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I have never built a server before, so I need some suggestions.

What should I consider when choosing hardware for a web server?

I have a budget of 10k.

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closed as not constructive by Skyhawk, sysadmin1138 Nov 14 '11 at 18:52

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What is going to be running on this web server? A simple PHP application, lots of different applications? What? –  musicfreak May 15 '09 at 3:43
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10k of... ? €? £? US $? –  vartec May 15 '09 at 10:53
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You need to either tell us a bit more about the type of load this server will be doing or you need to hire someone who can work this out for you. Right now your question is the equivalent of me asking you "I need to write some code, which programming language should I use". –  RobM Jun 17 '10 at 14:51

11 Answers 11

my experience in running this kind of stuff would suggest:

  1. go cheap on gigahertz, you don't need them, and nowadays you'll get at least 4 cores
  2. don't go cheap on RAM and disks, I/O will be the first limit you'll hit
  3. 4GiB of ram for each cpu core seems a good start
  4. don't go cheap on hardware quality, but don't be overkill either
  5. buy an actual server, not a whitebox
  6. you definitely want: lights out management (IPMI), SAS hotswap disks, server class CPUs with ECC memory (Xeon and Opteron ok, Core and Athlon and whatever else no)
  7. you definitely want a >= 3 years onsite support contract for the hardware, at least next business day
  8. buy all your gear from the same vendor, so everything will be under its support contract
  9. maybe you need, maybe you don't need: redundant PSU, hardware raid, >= 10k rpm disks, 4h support contract
  10. I dislike tapes, backup via network on harddisk storage is faster, cheaper, more easily repleaceable
  11. I dislike fiber, for the web hosting kind of work gigabit eth will buy more performance - get dual or quad gigabit cards and aggregate as needed

These are very broad guidelines based on my experience. We can't talk more specific since you didn't tell us what you need to do, how do you want to do it, what kind of software you'll use, if the system will be in a datacenter or not, blahblahblah

Oh, and before anything else, I'd recommend you DO NOT buy any server: rent one at your colo of choice, let someone else take care of hardware care & feed. Virtualized gear is ok too.

Also remember that great hardware and great software will give you nothing (other than some trouble, maybe) if you don't know how to use and manage them. If you run something new that you do not have experience of, you will have problems.

I also hate HP servers and HP support with a passion, usually I go Dell. Other (big, known) brands tend to cost more in the kind of systems you want for web servers.

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Backup, Backup, Backup!

No Really, it's no use having the worlds greatest server if you cannot restore from a major disaster in as short a time frame as possible.

Hardware

  • Server based case with plenty of airflow and HDD space
  • Dual/Quad core CPU
  • 4-8 GB RAM
  • Good quality Power Supply
  • Fast drives in a RAID array

Backup Options

  • NAS
  • Tape
  • External HDD (USB/Firewire/eSATA)

List

Create a list of objectives and purposes to help you identify your real needs:

  • How many simultaneous connections?
  • Database Access required?
  • Public or Private facing?
  • Shared or for single purpose?

Once you have some basic answers you can then decide if you need 1 server or need several servers to ensure uptime.

Also, a server is only as good as the system administrators maintaining it.

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With budget of 10K€ you could for example buy three PowerEdge SC1435 uped to 2x quadcore Opteron 2.6 GHz, 32 GB RAM and 2x500 GB HDD in RAID. You could put then 2 to load balance, 3rd as backup.

If your web is database intensive, then a better option would be to buy one database optimized server (SDD drives, lot of memory) and 2 frontend webservers.

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Argh! How can people answer this question without more information???

1) Rough estimate of server load would be a great start

2) Uptime requirements. Maybe you don't want one server. Maybe you want two behind a load balancer (or cluster of load balancers) (or maybe co-located?)

3) Do you have any existing contracts with manufacturers?

Update the question with these answers, and you'll get much better responses.

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+1 First we need to know if he wants only a server or an infrastructure. About servers, anyone played a bit with Sun Sparc servers? –  Pier Jun 17 '10 at 15:54
    
I'd +2 if I could. This question is way to open. –  egorgry Jun 17 '10 at 16:34

Lots of RAM and purchase through vendors like IBM. If you need assistance, feel free to contact me.

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Just buy a HP DL360/380 G6, it's what about 40% of people worldwide do. Of course I'm only being semi-serious here but it depends how much fun you have wringing your hands over detailed specs, I love it so can spend ages picking the right part, lots of people can't be bothered and that particular model/family is just a 'no-brainer' for lots of different uses.

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Don't bother to build a server from components. You can get new or secondhand servers from the usual suspects (HP, Dell etc.) and from white box vendors building systems based on chassis from Supermicro, Intel or various other vendors. Get an off-the-shelf one - buy secondhand from a reputable dealer if you want to save money. Some hints and tips:

  • Buy your backup system new.

  • You can reasonably consider buying generic RAM. Make sure you get the right type but generic memory will sell for street prices much cheaper than the retail price charged by the server vendor. Most memory is made by a handful of companies - Infineon, Samsung, Micron. Qimoda etc. Often the generic memory is exactly the same component that the vendor was using anyway.

  • If you get a secondhand server consider replacing the fans.

  • You may need to get drives with the vendor's custom BIOS if your server has a proprietary controller such as a HP Smartarray, IBM Serverraid or Dell PERC. Even though the branded RAID controllers are often rebadged parts from Adaptec or LSI they tend to have custom firmware. However, there tends to be a reasonable street market for branded hard drives, so you can often save money by shopping around.

  • You can buy commodity hard drives resonably safely if you have a generic disk controller. Drive and controller vendors will often have documents that list the configurations that they have tested, so you can validate that the drives work with the controller. Get the vendor to flash the drives with the appropriate firmware if the tested configurations involve specific firmware revisions. If the server is a white-box type you need to make sure that you can get the hot-swap trays for the drives at a reasonable price.

    Fibre channel systems (in particular) are notable for being pernickety about drive firmware, but this issue still crops up with SCSI and SAS.

  • Buying top-of-the-range CPUs tends to get expensive very quickly for marginal returns. Unless your process is CPU bound buy at the bottom of the curve before they start getting radically more expensive.

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Consider allocating some of your 10k budget to pay for advice from someone who has built a server before. 10k assumes a reasonably high-traffic site and there are a lot of things you can get wrong at that level.

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In addition to Wayne's excellent point about backup make sure you include a decent service agreement in your budget. Work out what engineer callout time you'll need - 4 hours, 24 hours etc - and how long you'll need it for.

No point having the best server in the world if you have to courier it off to the manufacturer if you get a hardware failure.

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Consider getting a dual-core or even quad-core processor. And lots of RAM. $10k is a lot of money, so you could afford a great server with that. But also, as @BobbyShaftoe said, if you use a database, you should consider putting the database on its own server.

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You want lots of RAM. If you're doing this for your first time, buy something off the shelf from Dell. It's the quickest way to get up and running in a decent manor.

I hope you know software, because it's the major portion of this game.

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