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Build File Server for 40 clients? Recommendations?

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February 28, 2006 5:14:44 PM

I want to build a file server for a non-profit with 40 clients(XP or 2K) installing Windows 2003 Server. It will be file server. It also stores a database using the SQL Server Desktop Engine(MSDE). I want to use hardware RAID 1.

Motherboard recommendations? There is a MSI board on the current server and I have good luck with it. What is the difference between a server board and desktop board with RAID? I don't really think I need dual processors?

CPU recommendations? Intel vs. AMD.

Should motherboard be on Microsoft HCL or whatever they call it now?

How much RAM do I need - probably 2GB? Should it be ECC?

What brand and size of power supply?

I would probably go SATA drive instead of IDE. Any reason not to go SATA?
February 28, 2006 5:38:59 PM

I would go with MSI that runs a AMD Opteron Processor (Made for Servers). 2GB ECC is good, but would not hurt to go more. Power supply would be a Antec, those last forever and about nothing less than 500W.

RAID 1 is great, and SATA drives are faster than IDE. SATA is 150mb/s and IDE is 133mb/s. If you could go SATA II 300mb/s basically. If you can afforad a SCSI then go that way.

correct me if i am wrong, hope this helps
February 28, 2006 6:08:04 PM

The throughput of sata drives are only good if you have the drive speed to go behind it. 15k RPM SCSI drives are faster than 7200rpm SATA 2 drives. Again, the same is true for a 10,000rpm SATA 1 drive is monumentally faster than the previously mentioned SATA 2 drive.
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February 28, 2006 6:09:00 PM

Budget?

server boards normally cost more, but have better ratings for reliability and monitoring.

Depending on how much processing will be done on the server, depends on how much horsepower you will need. I beleive the sql server desktop engine just does processing on the client - you should verify this. if not, then you will be taking some serious cpu hits from 40 clients.

are all 40 clients going to be connected at the same time? or is this the maximum possible?

Depending on budget and on which motherboard you get, SATA or SCISI should work nicely. You can get server quality motherboards with built in scsi controllers.
examples:
http://www.supermicro.com/products/motherboard/P4/E7221...
http://www.supermicro.com/products/motherboard/DualCore...

2GB (or more) of memory will work great, and of course a large power supply to power things
February 28, 2006 7:19:58 PM

Supermicro products are better than tyan, they never breakdown, tyan is still good though. Don't use desktop boards if this is a critical system. Hot swap sata or scsi is also important if this system has to be up 24/7. Get raid edition drives, a couple raid 1's, one for the os, the other for data. Go to techsoup.com and get windows server 2003 for $160 :)  Office can be had for $300 for 45 users too! Make sure to get the proper per device or per user cal's for the server, they're a few bucks each. If it's just serving files 2 gig would be fine unless all 40 users are hitting at the same time, if that's the case make sure you use scsi, it allows more access at a time than sata. Also, redundent power supplies are better than any single unit ( no matter the quality). Supermicro has barebones that fit that bill perfectly.
February 28, 2006 7:26:33 PM

and just FYI, I have one of these boards:
http://www.supermicro.com/products/motherboard/Xeon/860...

built a system around it back in 2001. Its been through 2 cross country moves, several road trips to lan parties, frozen in midwest winters, baked in CA sun, and still runs w/o a hitch.
the only drawback was it cost me $750 brand new (but prices for their boards have since come down).
March 1, 2006 3:27:58 PM

Thanks for info everyone. I will check out Supermicro. I have been using Techsoup for several years. Prices are great.

Michaelahess - I am confused by using two RAID 1's, one for OS and one for Data. I had planned on getting two hard drives, using hardware RAID, and then create an OS partition of 20GB and Data of 100GB. Is this what you mean? Just two drives total.

And I should use ECC memory?

As far as network usage, I need to get a better idea of this. What is the easiest way to determine network usage on the server over a time period? Is there something beside Network Monitor that I should try?

For a decent server I figure I will spend in the region of 1.5 to 2k. Does that sound about right.

Should I be considering Dell or HP?

Thanks again everyone.
March 1, 2006 7:35:01 PM

Here is what I would do - if you are doing a file server, go with a hardware raid-5 setup.

