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Server hardware advice please...

zMaximus
zMaximus asked
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Last Modified: 2010-04-19
Hi all..
I am a software engineer and was asked to buy a new server.
(a bit like asking a car manufacture to purchase a new road).
I have little to do with servers hardware - so I come to your help.

Those are the specifications:
- 20 clients
- PDC
- SQL Server for development
- Exchange for Outlook
- RAID (for basic data backup?)
- FTP
- IIS + .NET 3.5

Can you recommend a specific model or a general outline for the one server we need?
 
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Commented:
HP DL380 should help or please consider discussing with your local HP/? vendor.

Regards,
-Fayaz

Try a Dell 2900.  Get four disks, SATA is fine, with a hardware RAID controller.  You will get much better performance with a cached controller.  Configure the server with 4 disks in a RAID 10 configuration.  Opt for a quad-core processor, but the cheap 1.6GHz is fine.  Get at least 2GB of RAM.  Get a DVD-ROM drive at least!

I recommend at least a basic service agreement.  It ensures that the device lasts a full three years.  Also, Dell's leases can be even better value and sometimes cheaper than the list price.

Note that RAID is for disk redundancy, not data backup, but you should definitely get it.

If you will be using Exchange 2007, you will need a 64-bit O/S install.  If you are using Exchange 2003 you will need a 32-bit O/S install.

Make sure you get a backup device that can back up the entire system.  I would recommend an Ultrium LTO drive for this.  LTO-1 has a 100GB capacity, and each later generation doubles this.  Make sure you also get backup software.  BackupExec 11d is a good choice.  Also get the agents for Exchange and SQL Server.  If you get an external drive, make sure you get a SCSI interface for the drive in the server.  Internal is fine, but you'll still need an interface...

When you install the server, use the following pattern or something similar:

At least 30 GB for O/S partition C:
At least 10 GB for SQL and Exchange logs and SMTP queues E:
At least 30 GB for Exchange and SQL databases F:
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
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Most Valuable Expert 2013

Commented:
I disagree with SteveH_UK on several points.  Here's my recommendations:

1.  Any REPUTABLE vendor who you can be certain will be around in 3 years or AT LEAST bought by a major company.  Dell, HP, IBM, they are all good picks (though personally, on the consumer side I feel HP still hasn't figured out customer service, so I would avoid them.

2.  Quad core for 20 users is most likely insane.  You simply don't need to spend the extra money on this.  Unless your databases are going to be running an ecommerce site that gets thousands of hits per hour.  I would recommend a simple dual core CPU, BUT, make sure the machine will handle QUAD core and you might consider getting a system capable of handling 2 physical CPUs if your budget allows.  4 GB of RAM should be considered a REQUIREMENT if you plan on running SQL, Exchange and Windows on the same box.

3.  RAID - Depends on your budget, but AT LEAST get a HARDWARE RAID 1.  But for the BEST possible performance, you'll want 12 drives or more.  A RAID 1 for the OS, a RAID 1 for the SQL Logs and such, and two RAID 10s for the Exchange and SQL.  However, this is probably WAY overkill and very expensive.  I'd get 6 drives in, two in a RAID 1 and the 4 in a RAID 10.  If 6 drives is too costly, then 4 drives for a RAID 10 and partition it, putting everything on it.  Lastly, if that is still too expensive, then two drives in a RAID 1 and partition them.

3a.  I agree - RAID is NOT backup.  RAID doesn't protect you from accidental deletions, corruption, fire, theft, flood, or anything OTHER than disk failure.

4.  Backup to tape is outdated for most small businesses.  You would be LIKELY better off getting external hard drives and rotating them off site.  I do recommend avoiding proprietary technologies, such as the Iomega REV drive and the Dell RD thing... (Do the math - the costs of tapes and the tape drive compared to the cost of external hard drives... the hard drives are FAR cheaper and typically faster.  EXCEPTION - if you need to archive your data permanently (or for many years) due to regulatory issues, then tape is a clear winner.

4a.  You don't need any special backup software, BUT if you want to be able to restore the whole server with as quickly as possible, then you might want to look into something other than the built in application.  My recommendation would probably be Acronis True Image.

5.  Server warranty - ABSOLUTELY, get a 3 year 7x24 warranty with 4 hour ON SITE service, if it's available.  The server runs the business - or at least it should.  The workstations shouldn't matter much, but the server needs to be on.  If you get a 1 year warranty and have problems later, that will cost you FAR more than the cost of the warranty at purchase.

