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Low end "server" thoughts

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December 7, 2011 12:29:21 PM

I run a small voip system in an industrial processing site, and I am replacing a pair of old servers with a new pair, and I'm looking for thoughts on how to improve longevity. The site is TOTALLY inaccessible, and the budget is small, so it makes this fun...

The server will
-- be serving a small voip server, 20 calls maximum. To put this in perspective, my droid phone can almost pull this off. an old Celeron can pull it off but its close. Brute processing isn't overly critical
-- Will also run small sql queries and serve the occasional web page for a VOIP management tool, again, very small load, but now i need more than one core/thread etc
-- Operate in a murderously bad environment. Its damp, cold, hot, kicked, slammed, rocked, people stack things on top of the cooling vents, the power goes from 100V to 130V routinely, and occasionally gets outside of those limits. The power goes out, and they will be on the same grid as (no joke) several 500HP inductive electric motors, and although technically "isolated" with transformers and starters etc, when those motors spin up its a pretty violent moment in the electrical grid in the plant. The available support on the ship are people who can swap cables and hit power buttons, but beyond that its all remote access.

Now, before you start thinking "hahahaa right!" note that it can be done, I actually got an old gateway desktop to survive for 5 years by putting a decent power supply in. That said, i also recently put a core i3 out there, and it survived 4 months before cracking.

My plan so far is to buy a pair (redundancy has served me better than quality) of cheapo rigs out there with a isolating battery backup in (to stomp out those power fluctuations) where one is the server, and one is the failover.

The two systems i have an eye on are:
- G620 + 4gb OCZ/Kingston (other recs welcome) + 500 GB caviar black + ??? motherboard + 750W Corsair PS
or:
- AMD X3 + 4gb + 500 gb caviar + ??? MB + 750W Corsair PS

and for either system:
- enough cooling fans to keep a nuclear reactor safe under full meltdown

Does anyone out there have thoughts no which of these are likely to have a better life span under duress? Thoughts on which of these combos will have better interrupt handling (VOIP doesn't like interrupts being fired in between 20 ms packets)? any recommendations (or "don't buy" recommendations) for motherboards? Given the approximately $1,200 budget, i think redundancy and a ton of cooling is at least a good start, but I thought I'd ask the other people who spend far too much time thinking about this what they think. I'm open to other processor/mb combo's, i even considered staying with Socket 775, since its been pretty darned stable for me for a very long time. These two just seem like the best bang for my buck given the circumstances. I think i can build both systems for about $350 each, add in a $200 battery backup, and have $300 to spend on an army of case fans.

So, let me know how far off (or on i suppose) base I am. Thanks!
December 7, 2011 1:10:17 PM

Have you thought about using nettops or similar.
Nettops can stand a fair amount of heat (well in my experience), have a low power draw and are cheap.
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December 7, 2011 1:28:16 PM

joedastudd said:
Have you thought about using nettops or similar.
Nettops can stand a fair amount of heat (well in my experience), have a low power draw and are cheap.


Actually, I have considered them, but I have never tried loading an asterisk server with them. Asterisk is blinking sensitive to timing, so you don't need a lot of compute power, but you need a lot of excess compute power because if its boggled for even 5 to 6 ms, the thing gets jittery... I'll look around and see how people of done with Atom for Asterisk applications, that could be a pretty smooth answer. From a quick price check, looks like I could save a good chunk of change with that too. Thanks!
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December 7, 2011 1:37:17 PM

I would go with the G620 and use the integrated graphics on the processor.

The G620 will use very little power(35W) so heat won't be much of a concern.

How much space do you need for the install? If these servers are going to be vibrating or moved(pretty much what you've stated), I would suggest an SSD over a hard drive as long as you don't need tons of space; SSD's are much more shock resistant than hard drives and being faster will be a plus. The price per GB is quite a bit higher though.

For a low power build like this, you won't need a 750W power supply. These servers will use under 100W, so a 300-400W(maybe even slightly less if you can find one from a reputable company) Good Quality power supply should do.

