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Server motherboard and processor recommendations for SBS 2011

Posted on 2014-03-10
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Hello experts,

     I have been tasked to build a new server to to support SBS 2011 Standard.  The install will have about 25 users.  The install is pretty straightforward with exchange, my documents redirection to the server, a couple of shared folders, symantec mail security and client management.  Their primary lob app is called Elliot 7 and utilizes a Pervasive 10 PSQL database.  The server will also run DNS, DHCP, AD, Print Sharing, and all of the other wonders of SBS 2011 including the health and user reporting.

     In the past, I have always used a dual socket xeon MB, but I am not up to date on what the best practices are or the pros and cons of the various motherboards out there and the various Xeon and other processors.  I would not want to buy a package today if the next generation of processors is coming out next week or something.

    The budget is important, but this client likes to use their machines for some time and I want to deploy a powerful solution.  That said, if one processor with 12 cores is twice as much as a 10 core processor in the same family, I would ask for reasonable justification for the expenditure.

     This question will be considered answered by a post that lays down a very brief state of the market for the processors and motherboards and makes some suggestions (if you have a favorite distributor, I would appreciate a link to the products as well.)

    Information that is not required, but appreciated is any other hardware recommendations for SBS 2011.  For example, using SSDs for the OS instead of traditional drives.  I usually just mirror a set of drives with an OS partition and DATA partition, but would be interested in any info that is working well for people.

Thank you very much for your time and I hope this post helps others that are searching for current info.

eric
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Question by:-ewass-
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Cliff Galiher earned 125 total points
ID: 39918960
Honest suggestion. Don't build; buy. I have been on more calls than I can count where the problem ended up being a white box server, some were built by very knowledgeable hardware guys who enjoyed reading specs for hobbies.

But unlike anworkstation where minor variances will go unnoticed, even a small conflict between a RAID card's firmware and a motherboard's firmware (more common bow with UEFI) can cause performance issues (or even data loss) that leaves users simply saying "something isn't right... outlook freezes..." and other hard to diagnose issues.

In the modern era with stringent server certifications and top tier vendors like HP, Dell, IBM, and even Fujitsu competing, you can get better hardware for less cost than you can ever get whiteboxing. With better warranties.

And once tour choose to go that route, it'll resolve some of your other questions just by choosing that path.
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by:Bill Bach
Bill Bach earned 125 total points
ID: 39918978
As you can imagine, you'll likely get as many different replies and recommendations as they are people to make them.  

In a nutshell, you are trying to find a perfect balance between hardware costs and performance.  The more you spend, the better the system will perform, but this is viable ONLY to the point of the user is happy.  Spend too little, and the user is unhappy with the performance.  Spend TOO much (i.e. buy more hardware than you need), and the user is unhappy for paying too much.

I work with the PSQL engine, so I'll give you some recommendations from that side.  

Cores/Clock Speed: If you are planning to upgrade to PSQLv11 or newer, then more cores is better, up through about 4 or 8.  I wouldn't go any higher than this.  If you have PSQLv10 (which is less able to take advantage of multiple cores), then stick with a 4-core box, but get the FASTEST clock and memory speed you can get.  This will help "straight-line" performance.  When in doubt, always spend money on clock speed at the expense of cores.  I've seen too many people with 24-core 2.4GHz CPU's complaining about performance, but the 4-core 3.4GHz users rarely complain.

Memory/Bit Level: Check the bit level (32/64) of your PSQL engine today.  If you have 32-bit PSQLv10, then you'll either need to stay there or pay for a Bit Switch or v11 upgrade.  If you stay on 32-bit PSQLv10, the engine will be able to use a MAXIMUM of 4GB of memory space.  More likely, you'll configure about 3GB for PSQL as a maximum.  If you upgrade to a 64-bit engine (either PSQLv11 or PSQLv10), then you can use ALL available memory on the x64 server.  At that point, a good target for PSQL memory is about 60% of the data size (or a bit higher or lower for some people).  So, if you have 20GB of data, then 16GB for the database would be perfect.  Remember to add in another 4GB for Exchange, another 4-8GB for the OS, etc.

