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Buying the right server

Posted on 2006-11-11
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Last Modified: 2010-04-25
Our client has 10 current XP computers all mapped to another XP computer acting as their file server for accounting applications.  They now want to slowly grow their network beyond the XP limit of 10 and go to a "real sever" running Win 2003 Small Business Server, and they want to use Exchange Server.

In terms of buying the right server, another e-e thread explained to me that most critical part of the equation will be the right hard drive storage, and enough RAM, but that going with two processors is overkill for this small network.  So I find that I have other questions that I feel are better answered by e-e experts rather than the (biased) vendor:

1) Is a model with a dual power supply important?  Does that mean that if one goes down, the other one has the capacity to keep the server running?  I understand that uptime is important, of course, but they've been doing just fine with their garden-variety XP desktop for the last few years.  So, is it important to focus on a model that offers dual power supplies?

2) If I'm looking at a Pentium 3.2ghz vs. a Xeon 3.2ghz, do they offer the same performance?  I've read that one benefit of Xeon is that it allows a multi-processor configuration, but like I say, I'm told that that is not important in this small network situation.  But are there other benefits to Pentium over Xeon or vice-versa in this situation?

3) This user has an automated Ghost backup each night to image the entire hard drive to a secondardy internal hard drive.  But I see that I can configure a Raid1 setup to do real-time mirroring, but I also read that that can slow down performance because you're always writing to two drives.  So, are they better off with Raid1, or just keep on doing what they're doing with Ghost--assuming that's an option with Win Server 2003 SBS?

4) And then is it worth it to go with Raid5(?) in a situation like this?  Does the operating system automatically spread multiple files over multiple drives to speed up disk access, or will we need to configure and optimize all that for the user?  And in a situation like this, will we see the speed benefits to make it worth doing all this?

5) And if we 'should' go with Raid5, does that mean that doing a Ghost image is no longer a good option?  If not, what IS a good way to do complete backups that can be completely restored like a Ghost image can?

6) If you recommend Raid1 or Raid5, is it necessary to buy anything extra other than more drives, like multiple controllers?  Or, will Win 2003 Server handle all that just fine itself?

7) In a small environment like this, is it OK to use garden-variety SATA drives, or is it worth the expense to go with SCSI?

8) Finally, in the "bottleneck department"...all this time they have been running at the default 100mb speed across their LAN.  But I know they have new Cat6 wiring, and I feel sure all their PCs have 10/100/1000 NICs in them.  Again, in this small network, it is worth it to get everything running at 1000mb...or is the LAN speed the least of my worries?

Thanks so much for the expert advice!
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Question by:sasllc
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Lee W, MVP earned 300 total points
ID: 17923612
Hi sasllc,
> 1) Is a model with a dual power supply important?  Does that mean that
> if one goes down, the other one has the capacity to keep the server
> running?  I understand that uptime is important, of course, but they've
> been doing just fine with their garden-variety XP desktop for the last
> few years.  So, is it important to focus on a model that offers dual
> power supplies?

From what I've seen, you generally don't have an option for a dual/redundant power supply EXCEPT in rack-mount systems.  Ultimately, whether you should or shouldn't get a dual power supply depends on just how critical the server is to the company.  Usually, a 3 year, 24x7x365 warranty, which is what i recommend for almost any server.  And you can always just buy a spare and put it on the shelf.  They do fail... but not very often in my experience.  I'd get a GOOD UPS instead (not an APC ES series for example, maybe an LS series or a Belkin).

> 2) If I'm looking at a Pentium 3.2ghz vs. a Xeon 3.2ghz, do they offer
> the same performance?  I've read that one benefit of Xeon is that it
> allows a multi-processor configuration, but like I say, I'm told that
> that is not important in this small network situation.  But are there
> other benefits to Pentium over Xeon or vice-versa in this situation?

Depends what they are doing with the server and how much of a load they intend to do, but for most instances like this, I wouldn't bother with a Xeon system.  Intel has managed to thoroughly confuse me with all the CPUs they have right now... which maybe their plan - confuse people... but I'd probably go with a standard chip.  If you think the business could grow to SERIOUSLY depend on the server with database and exchange use or something like that, then I'd probably consider a Xeon based system with a multi-CPU board (starting with one cpu).  But odds are, they won't find much benefit in a Xeon or dual cpu config unless they grow REALLY fast.

>
> 3) This user has an automated Ghost backup each night to image the
> entire hard drive to a secondardy internal hard drive.  But I see that
> I can configure a Raid1 setup to do real-time mirroring, but I also
> read that that can slow down performance because you're always writing
> to two drives.  So, are they better off with Raid1, or just keep on
> doing what they're doing with Ghost--assuming that's an option with
> Win Server 2003 SBS?

RAID IS NOT BACKUP!!!!  It is redundancy that helps protect against disk hardware failure.  It does NOTHING for you to protect against corruption, virus infections, accidental or malicious deletions, etc.  Everything that happens to one disk happens to the other.  As for performance, almost ANY server should be using RAID of some level. Unless money is a serious concern, you should be using hardware RAID which can help performance, not hurt it.

