Help choosing web server hardware requirements....

Posted on 2009-05-02
Last Modified: 2012-05-06
I have no real experience with harware side of things and was curious if the experts can offer some advice on web server and database server hardware requirements., where to buy, or what questions to ask the seller.  

I'm looking to go *cheap* so I have been on ebay looking at their refurbished offereings, etc.  For some reason the Dell PowerEdge 2650 ($200-650) offerings keep coming up and seem appropriate, but I really have no idea.  Below are a few details about each server I need and also a posting on a server that may serve as a starting point...

[Database Server]
OS, Software: Windows Server 2003, SQL Server Express

[Web Server]
OS, Software: Windows Server 2003, Apache Web Server, Tomcat, PDF conversion application, MDaemen mail server
Users: 200 users,  low to moderate use (whatever that means :) )

[Server I saw on Ebay] - $325
Component      Quantity      Size / Details
Processor      2      2.8Ghz/512/400 Intel Xeon
Memory      6GB      DDR SDRAM (12GB Max)
Expansion Slots      3      PCI-X 3.3-V, 64-bit, 133-MHz
Hard Drives      2      73GB 10K RPM USCSI (5 MAX)
CDROM      1      24X CDROM
Floppy      1      1.44MB Floppy
RAID Controller      1      Dell PERC 3 Hardware RAID (0/1/5)
RAID Battery      1      Dell Backup Battery for PERC 3 Card
Remote Control      1      Dell Remote Access Card (DRAC III)
Ethernet Port      2      Gigabit (10/100/1000) Broadcom
Chassis      1      2U Rack Chassis
Slide Rail Kit      1      Dell Slide RAIL Kit (Upon Request)
Front Bezel      1      Dell Front Cover Bezel (Upon Request)
Power Supply      1      Dual 500W 
Question by:burtonrhodes
    LVL 57

    Expert Comment

    The specs for a server need to be  based on what the response time expectation is and what the application is doing.

    Things like:

    size of the data base
    what is the data base
    complexity of the data base setup
    type of queries
    queries per second
    avg. number of rows returned
    number of concurrent users

    basically you have asked us "How big of a vehicle do I need?"  and stated "Here is one I found for sale." without telling us how many people you are going to carry, how much they weight, what things they are going to be bringing and how much those things weigh.
    LVL 87

    Expert Comment

    Also, what size do expect the database to be? 73 GB might be a bit low, you may need additional HD's. Dell branded SCSI HDs (what the poweredge 2650 needs) aren't cheap... Normally you'd have the SQL database on a separate array (usually raid 5) from the OS, so you'd require 3 additional disks...
    LVL 3

    Author Comment

    giltjr - your points make obvious sense.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure I know those answers... but I will give it my best shot.

    Currently I am using MS SQL Server Express and has an *empty, no data* physical size of: data.mdf = 3.7M & data_log.ldf = 240M.  With data for 4 users the data.mdf increases to 7M.  So I project a database size for 200 users to be around 150M with an .ldf file significantly bigger (~5GB???).  Currently the database has 25 tables with most of the queries being simple in nature, but joining at least 4-5 tables.  The number of concurrent users will probably be around 15% (30).  The other statistics I am not sure because it is still in beta and I have not run any stats analysis.  In fact, not really sure how to do that - I'm a java guy not a database guy ;)  What is the best way in your opinion to gather that data?  Does SQL Server Express allow me to run those stats?

    rindi -
    I had that same thought about the disk size.  This is the area I am most confused about.  So I need at least 3 drives to have RAID 5?  I also saw another server with 5 x 36 GB SCSI drives, but assumed that even thought it had 5 drives, the maximum amount of storage would still be 36 GB, correct?

    Sorry for the newbie questions here.
    LVL 3

    Author Comment

    Also, isn't true that Windows Server 2003 can only handle up to 4GB of RAM?
    LVL 87

    Expert Comment

    RAID 5 needs at least 3 HD's. All disks should be the same size. The space you end up with is the added size of all HD's in the array, minus the size of one HD.

    On servers you usually setup 2 HD's in a RAID1 array for the OS. RAID1 is mirroring, you need 2 disks for that and the Size you get is the same as one HD. the Data is then usually on a separate RAID5 array. So you'd have 5 disks in all, 2 for the OS, and the other 3 for the data. Both array types allow you to have one of the HD's fail in it's array, and it will keep on running and your data is still OK. With RAID5 you have more capacity, but it is more complicated to manage than RAID1. So you could also use 2 RAID1 arrays with 4 HD's, and if all disks in both arrays are the same size, you could have a 5th HD which is configured as a "Hot-Spare". This disk would then automatically become active if one of your other HD's in the arrays should fail. This gives you some extra time to replace a bad disk. This is what I would setup if your space requirements are met with 2 RAID1 arrays.

    One other thing to keep in mind is that if you don't use Windows enterprise server or a 64bit OS or above, you will only be able to address 4GB RAM or less. In your example above the server comes with 6GB, so if you have Windows 2003 standard, you'd have too much RAM...
    LVL 3

    Author Comment

    Many thanks for that clarification rindi.  That is very clear.  So with the example system I may have mistyped.  I think it had 6 drives.  If that were the case, I could have : 73GB with RAID1 OS (2 drives @ 73GB) and 219GB with RAID 5 Application (4 drives @ 73GB).

    You mentioned two things - RAID 5 is complicated to manage & I have to buy Dell Branded drives for a PowerEdge...  

    Do you mean that if a RAID 5 drives crashes, then it's hard to manage or recover from - or are you talking day-to-day management?  Also, I assume for Database RAID 5 is appropriate, but for my web server, would you recommend the same?  And what's your opinion about the RAID 1+0 and the fact that RAID 5 has slow *write* performance?  Does it really make that big of a differnce?

    And that sound ridiculous that Dell "makes" you buy one of their drives for a server they make.  Is that really true??
    LVL 87

    Accepted Solution

    If in your example above it is a poweredge 2650, then you can only fit in 5 drives (it has 5 bays for HD's, and a 6th for the CD/Floppy), but for the 6 drives your calculation is correct.

    What I meant with it being more complicated to manage raid 5 is that if a disk breaks in the array, you only need a small further error that may be temporary, and that will break the complete array, while with raid 1, temporary failures when one disk is offline usually won't cause any bigger issues.

    Write performance often isn't a big issue if your disks aren't written to often. Many webservers and SQL servers stay relatively static. Actually raid 10 is my favorite for speed and redundancy, but you have the same issue as with raid 1 in that you need the double number of HD's for your space.

    The Dell branded disks for servers come inside a caddy so you can easily hot-swap the disks. If you can get the caddies separately you can use your own HD's and pput them into that caddy. It may or may not work, you'd have to try the disks...
    LVL 57

    Assisted Solution

    With RAID 5 if you loose a drive in the array you need to get the failed drive replaced ASAP.  If  you get a second failure, you will loose data.  I don't know if any internal RAID systems support it, but I know in SAN's you can actually have spare drives that will be used in case of a drive failure.  This gives you extra time to replace a failed drive.

    As for the write performance, you need to know how many updates you are going to be doing.  Say you do 10,000 database accesses an hour, but 90% is read and 10% write, you will never notice the write performance issues.

    Most of the major server brands what you to use "their" drives only because they have certified them.  Dell does not manufacturer any hard drives, all they do is buy in bulk, test and put them in the caddies.  Some companies may have custom firmware to identify the hard drives as "theirs", but this is typically only for reporting, the firmware updates typically do nothing special.
    LVL 3

    Author Closing Comment

    Thanks to both for your expert knowledge!

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