6.  OS/Software - if you have 20 clients and don't expect to triple that in the next 18 months, then get Small Business Server - it's FAR cheaper than buying MS SQL, MS Exchange, and Windows Server - and they are all included, as well as ISA Server.  Plus it's wizard driven, meaning it should be relatively easy to setup and maintain (as compared to a "regular" server install).  Get it with Software Assurance and you'll automatically get the right to upgrade to the newest version of SBS when that gets released in late 2008/early 2009.  Just make sure you get SBS Premium and not standard (standard doesn't come with SQL).

7.  Partitions - 30 GB is WAY too much - if you manage the server properly.  C: should be for NOTHING but the OS and Installed Applications/Server components.  I'd suggest probably a 16-20 GB C: drive, given that I recommend SBS Premium.  Other than that, the partitions depend on your expected usage and how much space, overall, you have.  AND how things are configured.

8.  No such thing as a PDC - the closest thing is a FSMO master Domain Controller.  

For more information on backups and moving/storing important system data, see the following links on my web site:
www.lwcomputing.com/tips/static/backup.asp
www.lwcomputing.com/tips/static/sbs.asp
www.lwcomputing.com/tips/static/bootdrivesize.asp

Frankly, I think you're making a mistake.  I think instead of trying to rely on strangers who can't see your network, you're better off finding a local consultant and having them come in and spec things out.  Post there spec here and ask if we feel it's reasonable given your described usage.  A consultant can better evaluate your needs and may note and think to ask things that are just not in the forefront of our minds here.  That, and in THEORY - if you get a good consultant, you know the system will be setup properly and not setup through guesswork and trial and error - this will result in a FAR more reliable, useful system.
In response to leew:

1.  Any REPUTABLE vendor who you can be certain will be around in 3 years or AT LEAST bought by a major company.  Dell, HP, IBM, they are all good picks (though personally, on the consumer side I feel HP still hasn't figured out customer service, so I would avoid them.

This agrees with my comment.  I suggested Dell.

2.  Quad core for 20 users is most likely insane.  You simply don't need to spend the extra money on this.  Unless your databases are going to be running an ecommerce site that gets thousands of hits per hour.  I would recommend a simple dual core CPU, BUT, make sure the machine will handle QUAD core and you might consider getting a system capable of handling 2 physical CPUs if your budget allows.  4 GB of RAM should be considered a REQUIREMENT if you plan on running SQL, Exchange and Windows on the same box.

Quad core is overkill, but at the moment it is cheaper than a dual core.  Dell do offer some alternatives but you want at least two threads.  I have used the full range of CPUs from 8086 through 386 to the early Pentiums and Pentium Pro, Xeons, hyperthreading and multicore.  If you have a single thread you'll hit problems.  I don't like the Celeron processors, personally, but a single core Xeon with hyperthreading, a dual core or a quad core are all fine.  But you won't get a Celeron with a box that will fit sufficient disks, and so you choose between dual and quad core.  And quad core have been cheaper recently.

3.  RAID - Depends on your budget, but AT LEAST get a HARDWARE RAID 1.  But for the BEST possible performance, you'll want 12 drives or more.  A RAID 1 for the OS, a RAID 1 for the SQL Logs and such, and two RAID 10s for the Exchange and SQL.  However, this is probably WAY overkill and very expensive.  I'd get 6 drives in, two in a RAID 1 and the 4 in a RAID 10.  If 6 drives is too costly, then 4 drives for a RAID 10 and partition it, putting everything on it.  Lastly, if that is still too expensive, then two drives in a RAID 1 and partition them.

6 disk solution is better but much more costly.  5 disk solution allows for RAID 1 for O/S plus RAID 5 for data, but RAID 10 is a good compromise with fewer disks.   Your disk usage will be mild, but a two disk RAID 1 is still a bit under par.


4.  Backup to tape is outdated for most small businesses.  You would be LIKELY better off getting external hard drives and rotating them off site.  I do recommend avoiding proprietary technologies, such as the Iomega REV drive and the Dell RD thing... (Do the math - the costs of tapes and the tape drive compared to the cost of external hard drives... the hard drives are FAR cheaper and typically faster.  EXCEPTION - if you need to archive your data permanently (or for many years) due to regulatory issues, then tape is a clear winner.

Using disk backups is less reliable and more expensive overall.  A typical tape costs between £20 and £40 depending on capacity.  That means that you can have 10 of them for under £400, and that means 10 independent backups.  Since you should be looking at grandfather-father-son rotation strategies, you need quite a few backup targets (tape or disk).  Yes, you pay for the tape device, but I still recommend tape for small businesses and over a three year period it is far cheaper and more reliable.

