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I've got nice big server-grade NICs on my servers busy interfaces. Soon I'll be setting up a cluster that will have a dedicated heat-beat.

Do I really need to use an expensive server grade NIC for this? Or will a low-end desktop NIC suffice?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Will it work? Yes.

Will the driver drag down the network performance of the whole server? Maybe. In my testing, quality server type NIC's (typically four porters) had a much lower kernel interrupt rate than the cheap consumer NICs.

You have to realize how miserable the drivers are for most chip-of-the-day cheap consumer NIC's. If you are fortunate, it won't drag down the whole system, or occasionally get in a loop and freeze up.

If you go this route, at least pick a discrete NIC with a good chip on it and good driver support, such as Intel.

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The quantity of traffic will be low. So no, it probably doesn't matter if they're not "Intel Server Adapters" capable of pushing wirespeed with ToE. They will need to be absolutely reliable to prevent false-positives though. So don't skimp on the chipset brand and associated drivers.

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Surely you'd have on-board NICs you'd use for this? I'm sure I've not seen a discrete NIC ina server for years.

I can understand using big discrete NICs for data as an upgrade

But yes, as long as they are reliable.

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The onboard NIC is in use. – Stu Thompson Apr 29 '10 at 11:27
There is only one onboard NIC? Why not use this for the heartbeat, and use server-grade ones to replace usage? – gbn Apr 29 '10 at 12:11
I've got a front-end and back-end LAN, both of which will have traffic. The "Business End" will have a teamed dual port server NIC, the other will have the built in NIC. I've read that one should keep a heartbeat on it's own dedicated segment, so need to add a NIC. – Stu Thompson Apr 29 '10 at 12:42

Make sure you can get drivers for the OS, especially if you're running 64-bit.

I don't like cutting corners on front-line servers, personally, but I can't say for sure that the server-grade ones cause less problems than the lower end ones.

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Expensive or cheap, as long as it's reliable and has a driver for the server OS you're installing it in, should be fine.

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