I've built an Internet service that's going to handle a few hundred simultaneous users. It'll run smoothly on a grid of VMWare+Windows 2008 servers.

Why can't I use laptops instead of traditional towers and rack-mountable servers for my hardware infrastructure? No one ever does this. I'm sure there's a good reason for it. But what is it? The laptops have the 1gb ethernet, enough ram, enough storage, and enough cpu power to do the job. Is it an overheating issue? Are laptops just not meant to be on for 24/7 under heavy load? What will happen to them under heavy load?

I'd ideally like to stick one laptop next to another, in a vertical fashion, like sliding books into a shelf. Each one would be kept upright using bookends and doorstops. I'd prefer to use something other than bookends and doorstops because each bookend has a duck-head on top of it and the "beak" portion of the bookend would take up too much horizontal room.

The bookend question is secondary though. The real question is: Why can't people effectively use laptops instead of traditional servers in a 24/7 server environment. And if they can… why DON'T they. And if this is feasible, what can I use to stabilize the laptops instead of a bookend/doorstop?

(I have access to a bunch of seized/unused laptops. That's why I ask.)

  • 2
    The cost of the server hardware itself is such a small component of the total cost of ownership (when you obviously don't need heavy CPU horsepower or lots of disk space) that this really makes very little sense. Sep 25 '12 at 23:02
  • 4
    I/O really sucks on laptops. They usually come with a 5400rpm small drive.
    – Zoredache
    Sep 25 '12 at 23:06
  • 11
    Put the laptops on eBay and use the money to buy some real servers. Sep 25 '12 at 23:08
  • 4
    In that case, please post the location of your dumpster. Sep 25 '12 at 23:09
  • 4
    If you do this please let us know the name of your company so that we can all ensure we never deal with it. Sep 25 '12 at 23:15
  • Laptops don't have multiple processors
  • Laptops don't have 192+Gb of RAM
  • Laptop CPUs are often low-power versions (both in terms of watts and processing power)
  • Laptop CPUs often put themselves into low-power mode to conserve battery power
  • Laptops don't have RAID disk systems
  • Laptops don't have Fibre Channel HBAs
  • Laptops don't have mutliple ethernet ports
  • Laptops don't have 10GbE ethernet
  • Laptops don't have hot-swappable components (like disks)
  • Laptops don't have upgradable processors
  • Laptops don't have upgradable RAM (well, some don't)
  • Laptops don't have a 24x7 duty cycle
  • Laptops don't have OOB management
  • Laptops don't have 4hr service contracts
  • Laptops don't have support from software vendors

The list goes on...

  • Laptops don't have TCP Offload
  • Laptops don't have iSCSI offload
  • Laptops don't have fast disks (5200 RPM usually, SSD excepted)
  • Laptops don't have huge disk capacities
  • Laptops don't have particularly good cooling
  • 1
    But... but... Beowulf clusters! (I keed, I keed...)
    – Wesley
    Sep 25 '12 at 23:13
  • @Mark, that's just being picky. We all know that laptops are the most reliable machines ever built and have never had a failure. ;) Sep 25 '12 at 23:16
  • @WesleyDavid - well actually, if you're the likes of Google or AWS then you can afford to have as many SPOF as you like. It's well known Google have really commodity servers. That's because they have millions of them and can route around failures. Sort of like RAID but for entire racks, rather than individial disks :p Sep 25 '12 at 23:18
  • Mac Mini Colo...
    – ewwhite
    Sep 25 '12 at 23:20
  • @ewwhite - it was only a matter of time... as I said, if you build your infrastructure around it you can do this sort of thing, but just look at the number of machines they have Sep 25 '12 at 23:21

The same reason you can't compete in an F1 race using your Hyundai Elantra.

Laptops are designed for limited single-user use. They do not perform well in the place of servers, because servers are designed for resilience, redundancy and continuous operation serving multiple clients.

You're also obviously not looking very closely, because laptops and servers have different types of RAM, CPUs, NICs (etc), and a 3.6 Ghz quad core Xeon is nowhere near the same thing as the quad core CPU in your laptop. (Three guesses which one is more powerful.)

If all you're doing is looking at the raw numbers, I would point out that the engine in my cheap, mass-produced car has a large displacement (bigger number of liters) than an F1 race car... but that doesn't actually tell you anything about which vehicle is faster, does it?)

If you really think your laptops are up to the task, set up a laptop and try to serve up a website (or whatever) to a few dozen or hundred clients at a time. You'll get slow performance and slews of errors, because laptops and laptop components are not designed for it.

  • the site isn't letting me accept your answer with the checkmark. The performance with the laptop(s) is actually great... but I don't have to a way to test them under the load of 100+ users. I'm curious what kind of errors might occur. Perhaps I'll come up with a way to simulate this. Sep 25 '12 at 23:15
  • @ChadDecker No, it's really not. It might be great for single use client-side apps, but will not perform well on server-side apps with multiple users accessing it. Among other problems, you'll run short on I/O metric, memory bandwidth, CPU resources and error correction (or a lack thereof). Sep 25 '12 at 23:20

The real question is: Why can't people effectively use laptops instead of traditional servers in a 24/7 server environment.

  • Because they don't have hot-swap power supplies or hard disks.

  • They don't have user-servicable CPUs.

  • They don't (usually) support more than 1 internal HDD, so RAID is out of the question.

  • They don't have LOM.

  • They don't support ECC/FB memory.

  • They're not on any VMWare or Hyper-V HCL.

Plus, it would be silly.


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