Motherboard TYAN S2865AG2NRF Socket 939 nForce4 Ultra ATX Server Motherboard Price $189.99

CPU MD Opteron 165 Denmark Socket 939 Dual Core Processor Price $328

Memory CORSAIR 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM ECC Registered DDR 400 Price $110 x 2 = $220

Case Lian Li PC-7077B Black Aluminum Server Case Price $199.99

PSU SeaSonic S12-500 ATX12V 500W Price $129

Raid Controller HighPoint RocketRAID 2310 PCI Express x4 SATA II RAID Controller Price $149.99

HD Seagate NL35 ST3250623NS 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache Serial ATA150 Price $135 x 4 = $540

DVD RW Pioneer Black 16X DVD RW Price $38.99

Total Price $1,795.96

If you are willing to spend a little more on your Raid card you could go with the 3Ware (9500S-4LP ~$300). I chose the Seagate NL35 series drive because they come with 16MB cache and score well on multi-user benchmarks (plus they have a 5yr warranty). I built a similar system for a friend - and it is working beautifully.
March 1, 2006 10:23:39 PM

Maybe a cheap rackmount case with hotswap bay is good to run RAID 5
March 1, 2006 11:04:46 PM

ypu will need more ram than i gig
March 1, 2006 11:14:46 PM

Quote:
ypu will need more ram than i gig


read carefully next time - freshmeat said 2x$110
March 1, 2006 11:31:36 PM

OK, as someone with 10+ years experience in 1st/2nd/3rd line server and network support I would offer (in my not-so-humble opinion) these two thoughts:

1) Your clients need BACKUP, no-one has mentioned this yet. This is worrying. Forget the hardware, the most important thing on the server is the data. DVD/RW is not good enough, go with tape

2) Your clients need HARDWARE SUPPORT, a contract, someone to call when the hardware dies and whose butt they can kick if they don't fix it. Buy a server, do not roll your own.

Remember, if you do this you have responsibilities to your client. This is not some teenager who will be unable to play DOOM3 for a few hours/days until you can come 'round and fix his PC. This is a working, non-profit (charity?) business that will practically shut down if this unit fails.

Doubtless you will get replies saying "but you can build one better ,cheaper ....". Your clients do not want better or cheaper. They want 24/7 reliability and support in the rare event that things do go wrong. Unless you are prepared to offer 24/7 support buy a server. Try HP or a lower-end IBM eServer.
March 3, 2006 4:01:32 PM

I do have mixed feelings about buying a complete server or building one. I could probably resolve a problem for less money and faster for one I build than one from HP.

By the way, I do daily tape backups and also backup onto another hard drive on another computer in the building. I am considering discontinuing the tape for an external portable USB drive that I can bring in once per week to backup the 6GB of data. And maybe once per month to do a full backup system and data backup.

I am having discussions with the Executive Director of our non-profit about acceptable downtime.

I think the solution to explore is having two servers replicating. Currently we have only one. And with Active Directory running this is not he best.

Any comments of SCSI versus SATA or SATA 2 for 40 users on a file only server?

Thanks for comments.
March 3, 2006 4:22:57 PM

For speed, in a multi-user environment - SCSI is the fastest, hands down. If cost is an issue - then SATA2 with as much HD cache (16MB) would work better in a multi-user env than either a SATA2 or SATA(150) with 8MB of cache.
March 3, 2006 7:08:40 PM

Ok if you are going to do this yourself-

SCSI is faster, but far more expensive and the speed advantage for SCSI over SATA is not overwhelming , especially when you consider you only have 40 users hitting the drive array and that the data is arriving over (probably, i'm guessing here) a 100mbit/sec network at a total maximum rate of 12.5mbyte/sec (though in the 'real world' this never exceeds 8mb/sec)

For your budget the important thing is to get a RAID card/on-board RAID controller with reliable drives. Personally i would go for a SATA drive with the highest spindle speed and largest cache. These are far more important than whether it is SATA/SATA2. Another consideration is that in multi-user environments seek time is often as important (if not more so) than read/write speed.

don't know if you have seen these, but they are pretty informative and should help you-

http://www.tomshardware.com/2003/11/14/raidcore_unleashes_sata_to_take_out_scsi/

http://www.tomshardware.com/2005/10/31/sata_spells_trouble_for_scsi_raid/
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