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Need Advice on Building a Small Business Server

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December 4, 2009 6:26:46 PM

Hello, I am planning on ordering a server ASAP for my family's company. The original proposal by the management office was a Dell Server which came out to $2300 and I figured for that money I can make something much better. The dell server had an Intel Xeon X3300 --- x1, 4GB DDR2, and 2 hard drive, the rest of the info is not really needed.

I was planning on putting together a new system, with a requirement of only Windows Server 2008 32 bit. I Am planing on using my old desktop case and maybe some of its components which are not being used. My old desktop case had excellent ventilation thats why I am thinking of using it and saving money, and I can also use the CD drives and my 700W or 1000W power supply I don't remember exactly which one I have but its up there. This would be my first time building a server, I came here to confirm reliability, these are my list of parts I am thinking of choosing from Newegg.com

ASUS Z8NA-D6 (ASMB4-IKVM) Dual LGA 1366 Intel 5500 ATX Dual Intel Xeon 5500 Series Server Motherboard - Retail

Intel Xeon E5520 Nehalem 2.26GHz LGA 1366 80W Quad-Core Server Processor Model BX80602E5520 - Retail ---- x2

CORSAIR DOMINATOR 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TR3X6G1600C8D - Retail

Western Digital Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive ---- x2 (Set up to mirror RAID)

I was gonna use my old case, power supply and CD/DVD drives and I have a copy of Windows Server 2008.

What do you think of this setup... I need to know as soon as possible. Thank you in advance
December 4, 2009 8:48:03 PM

I build my own systems at home, but for business I always buy HP or Dell business systems. The main reason is the warranty. I dont want to put a business in a position where their system is down and they have to wait for me to get back from vacation to get help. The warranties give a business the assurance that regardless of your status, they will be back up and running in a reasonable amount of time and expense. To me that is too valuable to not spend the extra money for a business server with the warranty.

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December 4, 2009 9:18:14 PM

Is the tech support actually good though. Because I never have good experience with tech support, I usually rely on myself to get things fixed because I find that tech support walks me through the dumbest things like:

did you restart your computer sir?, did you restart your router? did you put sand in the CD drive?

Yet maybe the server and business departments are OK, never dealt with them... have you?
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December 4, 2009 11:33:19 PM

To begin, what is the purpose of this server?

Windows 2008 32bit and ram over 4GB is a complete waste. Second, dual-Xeons need an even amount of ram for each cpu. If you need dual-Xeons, then you need to use a 64 bit OS. Microsoft allows people with 32bit versions of Vista and 7 to get 64bit versions for $10 so I would look into that for Server 2008. Depending on the server's purpose, you might even be able to use 7 Pro x64.

Furthermore, most desktop cases can't support a dual-CPU motherboard since they are larger than regular (ATX) boards and require different standoffs.
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December 4, 2009 11:44:33 PM

I probably do not need that much power. The main purpose of the server will be to run a Property Management software by Skyline. Eventually I might add exchange to it, an email server, a web server and possibly an FTP server. The software for the Property Management is 32 bit only, therefore the people getting the software told me to get a 32bit Windows 2008 because thats what it is compatible with. It totally slipped my head about the 32 bit and 4GB of RAM because I am so use to building 64bit systems.
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December 5, 2009 1:04:03 AM

Most 32bit software works on 64bit OS's so it might work. I will add more later. Do you have a link to the software? Is this it: http://www.ssctech.com/realestate/skyline/?V=8&P=1

I couldn't find any technical details on the software.

I think you should be able to download a trial of Server 2008 x64 so you can try the software on it.

I used to work for a PM company and we used Promas (sp?) and I setup their IT so I might be able to offer some insight.

With Promas, we had a server with all the data on it and each PC had Promas on it and it pointed to the server. I assume Skyline is similar, so, how many people access the data every day? Does anyone use Remote Desktop or similar software to remotely access the Skyline software?

If you will add Exchange, Email, Web and FTP servers, than you really must use x64 at a minimum. I would also use virtualization for the FTP, Web and Exchange servers and maybe for the email server as well. With virtualization, you can greatly minimize the risk of attacks associated with web and email servers as each server runs within its own OS.

I just checked and you can download Server 2008 R2 (which is x64 only) and use the license key from the 32bit version to activate it.
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December 5, 2009 11:26:34 AM

Like stated, a x64 version is a much better idea.

