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*Bulletproof* machine -- how do I build one?

I want to build a PC I can use as a 24/7 automated trading system and I need suggestions/recommendations for hardware to buy (and how the hardware should be configured).  I've been building PCs for years so I'm not worried about how to put it together, but rather what to put in it.   The basic requirement is that I want the PC to be able to survive a hard drive failure of the boot drive.  I've had this happen to me twice (the boot drive died a horrible death) and although I had a backup, the PC was down until I could get the drive replaced.  I assume RAID is the way to go but I'm not sure.  I would plan to have 2-3 hard drives in the machine, maybe 2 for booting (1 as a backup in case the main boot one dies) and another for data.  

I would also like it to be pretty quick but I won't see much different between a 1 GHZ processor and a 3.5 Ghz processor for the systems I'm running.

Dave
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daronow
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daronow
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6 Solutions
 
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
If disk reliability is your issue, then yes, use a hardware RAID 1 (mirroring).  This will make two identical disks seem like one disk to the OS and if one fails, you should be able to keep working.  If you want to go nuts with reliability, you can get 6 disks and setup a Mirrored RAID 5, which will get you effectively TWO disks worth of space because your mirroring (making an exact copy) of a RAID 5 set which is giving you 2 disks (out of 3 required) worth of space for storage.  It's a bit of a waste, but you could lose 3 or 4 disks and the system should still run.
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daronowAuthor Commented:
Can you recommend hardware and an operating system?  I need to use a flavor of windows but should I use Windows XP or do I need to spring for Windows 2000 or 2003 server?  Is RAID 1 mirroring done at the hardware level or the software level?  
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
There's hardware RAID and Software RAID.  RAID 1 is RAID 1.  Which is why when people speak of it, they need to be specific if they are talking about HARDWARE RAID or SOFTWARE RAID.  I mentioned above, Hardware RAID 1.

If you wanted to use the combination RAID 5/RAID 1 you'd need to mix Hardware and Software RAID.  If that were the case you would need server.  But FEW people do this (In fact, outside of one instance *I* did, I've never heard of anyone else doing this)..

If you use RAID 1 only, then it would have to be hardware RAID and I'd suggest using XP.  

Server OSs can pretty much do anything workstation OSs can - I used them frequently as my desktop OS with no problem simply because I was running server.  The biggest issue is that a few programs (VERY few) might refuse to run on a server and with 2003 in SOME cases drivers might be an issue for products clearly not expected to be connected to a server.
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daronowAuthor Commented:
I've had good experiences with Asus motherboards in the past.  Would their motherboards that say they support Dual SATA RAID fit the bill (I'm sure this is a dumb question but I want to be sure before I fork over $$$$).  For example this motherboard:

http://usa.asus.com/products/mb/socket754/k8vse-d/overview.htm

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daronowAuthor Commented:
One other question -- if I put in 2 hard drives and I wanted to "test" the RAID to make sure it would work if one drive failed, how would I test it?  Could I just unplug the power on one of the drives?  
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Yes, in theory that should work.  And beyond trusting the RAID controller's BIOS and/or bundled software, I don't know of any other way to test it.  But once you "test" it, you've broken the RAID and you'll need to set it up again, which will be untested.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Don't know if you're planning on closing/accepting my comments as answers, but I don't mind if you want to wait a while and see if others have anything better/different to say.  This is a somewhat subjective question IMHO.
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Glen A.IT Project ManagerCommented:
If you need 24/7 uptime, you'd be better off with a hardware RAID 5 hot-swappable solution, if you can afford it.  That's what we use on our servers, and it's great.  If a drive fails, you can replace it on the fly, with no downtime.  I love it.

More expensive, sure, but worth it if you need the reliability/availability.
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daronowAuthor Commented:
How expensive are we talking -- can you give a link or name a sample system that has this type of configuration.  I think that may be overkill for me but with my luck the day my PC goes down is the day the stock market moves signficantly against me, and I don't close the trades because the machine is down....
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I'm going somewhat by memory here, but I believe a suitable RAID controller would be on the order of $100-200.  MAYBE as high as $300.  Then you'd need appropriate drive enclosures ($15-$35 each), and at least 3 drives for a RAID 5 ($40-250 depending on drives).  BUT, the same controller could still do a RAID 1 and allow you to hot-swap a failed drive.  And another consideration is to get an extra drive if the controller supports it and use it as a hot spare.  A hot spare will be automatically put into use in the event a disk fails.  This means, provided the disks don't fail at the same time, you could lose two without losing everything.

Total Cost for a RAID 5 (purely by my memory and estimate) $265-1155.
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Glen A.IT Project ManagerCommented:
Can't tell you for sure the costs for normal folk...   we tend to spend $40,000 on each server (NOT an exaggeration... ) to ensure availability and reliability.  Most of my servers use 4 drives - 3 for the array and one for a failover.

I'll do some looking at configurations you could use...

