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  1. Transforming Moderator
    Devshed Supreme Being (6500+ posts)

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    Building a server


    So I've decided I want to build a server, and by that I mean like the rackmounted and virtualizing kind, not the "stick stuff in a tower and shove it in a closet" kind. I've built desktops before so I understand things like CPU sockets and memory timings, and even less desktop-y things like RAID, but I've never had to apply that to a server architecture. What I'm looking for feedback on is whether my plans are reasonable and make sense - once that's set I can pick out the hardware and materials.

    Three main purposes to this server:
    1. So that I can have one and fawn over it. No point denying that.
    2. To create a real home network, as opposed to the simple set of switches and ethernet cables I have now that connects all the devices (laptop, couple desktops, NAS, etc.) together. Being a Windows guy I'm going to have WS 2012 R2 as a DC with all the cool things it provides (AD and single sign-on, group policy, computer management...).
    3. There are a number of things running that I want to virtualize for reasons including compartmentalization, resource sharing, and imaging. One of these things will be "Big Data"-y where I will be reading in through the Internet lots of data that I will need to record, process, and analyze, though I won't be starting on that project for a while longer. This is actually driving a number of my requirements now as I expect I'll need processing power, memory, and an ever-increasing amount of storage for the database backend; should it take off I may create a dedicated box for it and let WS live in peace.

    My plan so far is like this:
    - Box A for the server hardware itself, as in the motherboard, CPUs, memory, and a drive or two for the OS itself.
    - Box B for storage that I SAN/iSCSI to A. (Initially one, there will be more over time.) Not intended for common-use file storage (I have a NAS for that) but may be used for it occasionally (which I'll manage through the OS on Box A).
    - The virtualized images and any storage I mount into them will live in Box B. This does mean that I'll be limited by the 1Gbps/100MBps speed of the iSCSI since the CPU and memory live on Box A, but I think that will be sufficient. If not I can deal with it until 10-gigabit networking is cheaper, or worst case I switch to Fibre Channel (or FCoE?).
    - Being able to add more storage space/Box Bs is very important, though I recognize I may be overestimating it. As I'm limited by the network speed already, WS's Storage Spaces will allow me to "RAID 0" everything and easily add space later.

    Hardware:
    - Box A is pretty straightforward: 2 (maybe 4) CPUs, lots of memory, one or two drives serving the OS. Two network connections, one to Box B (or the switch backing multiple Bs) and one to the rest of the LAN (ie, to a router).
    - Box B: since I'm using iSCSI I need only the minimums for the OS so a cheap motherboard and a bit of memory. Then a handful of hard drives which I'll RAID 1/5/6 together.
    - Backups I've yet to consider but will probably (a) get another NAS for or (b) build one or more "Box C"s along the lines of a typical RAID 10 setup.

    Other comments:
    - I'm still trying to determine accurate requirements for a good iSCSI box but what I've seen so far suggests minimum amounts.
    - I have a budget of $2000 for everything.
    - I wish I could have "dumb" Box Bs with literally just the drives, RAID controller, and power supply, and DAS them to Box A, but still allow for easy expansion like a SAN.
    - Just kidding on the budget. I have enough to invest in a good setup but I don't want to go overboard; as cool as it would be I don't actually need something suitable for a large office network or a datacenter.
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    Grumpier old Moderator
    Devshed Supreme Being (6500+ posts)

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    A couple quick things, racks are usually kind of pricey, and get yourself some rack mount hardware and for certain kind of rackmount nuts get a removal tool. And racks are heavy, check your floor load bearing capabilities too.

    Here's what I built "on the cheap". I bought a dual xeon w/ 16gb ram in a 2U box used from ebay about 300.00. Server is circa 2009 and reasonably fast. It has 4 hot-swap front-loading sata bays but I don't use raid, just 4 2tb disks.

    I installed CentOS 6.5 and linux KVM for virtualization, and allocated one disk to linux's logical volume manager (lvm) for virtual machine disk storage. I also got an old used Dell rackmount managed switch. Luckily my rack is small (desk height) so it doesn't overwhelm my home office equipment room.

    I use only linux servers these days, but initially I loaded up W2008R2 server in a VM and used it as my domain controller, I have maybe 10 devices on the network which are a mixture of windows/linux machines.

    For development and for production mail/web server I build another VM with CentOS and ispconfig3, which by following their tutorial will guide you through installing and configuring your server ending up with a fully operational web, dns, and email server. I've been using this setup to host a couple low traffic websites and email domains on the public internet for some years now.

    I have good power, and don't have a heavy-duty UPS, so far I've never lost anything from my very few power outages.

    If you want RAID I recommend a server with a hardware raid/disk bay but they are considerably more expensive. I have a couple outdated Dell servers with 6 scsi drive bays and hardware raid, and it's a delight to simply pull a defective drive, replace it and voila! Users never know the disk failed, except maybe the slowdown in throughput while the raid array rebuilds.

    For internet I have business Verizon FIOS with static IP's from Verizon, and it's been completely reliable.

    Comments on this post

    • requinix agrees : awesome. exactly the kind of feedback I'm looking for
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    Doug G
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    Bartender to Rene Descartes "have another beer?" Descartes: "I think not" and he vanished.
    --Alfred Bester
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  5. Transforming Moderator
    Devshed Supreme Being (6500+ posts)

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    Thanks. I know it'll be relatively expensive but I've been preparing for this for more than a year now and have set aside what should be more than enough. As for weight, I'm figuring on a small 12U cabinet and they seem about ~60lbs so I think I'll be okay.

    That reminds me of another thing I was going to attempt to do, which isn't really a hardware thing but may be worth mentioning.

    I was thinking that maybe I could get the Windows server to offer a PXE boot to the storage boxes - completely getting rid of the need to install an OS on them. Still looking into how possible that is and how much effort it would take if so. Looking at FreeNAS mostly. It would pull its configuration from the Windows machine which could serve the right settings depending on the origin of the request. Haven't looked too hard as most of the results I get are about FreeNAS being the one offering PXE and not the kind of diskless install I'm looking for.
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    Grumpier old Moderator
    Devshed Supreme Being (6500+ posts)

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    If it were me I'd be hesitant to rely on an external device to start up my NAS storage. But I don't have a NAS so I probably don't know what I'm talking about ...
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    Doug G
    ======
    Bartender to Rene Descartes "have another beer?" Descartes: "I think not" and he vanished.
    --Alfred Bester

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