I would not put all those applications (property management software, exchange, etc) all on one box - single point of failure. If you are looking at that kind of setup - a pretty beefy box, you may want to think about virtualizing and building a few boxes (there are free versions of virtual software out there).
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December 6, 2009 4:37:52 PM

Well turns out I ordered my beefy setup because due to all the spare parts I had, it was worth the money it worked out to cheper than having to rack mounts and buying a rack. I did mention to get a rack setup and have a ethernet switch rack and possibly 2 1U mounted systems with core 2 duos and 4 gigs of ram. I could build them for about 700 each on new egg which sounded like a better idea to me, but they just told me when the time comes and we really expand and need more redundancy, well just goto that kind of system.

For now ill have a really powerful server with a raid setup and online back. Thats what they originally wanted I just beefed up the power and cut the costs by building it myself and using spare parts I have. Im sure this system will have enough power to even be converted to a mini workstation years from now lol.

1 more question that I was thinking about. If I do end up doing multiple servers in the future does that mean I have do drop like $800 for Windows alone for each one. I guess I could always do a linux setup for web email and ftp, but I wouldnt be able to set it up to have each machine back each other up if I used different operating systems...
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December 6, 2009 4:43:10 PM

So, did you actually want our advice?
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December 6, 2009 4:50:18 PM

I did want your advice it gave me a lot of ideas, its just that in my situation it worked out better like this for the moment. I still need to know about licensing multiple servers...
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December 6, 2009 5:31:42 PM

First off, you should never use a spare PSU for a business server unless its never been used.

If you have the OS and data on only a pair of drives in Raid 1, this is definitely not recommended for a server.

I would never trust only an online backup. If something goes wrong, it will take several days to get that online data. Which online service are you using?

Did you get more ram?

A dual-Xeon system is way overkill for just a PM database. Using rack servers is totally not needed later on as virtualization allows you to run multiple servers on just a single server but you need a real Raid setup.

About Windows Server, you probably never needed Server 08 to begin with and could use 7 Pro x64 just fine. Just because something is a 'server' doesn't mean it needs a 'server' OS.

Plus, you obviously are not experienced using servers and a server OS, and learning to use one thats part of a business will hurt that business. I have a friend who has a very fast dual-Xeon system for video production. He just installed a simple Raid controller, and has lost over a days worth of time trying to make everything work because he is not very experienced with server hardware. This is also the reason dndhatcher said to buy from HP or Dell since you can get 24/7 support from them. I knew a guy who was a very experienced IT admin in charge of a real estate company's entire infrastructure. He had a very minor problem with the email server that required paying a huge fee and calling MS because everyone else he called didn't know the answer. And their email was down for 6hrs during business hours.

Even though its not my line of work anymore, I still do IT work on the side, including setting up small business' IT. If they need a server OS, I call Dell. I am very comfortable fixing XP, Vista and 7 and know I can do it quickly. I can setup and fix Server 08 but it takes me longer as I'm not very experienced with it. Plus, Dell has a Pro Support available which includes software and technical how-to support on top of extended hardware support.

Thats all I have.

Good luck.
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December 6, 2009 6:11:29 PM

Ok first off I really appreciate your help and advice, the situation is a bit complicated. I am still a student and I get involved in the business whenever I can, that's where I will be in a year from now. The new management team bought their own IT people to the table and they gave the company a proposal for the Servers, Clients, and Software. I sat down with them and discussed.

The server they originally had designed had enough power (they wanted to make a server to last a few years) it was a Server Tower from Dell with a single socket Intel Xeon and 4GB of DDR2 ram and cost $2300. I though to myself I can probably make something more powerful for the money that will have DDR3 which should be a bit more "future proof" if that is ever really possible with computers. The outcome, I put together a system much more powerful for less that $1500. We concluded we will buy the hardware, they will buy the software, and they will set up everything(ill probably help, to get some experience).

They specifically asked me to get Windows Server 2008 because that is the only thing the management software supports, and the client computer is only supported by Windows XP, and they also specified a 32 bit operating system. I do know that almost all, if not all 32 bit software will run in a 64 bit environment, its no problem switching that up so I got 4GB for now if we go 32bit, if we plan to go 64 which I hope we can, ill upgrade the ram.

Symantec Back Up was in the proposal and I totally agree with you I wasn't to fond of it. Downtime now is not as big a deal if it happens, losing data is a huge problem though.

Are you recommending I buy a hardware RAID controller?
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December 6, 2009 6:22:11 PM

^Well if that is the case, I would go with a custom build, MAINLY because you want it to last a few years.

My recommendations:
1. YES DO buy a hardware RAID controller. Set up a RAID 5 (needs 3x HDDs) system for best performance and redundancy.