Disk: I am a big fan of mirrored SSD's for the OS volume, so that the system boots and runs the UI fast when I am sitting there waiting for it.  Data can/should be on a spinning platter to both lower cost AND allow flexibility.  A RAID controller with write-back cache is ideal for high-end database work.  RAID10 is preferred for performance, though again, more expensive.  RAID5 is better.  SAS is definitely preferred over SATA, because of overall disk throughput issues.  

Mfr: I have lots of corporate clients all over the globe, and I would say that  a majority of servers I see nowadays are either HP or Dell boxes (with HP being more common of these two).  IBM boxes used to be big, but have declined rapidly in the last 10 years.  Some companies run "white box" boxes, which may be a way to save money, but I always buy boxes with good mfr warranties for my own office.

Of course, hardware prices change daily, and you can ALWAYS find it for cheaper if you wait a week or two.  My key recommendation would be to discern the specs of the solution you want, then discern the budget, and figure out how to make the two meet somewhere in the middle.
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by:-ewass-
ID: 39919129
BillBach and Cliff,

Thank you very much for your quick response and the information.  The information about pervasive is especially interesting.

We are going to hand build this box (white box).  I know that warranties are important, but, in my research, server solutions from Dell (have not looked at HP much) are often twice as much or more as building.  I am a very small shop and have retainers with a few small companies.  So, I will be the only one servicing the server.  I take the point about the compatibility of components, and usually have to return and switch out a couple after the initial build and testing.  The nature of my retainer is a monthly charge (not by the hour), so the company does not care how much time it takes for me to troubleshoot problems.    

I always have a backup server on hand for the 5 or 6 companies I help and they always seem to choose to build, so that decision is made.  I do not have much of an option in this case.  I agree it is much easier to buy, though.

That said, the company is willing to invest quite a bit into this server.  I am looking for one or two specific motherboard recommendations, and one or two specific processor recommendations.  For example, Intel board xxxx and dual xeon e5 X.X Ghz processors.

This is an SBS 2011 standard install, so memory is limited to 32GB.  I will probably use a high grade crucial ram at the max clock speed.  If you have a specific ssd drive that you like, I would appreciate the link.  Beyond a couple of decent hard drives and controllers, a sturdy case and power supplies, there is really not much more to this build.  I will likely go with the on-board video card if there is one, and the rest of the devices like backup are already covered.

So, I thank you for the advice regarding buy/build and I cannot stand it when people do not take my advice and ask for help, but that may be the case here.  If you have specific MB, Processor and maybe Raid card if you have found serious confilcts in the past, suggestions, that is what I really need.  At this point, money is not really a top requirement consideration.  They want the fastest small business server they can buy.  As I said before, if there are two similar MBs and one is $700 and one is $1700, there should be a reason, but I am looking for a pretty fast machine here.

Regarding the PSQL, it is pervasive v10 32 bit for 20 users vendor 5033.  It comes packaged with their ERP program, Elliot, so I will need to check on a bit upgrade, but if anyone has a link with a cheap upgrade license, that would be awesome, but in no way part of this question's requirements.

Thank you for the help...  eric
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by:Bill Bach
ID: 39919177
CPUs change far too often to keep track of them.  However, this site is usually a good starting point for comparison purposes:
    http://www.cpubenchmark.net/
Again, a raw benchmark comes in handy, but if any one component is TOO fast, you're wasting money.  The trick is to balance the system based on the load.  Of course, the load of each server is different, so often we're just guessing.  

I don't build, so I cannot recommend MoBo solutions -- sounds like you have some good ideas there already, though.

I would max it out to 32GB of RAM, because of the basic equation: Memory = Performance.  Exchange can use it, SQLServer can use it, and PSQL can use at least 4GB.  Worst case, if you have LOTS unused when you're done, create a RAMDisk and store your tempfiles and PSQL transaction logs there to get another speed gain.

I've had great luck with the Intel SSD's (http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/solid-state-drives/solid-state-drives-ssd.html) in my workstations, but haven't graduated to SSD's in my own servers yet (mostly because they are all virtual, and sitting on RAID5 arrays).  Again, there are various "levels", offering different read speeds, write speeds, throughputs, and write cycles, all tied to the price.  Heck, if price is no object, I've had a few customers go with FusionIO cards -- and find ASTOUNDING performance (and astronomical price tags).

