  I know how to do this in Linux, but you'll have to ask in another forum here if you need help with that under Win2K.  NT will do it, so 2K *should*.

Go with a nice BX motherboard, a couple of IDE (BX should be able to do UDMA33?) drives rigged as RAID, turn up the default read cache, and try for two or three network cards and your server won't know what to do with all its spare time.

It's really hard to tell when to make these comments an answer, so let us know when you've got all you need and who should check the answer box.

Well, it depends. That sounds like plenty of server for most web applications.
It of course depends on what those 150 users are doing, and how much data you have.

For reference, we use a dual P2-266 server with 384 MB memory to serve as an exchange server for 1500 users and 6.6 GB of mail data. It works fine.


Hi Begemot,

Some points to ponder:

1. You mention hopefully getting SCSI, so if you don't already have SCSI, be aware that you can get junker controllers or really nice ones that will make a large difference with the same drive.  SCSI controllers from Adaptec costs a fortune, but they are widely supported and perform well.

2.  You don't mention how you are getting to these 150 users other than this is a website without much graphics...  BUT, if this is going out over ISDN/DSL/cable or some other such similar speed connection, then really, your dual processors are going to be waiting on I/O so much that you may not need to spend money on SCSI unless you really want to.  I assume that a dualie P3 board can handle UDMA66?  That may be perfectly fine, depends...  on whether or not your Access database is so large that it flows out of your 192 MB of ram.  So:

3.  Note how much ram jjeff1 is using on processors half the speed.  Since doubling your ram is a lot cheaper these days than a decent sized SCSI2UW drive then you might just get some more ram and once it loads, who cares about the speed of the hard drive?  Again, depends on the size of your database.  Also depends on your budget for buying drives vs ram, etc.  You may not care how much it costs...

The above debate over ram vs SCSI vs UDMA66 is also dependent on whether you are going to use this machine really as a totally dedicated server or if it is going to be used by someone in addition to server duties.  You don't mention what it is used for but you may be able to consider going with the ram and SCSIU2W drives and STILL use it as a workstation if you aren't using it for really heavy duty work.  You could have system info log CPU usage for a day and see what the average load is.  It could certainly be used by someone who is a light user.  (I assume since you are using Access and two processors that it is running Windows NT...?)

This wasn't exactly your main question, but it might be a useful to take into consideration.

Since I became an impoverished student again, you may have noticed I tend to think in terms of squeezing out maximum usage per dollar, hah hah.

My answer to your question is that the system you describe would be that it's marginal overkill for the task you describe.

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BegemotAuthor Commented:
Adjusted points from 50 to 150
BegemotAuthor Commented:
>2.  You don't mention how you are
>getting to these 150 users other than
>this is a website without much really

I actually am thinking about going for the whole shabang and co-locating the thing.  It's definitely going to cost money, but this site already can pay for it, and I not only plan to expand this one considerably, but use it for others as well.

>want to.  I assume that a dualie P3
>board can handle UDMA66?  That may be

yes and no, there are 3 BX boards and 1 VIA Apollo board that support dual slot 1; obviously the BX boards can't "handle" UDMA/66, while Tyan's "Tiger 133" is not available anywhere where I can find it (it's also a nicer board in every other way; except maybe that the BX ones are faster).

>perfectly fine, depends...  on whether
>or not your Access database is so
>large that it flows out of your 192 MB
>of ram.  So:

Actually the database is tiny (10 megabytes of so), I just didn't realize that the whole thing would be loaded into memory and won't even use the HD

>Also depends on your budget for buying
>drives vs ram, etc.  You may not care
>how much it costs...

My budget is actually pretty slim, and I very much care how much I spend ;)  I am a poor college student as well.

>are going to use this machine really
>as a totally dedicated server or if it

yes, server only (which you probably got from the fact that I am co-locating it)

>you are using Access and two >processors that it is running Windows >NT...?)

or 2000

>This wasn't exactly your main
>question, but it might be a useful to
>take into consideration.

Actually it's exactly what I need, just a few more points I need to ask:

First, the non-SCSI (I would be much happier if I didn't have to spend on that) drives also tend to have seek times around 7-8 ms - while much of it, the website isn't "entirely" the database, will that severely degrade the overall performance and am I just plain nuts to put that with a dual 450 or no?

Secondly, since I am new to the server field, this might be incredibly naive, but - what do entry-level servers such as this one use to actually connect to the hub/switch/router/whatever, I mean just a plain old Fast Ethernet controller or is it something more involved?

That's about it (I've increased the points to make this worthwhile)


If this is a money making web site, you might really consider getting 2 drives and using RAID. Even if you are using IDE drives, you can still use software RAID under NT, which will be good for reliability. If you aren't doing a ton of disk access, which it sounds like you aren't, then you can get away with IDE. But later on, if you start to need more disk speed, you will be better off with SCSI. The CPU utilization is better with SCSI.

Fast Ethernet is fine. Keep in mind that a pretty hugs internet connection, a T3 ( runs 20 K a month) is only 45 Mbits. So a fast ethernet connection to a T3 would be more than enough.
Sounds OK at the server will want a fast connection to the interent to offer your site.

2 true addages...

You can never have enough RAM
You can never have a fast enough net connection!

If this is a dedicated server you will really be relying on the speed of data processing and data delvery keep those 2 aspects at their best and don't worry a whole lot about tha 2ms better access time untill you get more cash generated from you data prcessing and delivery speeds will help make up for some of the time loss!
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