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Our current SQL Server Machine (which is about 6 years old):

Box: Dell 2900
CPU: Xeon 5160 Dual Core
HDD: 6x 15k RPM SAS drives in raid 10

Since it's 6 years old, the drives have been spinning for 6 years straight which is making my employer nervous about the life of the drives. We are considering buying, or upgrading our current server. Does my employer have a rational fear, or should the drives last another few years? (they aren't really easy to find anymore, but we do have a hot spare drive inside the computer on standby, and a hot spare server with the same drives in it)

The idea is to either get another 6 SAS drives to run in RAID 10 or to consider getting two SSD (SLC) drives in raid 1. Aside from cost, is there any reason to opt one way or another?

Is it worth upgrading the server in order to get a new CPU and RAM? Our SQL server's CPU generally doesn't peak over 10%. It runs a medium traffic website and internal business apps, but nothing crazy in terms of usage.

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What is your SQL Server upgrade path? We will move from SQL 2005 to SQL 2008 but our server engineers tell me that some of our older servers (5 yrs) are upgradeable to run SQL 2008. – jl. Nov 10 '10 at 21:56
For us, there isn't a pressing need to upgrade to 2008, so I'd say the software isn't a huge deciding factor. – Fake Nov 10 '10 at 22:14

From a disaster recovery, performance and power consumption point-of-view, I'd upgrade ASAP. You can't predict hardware failures, so it might be your disks, the PSU, the motherboard or some other component.

I tend to go by a rule of thumb that says to upgrade professional setups at least every 3 years because performance and power effeciency has usually doubled in that time. Might be hard to find spare parts, too. If your PSU or motherboard dies, how quickly can you restore service? Did you test this? Is the timeframe acceptable for the business?

An awful lot has happened in the last 6 years. You'd have to look really hard to find a new Xeon-based systems that's slower than what you already have.

If your entire database can fit in 4GB or 8GB RAM, you'd benefit greatly from a new CPU and a gigabit network interface.

Do you have any sort of monitoring on this system? Are the disks even moving, except for writing data (which can't be a lot if there's only 2GB of data after 6 years) and access logs?

For what it's worth: Modern SSDs can do insane amounts of writes and the myths from 15 years ago no longer apply. SSDs wear just like mechanical drives do, they're just much faster and reading and writing data. Not sure you have enough data in your database to feel much performance difference, though.

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+1 for 3 year upgrade cycle – Element Nov 11 '10 at 0:24
There is monitoring, and we do have a hot spare machine, as well as a hot spare drive in the computer. Thanks for all of the advice, especially helping me realize the urgency of the upgrade. – Fake Nov 11 '10 at 16:31

First question

Does your database fit into memory?? As in the actual indexs+data size?? This will answer your need for RAM...

Second question.. What type of read/write mix do you have.. This is where ssd's win and lose..

i setup a DB that had 20% total (nightly) writes and 80% (daily) reads with SSD's and it was FAST.. Try reversing those numbers and watch SSD's lose to 15k SAS disks..

Hope this helps.. :D

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The total database size is under 2 gigs, so I guess the entire database would fit into memory, thanks. Also I might have to get back to you on that read/write question. I'm not sure, is there a good way to analyze the read/write ratio or do I just need to make an educated guess? – Fake Nov 10 '10 at 22:18
yes... i would suggest using a tool such as.. mysqltuner I believe this tool gives you some suggestions about other things too.. – Arenstar Nov 10 '10 at 22:19
We are actually using MS SQL Server 2005, so I don't think mysqltuner would be compatible. Sorry, I wasn't clear about which sql server software I was using. – Fake Nov 10 '10 at 22:26

The optimal replacement period for Intel hardware is generally between 3 and 4 years. Beyond that, you're rolling the dice in terms of reliability (especially for software embedded in hardware), parts availability and the speed of restoring service in the event of a failure.

You don't have a performance issue, since you're happy with the old server, so I'd look at replacing the system with a system big enough to consoliate other servers with a virtualization solution, and configure RAID 10 storage to improve overall reliability and performance.

Frankly, if your employer is pushing you to invest money into an asset that depreciates as quickly as a computer, there is a serious lack of clue going on there that is kind of scary to me. A better idea might be to look at a "Cloud"/hosted solution for your database application, where a managed service provider is managing the service for you.

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We have been moving some servers out to the cloud, and we've virtualized our development environment. I'm pushing toward virtualizing the production environment as well, but my coworker and employer are leery of the switch. – Fake Nov 11 '10 at 16:32

There's a reason you're asking this question about a replacement for a six year old machine, go with the R10 solution, the SSDs will be dead long before 2016 ;)

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what makes you think the SSDs will be dead in 6 years or less? – warren Nov 10 '10 at 23:48
Wear - I know they're always getting better but we use seriously expensive HP EVA SSDs and they just don't last long in a DB environment. Fast sure but you've got to be thinking that they'll need to last that long and I just have more faith in regular disks. Wish I could be more scientific but sometimes you just have to go with your own experience. – Chopper3 Nov 11 '10 at 9:12
If that's really the case I'd offer that HP EVA SSDs are just 'expensive' and not 'good'. Failures happen, but if you experience consistent failures before you'd want to upgrade the system anyway, your SSD vendor have quality issues. – Alex Holst Nov 11 '10 at 18:17

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