I'd suggest you read over my link on backup and DR.  http://www.lwcomputing.com/tips/static/backup.asp - it started as a comment here and grew.


> 4) And then is it worth it to go with Raid5(?) in a situation like
> this?  Does the operating system automatically spread multiple files
> over multiple drives to speed up disk access, or will we need to
> configure and optimize all that for the user?  And in a situation like
> this, will we see the speed benefits to make it worth doing all this?

As I said, you WANT to use RAID.  RAID 5 is typically used on file servers.  If you need a lot of disk storage space, RAID 5 makes the most sense unless you need REALLY fast access (but most small businesses don't need high level performance unless their running an e-ccommerce application and getting 1000's of hits per day.  That said, in an IDEAL situation, your server would probably have a large RAID 10 (for exchange database), a second RAID 10 for FAST File Access, and a RAID 1 as well for the OS and Exchange logs.  But this would be really overkill in almost any SBS setup.  

Put simply, If you need lots of disk space, use a RAID 5.  If not, get a couple of large disks and setup a RAID 1.  (RAID 5 also costs more as the controllers that support RAID 5 typically cost more, especially for good ones).  

> 5) And if we 'should' go with Raid5, does that mean that doing a Ghost
> image is no longer a good option?  If not, what IS a good way to do
> complete backups that can be completely restored like a Ghost image can?

See my comment on backups.
 
> 6) If you recommend Raid1 or Raid5, is it necessary to buy anything
> extra other than more drives, like multiple controllers?  Or, will Win
> 2003 Server handle all that just fine itself?

See my previous answers to your questions.

> 7) In a small environment like this, is it OK to use garden-variety
> SATA drives, or is it worth the expense to go with SCSI?

Depends on the usage of the server.  But from what I've gathered, SATA should be fine.
 
> 8) Finally, in the "bottleneck department"...all this time they have
> been running at the default 100mb speed across their LAN.  But I know
> they have new Cat6 wiring, and I feel sure all their PCs have 10/100/1000
> NICs in them.  Again, in this small network, it is worth it to get
> everything running at 1000mb...or is the LAN speed the least of my worries?

Are they complaining about network performance?  If not, this is definitely a secondary concern.  

A nice middle ground could be to get a server with a Gb NIC (most are nowadays) and get a network switch with 1 or 2 Gb ports.  Then connect the server at 1 Gbps and the computers at 100 Mbps on the switch.  this is to allow each workstation a better chance at full throughput to the server.

Cheers!
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by:garycase
garycase earned 200 total points
ID: 17924197
Leew did a good job addressing your concerns, so I'll just add a couple of additional thoughts:

r.e. #1:  I agree a good UPS is more important than a redundant supply;  but to answer your specific question:  Yes, in redundant supply systems one supply can keep the server running.

r.e. #2:  I wouldn't get either a Pentium or a 5000-series Xeon => get either a Core 2 Duo or a 5100-series Xeon (which is a Core architecture chip).   Xeon's have two notable architectural advantages over the desktop chips:  (1) they are designed for multiple-CPU systems; and (2) they use buffered RAM.   Buffered RAM is, IMHO, a significant advantage => especially with systems that use more than 2 memory modules.   In any event, I would definitely get a system that supports ECC and use ECC memory.   As for whether you may want to use multiple processors ... once you start using a server OS, and particularly with Exchange Server, you may very well find that that extra "horsepower" will come in handy.   I would suggest using a server motherboard that supports dual Xeon 5100's --> even if you only install one CPU for now, you'll have a simple upgrade path if the users want more capability in the future.

r.e. #3:  Agree with lee's comments.   Just to emphasize:  the use should continue to do an automated backup each night.   Backups are ALWAYS important !!  (and, as leew noted, RAID is NOT a backup !!)

r.e. #4:  RAID-5 is a good way to get fault-tolerant storage without requiring a complete set of duplicate disks.  Yes, the files are automatically spread over multiple drives, thus speeding up disk access.  

r.e. #5:  An image of your system partition is always a good idea.  You SHOULD, however, be sure the SYSTEM is separate from the DATA ==> a modest system partition is easier to image; and restores do not have any impact on the data.   The backup strategy for the data can also be simpler, since you don't need to image the data partition(s).  Leew's writeup on backup strategies (referenced in his reply) is a good outline of backup techniques to consider.

r.e. #6:  I don't recommend using software RAID, so I would definitely buy a RAID controller that will handle the number of drives you plan to use (including any "hot spares" you want to install).

r.e. #7:  SATA drives are fine, but do have a higher failure rate than SCSI drives.  But if you're using a RAID array they're fine, since the array can tolerate at least one disk failure (depending on the array), and if you keep an on-line hot spare, the impact of that is further mitigated, since the rebuild will happen immediately.

r.e. #8:  Agree with leew => if the users are happy with their 100mb network, then there's no urgent need to migrate to gb.   However, there IS a notable "feel" difference in the two --> especially when transferring large files.   So if the infrastructure already has Cat6, I would be sure the server has a GB adapter and use a GB switch ==> let the users migrate to GB as needed (or, if they already have GB adapters, they'll get the benefits immediately.  I agree, however, that this is the least of your concerns.
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