It's a technology puzzle with many pieces. Each piece changes pretty quickly, so by the time you have figured out which things work well together, you can start all over again. That is most likely the impression that someone will get when he or she tries to understand the world of servers and networking.

No problem; you buy all your pieces from the same vendor, hire a few consultants and they will do all the puzzling for you... for a price. There is a reason why profit margins in this world are still high, and it might cost you more than just money. It is also not imaginary at all that you might suffer from "vendor lock-in", no matter how many sweet stories you read about how the market is now ruled by open industry standards. There are still quite a few tricks up the vendors' sleeves to make sure you or your company becomes totally dependent and locked in.

Of course if you are reading this, it means that you are not part of the "I don't care what is under the hood, as long as it runs my software" crowd. You want to be in full control, and understand all the hardware puzzle pieces. Just like us, you are probably on a rather tight budget, and so you have to weigh every option and research the alternatives. Just letting somebody else dictate how to solve your technology problems is not an option. And last but not least, you feel that understanding the latest hardware trends is fun....

That is what this new series of articles is all about. We'll explore the latest trends in the server hardware market and critically examine then. We'll try to give an overview of what is hot and what is not for certain applications. We are well aware that we don't have the monopoly on wisdom, so feel free to send us feedback. We'll research your feedback in depth, and we'll add it to the next server guide.

This first article might be a bit light for the server veterans among you. In this article we'll introduce new server administrators and desktop people who want to know more into the server world. In the next articles we'll discuss storage possibilities, virtualization and more.

What makes a server different?


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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    Fixed. Reply
  • Whohangs - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    Great stuff, definitely looking forward to more in depth articles in this arena! Reply
  • saiku - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    This article kind of reminds me THG's recent series of articles on how computer graphics cards work.

    For us techies who don't get to peep into our server rooms much, this is a great intro. Especially for guys like me who work in small companies where all we have are some dusty Windows 2000 servers stuck in a small server "room".

    Thanks for this cool info.
  • JohanAnandtech - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

    Thanks! Been in the same situation as you. Then I got a very small budget for upgrading our serverroom (about $20000) at the university I work for and I found out that there is quite a bit of information about servers but all fragmented, and mostly coming from non-independent sources. Reply
  • splines - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    Excellent work pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of Blades. They are mighty cool, but not this second coming of the server christ that IBM et al would have you believe.

    Good work all round. It looks to be a great primer for those new to the administration side of the business.
  • WackyDan - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    Having worked with blades quite a bit, I can tell you that they are quite a significant innovation.

    I'll disagree with the author of the article that there is no standard. Intel co-designed the IBM bladecenter and licensed it's manufacture to other OEMS. Together, IBM and Intel have/had over 50% share inthe blade space. THat share along with Intel's collaboration is by default considered the standard int he industry.

    Blades, done properly, have huge advantages over their rack counterparts. ie; far less cables. In the IBM's the mid-plane replaces all the individual network and optical cables as the networking modules (copper and fibre) are internal and you can get several flavors... Plus I only need one cable drop to manage 14 servers....

    And if you've never seen 14 blades in 7u of space fully redundant, your are missing out. As for VMware, I've seen it running on blades with the same advantages as it's rack mount peers... and FYI... Blades are still considered rack mount as well...No you are not going to have any 16/32 ways as of yet.... but still, Blades really could replace 80%+ of all traditional rack mount servers.
  • splines - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

    I don't disagree with you on any one point there. Our business is in the process of moving to multiple blade clusters and attached SANs for our excessively large fileservers.

    But I do think that virtualisation does provide a great stepping-stone for business not quite ready to clear out the racks and invest in a fairly expensive replacement. We can afford to make this change, but many cannot. Even though the likes of IBM are pushing for blades left right and centre I wouldn't discount the old racks quite yet.

    And no, I've haven't had the opportunity to see such a 7U blade setup. Sounds like fun :)
  • yyrkoon - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

    Wouldnt you push a single system that can run into the tens of thousands, to possibly hundreds of thousands for a single blade ? I know i would ;) Reply
  • Mysoggy - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    I am pretty amazed that they did not mention the cost of power in the TCO section.

    The cost of powering a server in a datacenter can be even greater than the TCA over it's lifetime.

    I love the people that say...oh a got a great deal on this dell was $400 off of the list price. Then they eat through the savings in a few months with shoddy PSUs and hardware that consume more power.

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    Page 3:

    "Facility management: the space it takes in your datacenter and the electricity it consumes"

    Don't overhype power, though. There is no way even a $5,000 server is going to use more in power costs over its expected life. Let's just say that's 5 years for kicks. From">this page, the Dell Irwindale 3.6 GHz with 8GB of RAM maxed out at 374W. Let's say $0.10 per kWHr for electricity as a start:

    24 * 374 = 8976 WHr/Day
    8976 * 365.25 = 3278484 WHr/Year
    3278484 * 5 = 16392420 WHr over 5 years
    16392420 / 1000 = 16392.42 kWHr total

    Cost for electricity (at full load, 24/7, for 5 years): $1639.24

    Even if you double that (which is unreasonable in my experience, but maybe there are places that charge $0.20 per kWHr), you're still only at $3278.48. I'd actually guess that a lot of businesses pay less for energy, due to corporate discounts - can't say for sure, though.

    Put another way, you need a $5000 server that uses 1140 Watts in order to potentially use $5000 of electricity in 5 years. (Or you need to pay $0.30 per kWHr.) There are servers that can use that much power, but they are far more likely to cost $100,000 or more than to cost anywhere near $5000. And of course, power demands with Woodcrest and other chips are lower than that Irwindale setup by a pretty significant amount. :)

    Now if you're talking about a $400 discount to get an old Irwindale over a new Woodcrest or something, then the power costs can easily eat up thost savings. That's a bit different, though.

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