As for build/buy -- I used to build my own boxes when I first started in business (90's).  Then, my time (and having a warranty for failing parts like PSU fans, HDD's, and such) became far more important.  I knew a guy many years ago who built his own server and was ecstatic about saving $1000 over a comparable Dell box.  Then he had a RAID controller issue, and spent three days of his own time working on it.  Doesn't sound like a win to me.  It is exactly this issue that is already covered by the major manufacturers.  If your time is cheap, then saving money with a build-your-own solution is great -- but then I'd probably be the one asking YOU about which combinations you recommend!

Your PSQLv10 license is stuck at 32-bit, so make sure you install the 32-bit engine (it will run just fine on a 64-bit OS, with the 4GB memory maximum to contend with).  Moving to 64-bit via a Bit Switch license is possible at a market price of $1775, but it might be cheaper if you can get it from the Elliot vendor.  Upgrading to PSQLv11 x64 would be even cheaper at $1570 (and v11 licenses will work on either 32bit or 64bit), but this might open support issues with Elliot, so checking with them first is a good idea.  None of this makes sense if the database is small (i.e. under 4GB) and will fit completely in memory anyway.
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by:-ewass-
ID: 39919309
As for buy/build.  I will no longer build workstations, but I will build servers.  As I have said, my agreement is based on a set monthly charge.  When converted to hourly, I come out ahead most of the time.  When there is a catastrophic failure or new server requires, the client comes out ahead and it usually balances out when calculated as a yearly average.  It is simply a way for both parties to have a predictable cost/revenue stream.

This is a build and we can discuss buy/build all week, but I am past the point of making a choice on this matter.  The company has made up their mind after being presented with very similar arguments to the ones you guys have made and I have to accept the decision.

I may not get what I want, but I really would like specific part numbers for MB and CPUs.  Like you said, it is difficult to keep track of the latest tech, and that is the purpose of this post.  I am not up to date and do not do builds often.  I have read that some i-7 processors beat out xeons in cases, and I also have seen that a xeon E7 is out or coming out that is a different architecture that some of the E5s.  cpubenchmark.net is great and I use it for many applications (including a great visual aid to show users why they need to upgrade or purchase a particular part family).  However, I have not been able to use it to properly compare motherboards paired with cpus and the pros/cons in a SBS 2011 environment.

I believe my requirements are fairly clear as stated in my initial post.  If anyone needs more information about the office apps in addition to above to gauge the likely load levels, please let me know.

I appreciate the input and time from everyone, but really need some specific advice from an expert that has built a SBS 2011 box recently, the specs from someone who has purchased one from a supplier very recently, or the opinions of someone who likes to keep up with mobo and cpus for some reason.

Thanks again.. eric
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by:-ewass-
ID: 39919342
As a rule, I always spec out machines to at least double the resources in the current requirements for growth.  So I am looking for a machine that is twice as capable as a machine that would be considered very capable given the above requirements.

Thanks... e
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by:Larry Struckmeyer MVP
Larry Struckmeyer MVP earned 125 total points
ID: 39919403
SBS is RAM and IO dependent above CPU.  Software you choose may have its own requirements.  While SBS cannot host VM's it behaves very nicely as a VM itself so consider one copy of Server 2012, which allows two VM's and SBS also as a VM.  This would give you a great deal of flexibility on the RAM side becuase Server 2008 Standard would support only 32 GB RAM, while Server 2012 will support 4 TB of RAM, allowing you to allocate however much you need for the SBS and the pervasive server running on a separate VM.

Now you can allocate the processors you have abailable however it makes sense and allows you to use dual processors with however many cores the budget allows.

We like "white box" also, so long as it is all Intel... case/mobo/cpu/controller and approved RAM.  Faster drives are better than slower.
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by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 125 total points
ID: 39919417
so the company does not care how much time it takes for me to troubleshoot problems.

If I were your client and you said that about me, you're fired.