4a.  You don't need any special backup software, BUT if you want to be able to restore the whole server with as quickly as possible, then you might want to look into something other than the built in application.  My recommendation would probably be Acronis True Image.

True, you don't need it, but do you want to be an expert at restoring O/S and Exchange and SQL Server?  If not, buy the software.

5.  Server warranty - ABSOLUTELY, get a 3 year 7x24 warranty with 4 hour ON SITE service, if it's available.  The server runs the business - or at least it should.  The workstations shouldn't matter much, but the server needs to be on.  If you get a 1 year warranty and have problems later, that will cost you FAR more than the cost of the warranty at purchase.

Agrees with my original comment.

6.  OS/Software - if you have 20 clients and don't expect to triple that in the next 18 months, then get Small Business Server - it's FAR cheaper than buying MS SQL, MS Exchange, and Windows Server - and they are all included, as well as ISA Server.  Plus it's wizard driven, meaning it should be relatively easy to setup and maintain (as compared to a "regular" server install).  Get it with Software Assurance and you'll automatically get the right to upgrade to the newest version of SBS when that gets released in late 2008/early 2009.  Just make sure you get SBS Premium and not standard (standard doesn't come with SQL).

Agreed, except that you will be buying some legacy software (Exchange 2003) and that will make your life a bit more complicated in the future.  Nevertheless, SBS is still a good choice, and also means that you are entitled to Small Business editions of other software including backup software.

7.  Partitions - 30 GB is WAY too much - if you manage the server properly.  C: should be for NOTHING but the OS and Installed Applications/Server components.  I'd suggest probably a 16-20 GB C: drive, given that I recommend SBS Premium.  Other than that, the partitions depend on your expected usage and how much space, overall, you have.  AND how things are configured.

16-20GB is a good bet for an OS disk, however over time with service packs and the rest it can get full.  With current disk technology you'll have way more capacity than you need and I recommend that you put some of that towards the O/S partition.

8.  No such thing as a PDC - the closest thing is a FSMO master Domain Controller.  

Actually, the correct title is Active Directory PDC-emulator FSMO role server.  The server will have this role, but it is not something to be concerned about.


Finally, I don't think you are making a mistake in seeking the advice of experts.   Many of the experts on this site have far more experience than some of the local consultants you'll find.  However, you should find a local IT support consultant who you can call in for extra help.
andyalderretired saggar maker
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Commented:
I wouldn't get SATA disks, these are designed for desktop and near-lin storage; most have a 20% duty-cycle and aren't reliable in a server. SAS are far faster for random I/O and more reliable.
Actually, you can get both consumer-grade and enterprise-grade SATA drives.  If you get them with branded server hardware they'll be fine.
You don't need SAS for this solution, they're expensive and overkill.
andyalderretired saggar maker
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Distinguished Expert 2019

Commented:
Enterprise SATA are SCSI/SAS HBAs with a different board on top and you pay correspondingly. Get SATA with a HP server for example and you only get 1 years warranty rather than the 3 years you get with SAS.
I agree with most of the previous comment, however with the Dell solution I suggest the 3+ years warranty includes all shipped hard disks.  I've called out a replacement, under warranty, and had one the same day before now.  Also, with a RAID-10 configuration you have true redundancy and can operate perfectly with a single failed disk.  If you need more, get 5 disks and mark one as an online hot-spare.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
CERTIFIED EXPERT
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Commented:
With regards to backup - if you are a small company primarily worried about recovering your data in the event of a failure or loss, disk drives make more sense.  You can get four 500 GB drives today for $150 each (external).  Cycle them off once per week and do a weekly full/daily differential and with 100 GB of data, you should be able to do 3-4 backups each before erasing them.  I do this at several clients and we've had NO disk failures and all the data fits nicely on the disks.  One goes off site, one in a fireproof safe, and one attached to the system - and each week they are rotated.  (CRITICAL data (such as accounting information) is sent off site nightly).  Minimum price for a tape solution like capacity (500 GB per tape) will run you $2500 - 5x the costs.  Even if you wanted to replace the drives each year, that's still only $1500 over 3 years.  Now again, if you have to archive anything, then yes, tape is the way to go right now... A 400/800 tape (always go by the UNCOMPRESSED values) is $45 at newegg right now... when you factor in shipping.  A 400 GB hard disk (non-External, but can be adapted with $20-150 hardware that does NOT require changing a case every time) is $100... double the price... but no significant cost for hardware... and easily accessed - if your tape drive fails, you have to wait for a new tape drive... with a disk based backup, you can connect it to any system because each uses common ports that every PC has.  And if the disk itself fails (not unheard or - but not unheard of having a tape fail or break either), you still have the other two which can be easily connected to any system.