A mobo with a H61/H67 chipset will be the lowest cost, and it will last just as well as any other motherboard.
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December 8, 2011 12:12:53 AM

Thanks for the reply, I think what i'm going to do is go with the G620 this year, and if i have a little money left over, go pick up one of these Nettops to test for next year, as that could be a nifty solution. My concern with SSD's is that its my understanding that when written to constantly (these drives will pick up about 3,000 to 10,000 writes per hour for logging etc) they have pretty bad lifespans. Is that not the case and I'm just that old, or is that something i should think about? I've always just used raid, and so far, really crummy power and heat have been my worst enemies, my drives have, so far, done pretty well.

Thanks for both replies, appreciate the input!
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December 8, 2011 12:56:28 AM

If space is not an issue, you could try a Dell 2600 tower server with a single or dual XEON 3ghz processor. And oldie but sturdy piece of hardware. The SCSI SCA drives are pricey but you could always engineer some SATA drives into it with a RAID card and a hack saw :)  They have good power supplies and good voltage regulators in them and can pump plenty of data.

If you want to home build, go with a lower wattage PSU. 350w will be more than plenty for your server (you can probably get away with 250w in all honesty) and spend the bucks you save on smaller capacity on a high end PSU like a PC Power and Cooling or a Seasonic.

All that aside, I recommend looking into a power conditioner from Tripp Lite or another company and put one before your battery backup and between the backup and whatever server you end up with. This should help you in the longevity department.

A client of mine ran a top end Sparkle gaming PSU in his tire shop, in the repair bay, in Georgia heat and humidity, for 10 years before it died. We couldn't find new capacitors for it affordably, nothing else was wrong with it.

My sister runs a PC Power and Cooling PSU in a now 10 year old AMD PC in Brooklyn in a 150 year old brownstone with original wiring (cloth wrapped) and no AC. She used to eat a PSU each year until she replaced it with a good one and added a power conditioning unit between it and the outlet. 5 years and counting...

Neither are as extreme as your environment, but not ideal either.
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December 9, 2011 12:05:35 AM

SSD's if written to full blast could die quickly, but even the 3,000 writes per cell(this is a minimum per cell of an SSD) to an SSD will last awhile.

Let's say you do 10,000 writes per hour constantly and each write is an average 64KB.

That's ~640MB/Hour.

The endurance of these SSD's is max capacity*write cycles per cell. Let's say you get a 80GB drive that you write to like this.

80GB(capacity)*3,000(write endurance per cell)/.64GB(amount of data written per hour)= .375 million hours

Translate hours into days:

375,000/24= 156,250 days

Days into years:

156,250/365= 428 years

Solid state is great for being so much more resistant than Hard drives in everything except write endurance while also being faster. As long as you don't do too much writing, the solid state drive will last for years upon years; most likely even beyond a hard drive by several years even in an ideal environment for a hard drive.
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December 9, 2011 1:53:58 AM

Thanks Haserath, that is a good way to look at that. You're right, especially since log files don't tend to rewrite the same cell over and over. Usually you fill up the log files/db etc for a while, dump them to somewhere else, clear them, and repeat. That really should outlast the next weakest link in the system.

It had not occurred to me to try to actually solve this thing with math. My one concern is that MySQL might write and rewrite the same sector hard... but, I can just make a ram partition with 1 BG (plenty of room if backing up and dumping regularly) and use that for the writes, and then do an hourly diff to a text file on the SSD. I can tolerate an hour of lost data if the power goes out, I can't tolerate "oh darn, its busted, i have to fly to the middle of the bering sea to replace it".

I've settled on the G620, 3 120mm fans, 1 90mm, plus cpu fan, 400W Corsair, a Gigabyte MB that looks like it has 3 decent phases and good mosfets (had to do it by picture, but it will have to work due to geographic constraints), 4 Gig corsair memory (too much, but whatever, its cheap), and 80GB SSD. I'm going to put it all behind a APC and maybe a line conditioner. I figure that way a voltage spike has to 2 extra pieces of gear before it hits the computer, and there's only so much you can do. more or less just buffer. I broke the budget a little, but not badly.

Thanks to everyone for the input, very informative! I had a notion that this was the place to ask. If you hear back from me in the next year, something went wrong :) 
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December 16, 2011 12:18:01 PM

Best answer selected by jester_.
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