Why?  EVERY MINUTE I'M DOWN, I"M LOSING MONEY!  I NEED my systems running so I VERY MUCH care how long it takes you to troubleshoot, how much time it takes you to replace the hardware that's failed.  So unless you come to me and tell me you're keeping at least TWO SPARES for every item, then the warranty from Dell (as much as I have come to LOATHE them) is FAR MORE valuable than you're giving them credit for.

This is an SBS 2011 standard install, so memory is limited to 32GB.
Yes, SBS is limited... HYPER-V is NOT.  There is no way I install this system for a client without virtualizing it and without the hardware supporting AT LEAST 64 GB if not more of RAM.  If the client needs additional servers later - an RDS server, for example, there is little to no additional hardware costs.  But you're potentially forcing them to buy an additional server later because you're potentially being short sighted now.

If you have a specific ssd drive that you like, I would appreciate the link.
Make sure you get server class SLC drives as opposed to MLC drives that are the more consumer level.  http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/MLC-vs-SLC-Which-flash-SSD-is-right-for-you

I appreciate the input and time from everyone, but really need some specific advice from an expert that has built a SBS 2011 box recently, the specs from someone who has purchased one from a supplier very recently, or the opinions of someone who likes to keep up with mobo and cpus for some reason.
Good luck - I don't think you're going to get the answer you want.  Why?  Because most consultants I've worked with - here and in the user group here in NY and the consultants I've met at conferences - all buy name brand.  The vast majority of the minority left don't build their own but might buy from a local manufacturer who at least can stock spare parts and provide a QUICK turnaround in case of failure. (I will say, you minimize this by virtualizing because at least then you can move the VM to new hardware fairly easily.
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Author Comment

by:-ewass-
ID: 39919692
Lee W.,

A little strong man.  

I misspoke when I used the word "troubleshoot."  What I was attempting to convey is if I am researching components for a job scheduled to begin at a certain date, I will work as long as it takes for the set monthly retainer and they do not have to worry about how many hours it takes within the parameters of the schedule.

Of course I do not allow my companies to go down for any longer than necessary.  I have worked for the past 20 years on my reputation and only by personal referral.  I have backup servers for my clients, and, because I source locally as much as possible, I can replace equipment by running to the store instead of starting a case and waiting for a part in the mail.  If a catastrophic failure does occur, I can switch to a backup server, easily clone the drives, use on hand parts or those easily acquired at a larger store like Microcenter and they don't have to pay someone ridiculous after hour rates to repair the primary server.

I don't understand why I am limiting anything by installing 32GB of ram now.  I said I would install 32 GB, not buy a MOBO that only supports 32GB.  If I need to add a second server, I can preform the same processes anyone would preform at project start using HYPER-V, add RAM, copy the cloned backups to a VM, Install a second VM with the server add on license for SBS.

Thank you for the link to an article about SSD's.

It is not unreasonable to ask a group of professionals on a for profit website for specific information on the current state of server CPUs and MOBOs.  MOBOs and CPUs are all that I have asked about several times.  If no one has any info, I am sorry to hear that and thanks for your time.

eric
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 39919733
strong...perhaps.  I consider myself passionate about what I feel is right for customers in general.  EVERY customer is different, but in my 20 years of professional IT service I STARTED building systems and I stopped.  I'm reconsidering it, but only certain kinds because I'm fed up with Dell, despise HP, and have been unimpressed with Lenovo desktops so far.

I can replace equipment by running to the store instead of starting a case and waiting for a part in the mail.  

Correct - for the first 3-12 months.  After that, you cannot (without potentially going to ebay or keeping spares, replace with like parts).  A Dell/HP/etc server can get same parts in 4 hours in most cases.  And that's 4 hours including 2am.  

I'm also telling you the argument someone might make in an elevator speech with your client.  And I'm not trying to suggest it's just going to take one elevator pitch, but plant the seeds and start asking around and next thing you know... you're a nice guy but I'd rather have someone who (my opinion/perspective) better understands their own limitations.

OK - now I'm fairly certain you're feeling attacked - not the point and not trying to do that.  Trying to point out issues from a CRITICAL analysis of your described business model and intent.  And I DEFINITELY could be wrong.  Heck at the end of the day, this is as much philosophical as it is logical - and philosophies differ.