2. DO get ECC RAM. NOT the normal Desktop RAM. This will prevent most/all possible data corruptions due to RAM.

3. Which Server? Server 2008 R2 or just Server 2008? I run Server 2008 R2 in my workstation and it's quite a bit less intensive on the resources (mainly RAM). For R2, normal RAM usage is ~750-800MB where as in Server 08 (non R2), it's 1.2-2.5GB.

4. DO SETUP a good BACKUP program/schedule. I highly recommend 3rd party online back up system. Also, tape or some other format of back up available for consideration?
Read some online back up service reviews such as this: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2343852,00.asp
I use DropBox and I pay $10 monthly for 50GB. Call me paranoid, but I have at least 5 back ups (one on HDD, one on USB HDD, one on DVD, one on NAS, one on of DropBox) my most important files. Much better than to loose those files, each with hours of work.
Reviews: http://www.pcmag.com/category2/0,2806,4798,00.asp
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December 6, 2009 7:13:53 PM

Thank you for the reply.

I did get ECC server ram: Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Unbuffered DDR3 1333 Server Memory Model KVR1333D3E9SK2/4G - Retail
If i do virtualization and go 64 ill probly get two more orders of these.

I just read up on RAID 5, never used it, I only used a software setup of RAID 10 just to play around on my desktop a few years back, RAID 5 looks very promising though thanks for pointing that out.

As far as hardware RAID controllers go, I have never dealt with them and I see they range from $30 to $1000's of dollars :o  . By the way the hard drive I ordered is the Western Digital Caviar Blue(they claim its there most reliable hard drive), I never had good times with Seagate I have had many of them go on me.

I used to use dropbox on my Linux desktop now I just use Ubuntu One same thing really, ill look into different backup services as well, one of the reasons I am assuming they chose Symantec is because thats what Dell offers.

As far as the OS goes. I can get Windows Server 2008 Enterprise and Standard (non R2), I can also get Windows Server 2003 R2 but I would have to check with the management team if the software is compatible on that too.
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December 6, 2009 7:36:04 PM

I have to agree, when it comes to a business server, set them up with a Dell, out here HP isn't really anything special. The service is really good. Keep the builds for workstations and home computers so you're not responsible to make it work when your out of town.
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December 6, 2009 8:27:23 PM

Online backup: at least you aren't using Carbonite. Their "Unlimited" plan is a lie.
The best is Amazon's S2. They will even accept a hard drive for the initial backup (and subsequent backups if needed). One aspect that greatly varies in online backup is having access to specific files. Some only allow access to the entire backup so you must restore the entire thing before accessing certain files.

Do you have regular onsite backup?

EMC and Acronis make great backup software for servers and enterprises. I wouldn't trust Symantec (their consumer class software is a joke). The only reason Dell offers them is because they have a contract.

You really don't need a server OS for just the PM software. If you can, either return it or upgrade to x64, which I'm fairly certain you can do.

The Caviar Blue is WD's slowest drive and comes with a much shorter warranty. For software/onboard Raid, you really need Seagate, Samsung Raid edition or WD Blacks due to each of those drives not 'timing' out during a read or write. The WD Black requires it be set using some special software. Read about WDTLER. I have personally experienced this with WD drives and losing data on a Raid 0 twice and causing a rebuild on a Raid 5 once.

Raid 5 via the built in ICH10R is EXTREMELY slow and unreliable.(I'm not yelling but trying to get a point across) You would be far better off using Raid 10 for several reasons. Furthermore, you should really separate the OS drives from the data drives because of the way the Intel Raid works. A simple power outage or BSOD can cause the Intel software to rebuild and verify any array part of the OS. Its happened to me several times when I had 4 Raptors in Raid 10 for the OS. With 4 Raptors, it would generally take an hour or so but they are much faster than regular drives and only 80GB of data to check. If I haven't convinced you NOT to use Raid 5, let me know because I can add a lot more reasons.

Why can't you get and use Win 7 Pro?
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December 6, 2009 9:07:23 PM

Quote:
Raid 5 via the built in ICH10R is EXTREMELY slow and unreliable.

Yes, but that's the BUILT in RAID5. If you run RAID5 on a pretty high end($350 and up usually) Supermicro, HighPoint,Promise, or Adaptech you'll find that RAID5 works pretty well.

Here's a review of the older RockerRaid 4320: http://www.overclockersonline.net/?page=articles&num=26...

The Intel ICHxR are never built/meant to handle RAID5 well.
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