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SICMASOCommented:
I would Recommend Intel and Nothing else!!! If you want performance and reliability go INTEL with RAID!!! Expensive but reliable. From my past experience only Intel mother boards were able to deliver that kind of performance and reliability that I was looking for. The biggest seller for Intel motherboards is that I never ran in a problem of not being compatible with other hardware and that for me most important. Also have you heard of new hard drives used in laptops that are shoke and fall resistant they are not chip but add extra protection
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Actually, I know a guy who sells them and says Intel boards are good, but they aren't as flawless as you suggest.  I once had a problem getting onboard sound working on one.  Personally, I've never had a problem with Super Micro boards.  And Asus has a VERY good reputation.
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jwleonard1Commented:
As far as reliability goes Intel board are obviously the best.  It makes sense, since they also make the processor you will want to use.  They also provide a good RAID option to http://www.intel.com/support/chipsets/imst/sb/cs-012525.htm with their new motherboards http://www.intel.com/products/desktop/motherbd/index.htm.  I think this would suit your needs very well.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Any statement made regarding intel being the best should be backed up with evidence.  Otherwise, it should be stated that it's your opinion.  

In my 10+ years of experience working with brand name computers and brand name motherboards as well as discussing this with an OEM I do subcontracting work for,, "Intel board are obviously the best" has no basis in fact.  It is an opinion.  Intel boards are good, but "obviously the best" is stretch.
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jwleonard1Commented:
He is asking for opinion, that is all there is!

If you can really tell everyone here which hardware is the best BASED ON FACT, please do!  I am sure we would all like to know what is the best.  Which computer hardware is the best is always an opinion, this is why there are thousands of sites out there with computer hardware reviews, if it was based on facts then there wouldn't be more than a handful.  

I didn't say they were the best, I said they were the best for reliability and that is what he is asking for.  This is obviously only my opinion and is based on my experience.
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tfjeffCommented:
I'm not trying to be a salesman here, but the dell poweredge 1800 is a pretty decent system, it can be configured with a 6 channel serial ata raid controller (adaptec), 4 80 gig  hard drives in a raid 5 (giving about 220 gig of storage space, or about 150 if you use one as a hotspare)  and redundant power supplies for about 2000 dollars.
Might be worth looking into.
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stengeljCommented:
A lot of talk about protecting the drive...what about the rest of the system?

What if your RAID card fails? Motherboard? Memory? Power Supply? CPU?

The hard drive is important but don't forget the rest of the required parts in a PC!  Having spares of the above or even better, a mirrored system, will provide you with the best protection.  Good luck finding replacement parts three years from now in a hurry.

And don't get anything 'integrated'.  On board RAID is nice, but it's a potential double point of failure.  
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mysticaldanCommented:
Stick with independent RAID cards. Use RAID1 as a mirror and keep a networked system with this comp with another hard disk on it to ensure that all data is also written to this networked system. This ensures that in case of a blowout which can haappen in theory u have a backup ready to be used at a moments notice.

I agree though that onboard RAID's are not really that great and reliable. A lot of people on the forum have been experiencing many difficulties with them in one way to another including not being able to retrieve backups which si something u do not want. Dont go RAID5 although its groovy for ghard disk space and performance but somehow if safety of data is paramount stick with RAID1.

RAID5 carries a parity disk and if that goes ur toast so stick with a situation where u can expect at least 1 hard disk to go bad aand another to take over. Keep larger hard disks says 200 GB ones. Go for Western Digital as i find them quite reliable or take Seagate. I wouldnt reccomend Maxtors.

Dan
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tfjeffCommented:
raid 5 doesn't have a parity disk, in raid 5 the parity is distributed across all the disks....
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rajeev_niceCommented:
Didn;t read all the posts as I am sure all wud be suggesting to go for a RAID... s/w or hardware... I want to add that if u r building a Server.. then consider putting a SAN/NAS for ur server.. or atleast get Windows 2003 Storage server.

These equipment provide lot many features not just fail-over but also remote configuration, scalability, load balancing, performance and off course high availability... u can get a Win2k3 based NAS for as low as US$1,050 and above depending on your storage requirements.

othewise for a Desktop.. look for SATA RAID COntroller on-board. It does allow u a few things with least effort and do consider putting a Hardware "RAID 5" which requires atleast 3 Hard disks. Software RAID 5 can also be implemented using Win 2K3 but u need to convert them to Dynamic disks which cannot be accessed by other lower OS's like WIn 2k PRo, XO home etc. and the CPU overhead is huge.

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GinEricCommented:
You could take a trip to Wall Street and the NYSE and just ask the computer guy there what to use.

You might be surprised.

Automated Trading 24/7 I don't recall as even being legal.  Stock Exchanges close, and reopen in the morning, 5 days a week.  Which is why people are waiting on that nine o'clock bell so anxiously.  You can trade in off hours with foreign exchanges, but misrepresenting 24/7 trading can land you in hot SEC waters if you say you bought 200 shares of IBM last night, at midnight, but it doesn't show up until opening.  And autotrading has tons of regulation, basically, those in the stock manipulation section of the regulations.

Maybe you're not talking about "Automated Trading" as used in the stock market.