You should understand that while Experts-Exchange is for profit - NO ONE answering your questions is on payroll or gets any kind of compensation (other than free access and maybe a thank you note if we spend way too much time here) - we're all volunteering our time and opinions.  

It wasn't my intent to suggest you are limiting NOW by going with 32 GB - I may have misread something if my comment made it sound that way, but MANY boards sold are limited to 32 GB.  If nothing else, I'm trying to clearly point out to anyone else reading this that getting a system that maxes out at 32 is limiting you potentially seriously.

If I need to add a second server, I can preform the same processes anyone would preform at project start using HYPER-V, add RAM, copy the cloned backups to a VM, Install a second VM with the server add on license for SBS.
Why wouldn't you START virtualizing?  Why waste the time in the future doing it "if" necessary?  Why not utilize Hyper-V replica and ensure there are no issues with hardware translation should a failure occur?  And for that matter, using replica, if your primary hardware fails, you can have the client back and running in minutes with minimal data loss.  NOT starting out virtualized is ill advised in my opinion - there are too many potential benefits to a virtualizing from the start.
Next you DO NOT need the "server add-on license for SBS" - I suspect you are talking about the SBS "Premium Add-on" - that's ONLY necessary if you want SQL server.  Otherwise, it's cheaper to purchase a standard copy of server instead.    

Honestly, I DO hope you're not offended by my... more direct... comments.  In many ways I think I felt similarly about building and servicing clients 12 years ago... but my experiences with hardware conflicts and support in general when trying to repair a white box over having a relationship with a vendor to yell at and with FAR greater resources than I have brought me to the conclusion that white box is FINE for YOU, and for ME, but NOT for our clients.  Not as primary servers.  Again, in my opinion.  I'll leave the thread now, but I urge you to consider my words and point of view - if for no other reason than you might have to defend against it to one of your clients some day if someone else tries to poach them.
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by:-ewass-
ID: 39919759
Here is what I believe

I feel more professional threads have a subject and should be discussions based on and limited by that subject.  I usually include newsgroups as a part of my research searches and it is a pity when they have wonderful points on subject and 20 pages of information that may be good information, but must be clicked though to get to the points.  I hope that I create questions that others will be able to use, if not for a limited period of time.

I have asked a simple question and am pleading for a simple answer.  If some members believe virtualization is the right answer, great.  Please say so and recommend specific motherboards and cpu(s) that will support your argument.

This thread is becoming a red herring and I apologize to anyone that was excited for an answer when they read the title in their browser and expected information.

I will post my findings when I arrive at them if no one else is going to contribute specific information, but please stop corrupting this question with non specific information.

Thank you all for your time and understanding.  It has become a bit late for me and I still need to find an answer to this question and move on with life, so I apologize for the tone. eric
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Expert Comment

by:jrockman13
ID: 40017688
Go to this site: http://blog.mpecsinc.ca/. Find his blog postings with complete builds for SBS. It's Intel parts. He has VM & non-VM setups (even cluster setups). They are high-performance, commercial/enterprise grade. He lists part numbers for motherboards, cpus, hard drives, memory kits, etc.
EDIT: He often posts on this site...i found his SBS 2011 setup guide invaluable when configuring my current domain.
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by:Philip Elder
ID: 40210820
If you are not partial to any hardware vendor then:
 + E3-1270v3
 + 32GB ECC
 + Hardware RAID with 1GB Non-Volatile (Flash)
 + 8x 300GB 10K or 600GB 10K or 900GB 10K SAS depending on data volume
 + RAID 6 the above 8 drives
 + Logical Disk 1: 150GB + 5GB for each user = 275GB for C:
 + Logical Disk 2: Balance of space

In SBS 2011 Standard you will have two partitions as per the above setup.
NOTE 1: Windows Server Backup has a 2TB limit due to the fact that it uses VHD for its destination file format.
NOTE 2: VHD files cannot be laid out on Advanced Format destination drives!

The above server will provide plenty of IOPS for a 25 user environment with 32GB being the maximum licensed RAM in the OS anyway.
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