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I've used HP DL machines at work. I found them to be blazingly fast, but very expensive expensive - up to $15k,

I am curious though, although the spec we typically used (e.g. dual AMD Opteron 2.6GHz, 8 or 16GB RAM) was good - it was not so far of the 'headline' (shop window) specs of many a desktop machine that I have used. For example, I am now using a commodity machine which has 4G RAM, Dual Core Intel 2.8Hz, and cost ~ $400.

However - the DL was clearly much much faster. My reference is compiling a similar code base which on the DL might take a couple of seconds, and on the commodity hardware 10 seconds (assume the machines were doing nothing else, so minimal load factor & ram usage).

So my question is, given similar headline specs (RAM & CPU), what is it about the DL's build and architecture that makes it so much faster than a commodity machine.

Update: the question might be better phrased simply as

"given a set CPU and RAM, what are the other server architecture & component features that significantly influence it's performance?".

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The biggest reason why people like HP can make faster servers is that they build complete servers rather than combining components. By building motherboards with particular memory, CPUs and other devices in mind, they can tweak them for those particular components, rather than having to deal with everything out there, and can drive them at the edges of the specifications. They have significant in-house technical experience on building the best server they can, compared with someone who just uses an off the shell motherboard. They also build them with server usage in mind, so like 3dinfluence commented, they use faster drives.

The reason they are expensive is that they have to cover the cost of the R&D that they do, plus HP DL servers are seriously well designed for data centre usage. The quick fit rails are amazing. In-built lights out management is a godsend. They might be more expensive, but they're worth every penny.

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Thanks, what kind of motherboard tweaks do they typically make to suit particular cpu & memory arrangements? –  Joel Dec 9 '09 at 11:46

Well something that compiles in a couple of seconds vs 10 is hardly a good test.

The main difference is most likely going to be disk subsystem in this case. Your commodity hardware probably has a commodity 7200 rpm SATA drive in it. Where the enterprise class HP DL has multiple enterprise class 10k/15k rpm SCSI or SAS drives in a raid of some sort.

Also how are you defining similar hardware? Unless you also have dual 2.6GHz Opterons in your commodity box then you're really comparing apples to oranges.

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The qualitative compile test is the only one I have, I'm afraid, since I don't have the ability to do side by side comparison anymore. Assume the same processor/ram specs. The general question it about how the other components, other than ram & cpu, and general server architecture influence performance. –  Joel Dec 8 '09 at 15:42
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Well Dual Opteron is hardly commodity hardware. In my experience given the same ram/processor/disk setup servers tend to be slighlty slower than workstations. This is normally due to the different goals in the chipsets for servers and workstations. Where workstation chipsets are optimized for speed server chipsets tend to be optimized for reliability at the expense of a little speed. Another difference is that server hardware tends to have more buses so that expansion cards aren't fighting for bandwidth. –  3dinfluence Dec 8 '09 at 15:48

iLO and reliability.

iLO lets you setup, maintain and fix huge farms of remote servers almost infinitely easier and better than any 'home made' server without similar functionality. Seriously it's that important.

Over the years I've deployed a few thousand HP or Compaq DL-class boxes, I've never seen a single DOA nor a non-PSU-or-disk failure in the several thousand machine-years they've been operating.

I can't be clearer than that, although I'm a 99%-blade guy these days (which aren't as reliable but fix me lots of other problems) I wouldn't hesitate to buy DLs again as they make me sleep better.

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