What you really want, to maintain 24/7 is not a PC at all, but a server, and, in fact, you want more than one server.

To keep the connection and trading up, even when a boot drive goes out, you need two machines.  And they have to be servers because normal PC's don't take over the jobs of other PC's unless both are servers.

You may want to use even more machines, two servers, and at least two workstations.  Why?  Because you are asking your system to do the same job even the smallest brokers would use at least four for.

Two servers, in case one bombs, two terminals, in case one bombs, and, to stay live, that is, to stay up 24/7.

And for $40,000.00 you could get into the field of minicomputers,which are far more reliable.  Many server vendors have great microprocessor based PC type and minicomputer type servers, but none is ever guaranteed 24/7.  Only with two servers can you accomplish this.

You can, of course, build them much cheaper on your own.  And two servers will cost less than a bunch of raid control and mirrored internally servers.  Which, if you think about it, is how the biggest do it; two DNS servers, two network servers, preferably more.  They know, from decades of experience, that no computer is going to stay up 24/7.

3 drives in one tower is great, but one reboot means you were not, in fact, up 24/7.
Even if you switch to another OS on this same machine, the connection still went down.

Our standard industry practice was to have four by four mainframes at each site, and to have at least two sites.  This was the only way to guarantee 100% up time, and we achieved it.  These were mainframes, of course, but the same thing applies to microcomputers.  You have to have more than one computer and at least two have to be servers.  There are thousands of multiple mainframes still keeping the Internet itself going 24/7.

But even that is no guarantee.  However, it is the proven method.

All the rest, the raid, mirrors, etc., are merely peripheral problems to the main issue, keeping the connection up.

Quick is the speed of the buss, still around 100-200 mHz, and the speed of the connection, much lower unless you have something above T3 or a backbone.  There's not really much difference in the performance between crystals that oscillate at 1 GHz and 4 GHz when the buss speed is 10 MHz and computer is running internally much lower than the buss speed.

There are too many vendors to recommend which one will be best.  I could easily say IBM over both Intel and AMD, Linux over XP, etc..  Most likely you will go with Microsoft and either AMD or Intel.  But IBM Servers have the better up time record.  

Two PC Servers would therefore be your answer.  That and whatever OEM's you decide to buy to build them with.

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mysticaldanCommented:
Yes I am sorry i was confusing 2 questions. RAID5 does not have a parity disk but RAID3 does which is faster but risky if the parity disk fails.

Dan
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rajeev_niceCommented:
The queston is still open and wud like to add cpl of more comments..!!!

1. BULLETPROOF PC... a Workstation or Server... is the first ques u have to ask urself.. !!! If a server... its a diff ball game all together with alltogether diff h/w components for them.. they have redundancy at virtually every level.. starting from Power Supply, Storage, NIC, RAID Controllers, CPUs, ECC RAM, PCI Cards... all of these HOT Swappable...!!!

if u r talking about a PC.. I wud suggest to go for a Intel HT CPU with Intel Board. Go for ample RAM.. 1 GB to start with... atleast 3 HDDs... (yes at least.. its cheap now.. dont have to go for highest capacity).

2. How about now other very eseential items.. like a Firewall, AntiVirus, Antispyware... IDS.. etc. etc... Most of the time the HDD lose data not coz of H/w fail but coz of these nasty programs.. I wud suggest u Symantec's Norton Internet Security Pro 2004/5 atleast for ur Anti Virus and Firewall needs. U can go cheap on Anti spyware with Microsoft Antispyware (Currently Beta but still worth a try) for free...

Get SATA RAID Controller with SATA Drives, put them on RAID 5. TO have an added layer of Data protection.. spend to get DriveImage now  Symantec product. Add 4th HDD to take the Image of your Production drives... which can always be restored in 40 Mins for 40 GBs (by-watch) or get GoBack for recovery.

I really dont feel anyone wud need anything beyond this for a workstation PC for even 48/14 operations..

I use a Dell Precision workstation with 3 SATA and 2 PATA HDDs.. where 3 SATA are on RAID 5 (H/w) and PATA is the boot drive and other PATA is used for Disk Image... and I am pretty assure of everything on my PC now. U can add a DVD Writer for keeping Disk Images as well.. if u r spared with any more money.. :)

hope this helps..

Gud Luck.
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daronowAuthor Commented:
Just to add a comment on 24/7 trading -- futures trading is available 24 hours a day (OK, technically 22 1/2 as they close briefly twice daily for settlement) 5 days a week.  But forex (foreign exchange) trading is 24/7 with some brokers...

I'm probably going with a RAID 1 setup as I want to keep it under $1000, I'd like it to be able to survive a hard disk failure, but I can't spend the money to deal with a worse failure like motherboard, power supply, etc.

Thanks to everyone for your comments, I really appreciate them!!

Dave
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GinEricCommented:
Thank you daronow.

I really do wish you luck in the market.  Personally, I'm hoping for pork bellies and oil, down, military hardware,up.

:)

That, and I wish Iraq would pay for the war.
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