I hope your not suggesting an order off the web is cheaper than calling... EVERY time I call I get a better discount than the price listed on the web.  A quad core is not cheaper - order a quad core and the the available discount is MUCH more than ordering a Dual Core... if the web site says it's cheaper, then if you called, they wouldn't be able to discount as much.  Regardless, if ordering from Dell, I would CALL them and get a quote - spec it out online, but CALL them and speak to a BUSINESS sales person for the best possible price.

There are 5 FSMO roles which are all of (in the NT4 world) PDC like importance... saying it's just the PDC emulator is a little misleading.  Considering that you can split these roles up amongst domain controllers (except with SBS domains), it's even more misleading... in theory, you could have 5 different machines each running a FSMO role... so they are now all PDCs!?!?

With regards to software versions, I have not done anything with Exchange 2007 - that will change soon (I hope) as I upgrade my own system.  HOWEVER, I've heard a LOT of people - from User Group leaders to MVPs say it's not great... It's got some nice abilities, but nothing they can't live without for the better experience with 2003.  Point being, SBS and Exchange 2003 is not really a disadvantage - and SBS already comes with SQL 2005.  The biggest problem with getting SBS now is that there will be NO upgrade path - you'll need to do a fresh install.  This is because SBS 2003 is ONLY 32 bit and SBS 2008 will only be 64 bit.  So you'll need to migrate and THAT won't likely be easy.  But - there's noone holding a weapon to your head saying you HAVE to move off SBS 2003 (if you get it).

If a system is managed appropriately, 16-20 GB is PLENTY for a C: drive.  Service packs and other files do not come out monthly... 2003 was released in 2003... that's 5 years and TWO service packs.  The monthly patches can have the backups removed after a period of time, so that's not an issue either.  If a system is managed properly, there's no reason for a larger drive - even in SBS.  Move ALL Data folders (and resource shares) off the C: drive and you're fine... the Base install of windows is 2-4 GB.  Exchange and SQL are smaller.  And the service packs do NOT stack on THAT much each time... during the lifetime of the system, 16-20 GB should be MORE than enough space.
I don't agree with leew's comments, but I'll say nothing further.  It seems like he wants to flame more than discuss.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
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Most Valuable Expert 2013

Commented:
I thought flaming involved a personal attack... I don't feel I'm doing that... is it not possible to debate the pros and cons for this person and perhaps try to persuade you (or you persuade me) to reconsider our points of view?

Commented:
I agree with leew on this and use this configuration a lot in my work:

"A RAID 1 for the OS, a RAID 1 for the SQL Logs and such, and two RAID 10s for the Exchange and SQL"

....but he could also consider RAID 1 for OS, RAID 1 for SQL Logs (and backup software logs - Acronis or Backup Exec) and two RAID 5's for Exchange and SQL with at least 1 global hot spare.   He will lose some performance going with RAID 5 but it would be easier/cheaper to increase storage capacity of the two RAID 5 arrays as needs change. RAID 10 would require two drives per array to upgrade capacity while RAID 5 would only need one drive per array. (down the road you could always just make your global hot spare part of the array but definitely get another drive to replace the hot spare)  Normally I wouldn't recommend going with smaller initial drive sizes as storage is relatively cheap these days, but doing so might be another way to help offset the intial cost of the server while providing a good foundation of performance with the two RAID1's and two RAID5's with the ability to expand in the future.

also, I would recommend 10K+ SAS drives over SATA drives for actual server drives.  if you were using disk-to-disk-to-tape or disk-to-disk as a backup solution you can use SATA in the capacity of nearline storage where access times and speed are not critical.  

it is always a balancing act for a situation such as yours and we don't know what your budgetary constraints are so take what is said here with a grain of salt. I would take the advice to contact Dell (or whomever) and establish a relationship with a business rep there.  I have ordered 8+ servers in the past year and through my "team" at Dell I have received far better pricing and worlds better customer support than if I had just gone to their site, slapped together a server and gave them a credit card number.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
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Commented:
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Commented:
Thanks guys for the input!
We went with something that has:
- Xeon quadcore 1.6
- 4g ram
- Intel S-5000 VSA
- 3 SATA 2 Harddisks with RAID 1.
 
I'll share the points between the top two debaters ;-)

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