What Makes a Good Server Computer?

A computer geek s guide to building a 64-bit server on a budget

The ethernet must be gigabit capable,

AND offer redundancy. Server boards have to NIC's, usually gigabit but not always. In older servers anyway.


there must be a RAID controller for the RAID config you want with a good reporting software (unless you get a separate RAID controller),

Enterprise servers always have seperate RAID controllers. SMB (Small and Medium Business) servers can get by with ROMB (RAID On MOtherboard) but, most extensive firms use add-in controllers to allow preservation of data in unexpected scenarios*. These are sometimes called or have ROC(RAID On Chip) (*Power failure: Raid controllers have backup-battery. Auto-write complete, and similar features)

2. RAID Controller: see above. This component is needed if the motherboard doesn't have a RAID controller. It should have a good software that can monitor the integrity of all drives and send email reports. My question in this area is: are there any advantages to using a dedicated RAID controller? Also, what features should one look for to achieve maximum transfer speeds? Newegg does not list the speed of each controller.

There is a MASSIVE benefit to using dedicated RAID controllers. ROMB is processed on the motherboard, where everything else is also being processed/transmitted thus, ROMB is MUCH slower than dedicated controllers. Dedicated controllers are also MUCH more reliable because they are ONLY a controller. If a motherboard has a problem, you lose your entire array on a ROMB setup whereas, if your dedicated controller faults, it may break the array but this is usually correctable by implementing an exact match dedicated controller and telling it what is what. (Not often done as controllers are fairly stable units. MUCH less likely to fail than a motherboard)

3. Memory: 4GB for W7 should be sufficient. I have not found a good way to test memory usage on the system to determine whether more memory is needed. The native W7 memory usage tracker is not accurate because it modifies memory usage based on what you have already available. A server for a dozen or so computers should not need much more than 4GB RAM.

Unlike your Windows 7 machine that has the processor throughput most of the data, a server pushes most stuff through the RAM to allow the client (the user asking for said file) to receive the file faster. This is why servers require 'special' RAM. The RAM in your PC's is 'cheap' RAM. It can have faults, inconsistencies, and errors. In a server, the RAM is Buffered and ECC to allow it to be out of the way. It basically doesn't have flaws which is what allows simultaneous requests at once. It can comprehend it because there is nothing in it's way. (Such as slow chips, "dirty" paths, etc..) This is a very simply way to took at it but, I hope it illustrates it's purpose.

Also, I wouldn't use anything less than 8GB of RAM in a Windows '03 or '08 server. Again, RAM is more important than nearly any other single component in the server, whereas your consumer desktop PC has it's processor and chipset.

I will continue later with this elaboration. Thank you for posting

4. Hard Drive: This is another difficult area. I think the best approach to this is speed. The fastest networks for regular use are the gigabit networks. They provide 1Gbps max speed, which is equivalent to 128 MB/s. However, many people don't come anywhere near this speed because they don't realize that to achieve these speeds you need ALL your endpoints to be gigabit compliant and you need an HD that can actually support that speed. So how do we select the right HD? It is almost impossible to look at the RPM or the cache size and determine the speed of the drive. Real testing is required (one such tool is HD Tune). There are also online test databases, such as this one or this. A quick look at the results shows that unless you get a Velociraptor (10000RPM), which is expensive at $150 for just 300GB, you're not going to approach 128MB/s. WD Caviar Black is more reasonable at $85 for 1TB and the speed is at ~110MB/s for both writing and reading. Given WDs reliability, I think Caviar Black would serve well for high performance servers. Of course, if you're trying to save energy or keep the system heat down, then you might want to sacrifice performance and go for the Blue or Green drives.

This leads into the RAID discussion. Another way to increase HD performance while safeguarding data is to arrange the right RAID configuration. For best performance and redundancy RAID 0+1 or RAID 10 (aka, RAID 1+0) are recommended. This is the fastest RAID configuration (excluding RAID 0, which has twice the write speed of RAID10, in theory). All other RAID configurations suffer a speed loss compared to non-RAID setups. The downside is that this is costly. RAID 10 uses a minimum of 4 HDs and only half of those have a usable space. If you have 4x1TB HDs, only 2TB will be available for storage. Some recommend using RAID 5 if cost is an issue, but that has it's own issues. If you don't care about performance, RAID 1 is another alternative. Theoretically, RAID10 should increase the read and write speeds by 4 and 2 times, respectively. This means that if you get that 110MB/s Caviar Black, you will max out the speed provided by your gigabit LAN since your read and write speeds for RAID 10 will be 440MB/s by 220MB/s, in theory. I would appreciate if someone with real data can confirm this performance prediction.

Cables: If you are using anything less than Cat.5 ethernet cable, you are not going to be able to take full advantage of the gigabit network. In fact, it is strongly recommended to use Cat.6 cable as it is specifically certified for gigabit networks and transfers data better with less errors.

Security: How sensitive is the data on the server? To secure data, entire hard drives should be encrypted with bitlocker, which is available only in W7 Ultimate and Enterprise editions (or Server 2008 R2). All computers trying to access the server must also have the Ultimate edition. Note that some time ago Passware came up with a method to quickly decrypt Bitlocker, Truecrypt, and other security solutions by reading the encryption key from the RAM. This is why the operating system must also be encrypted as it will encrypt the boot and hibernation files and make the system resistant to RAM attacks. It is impossible to encrypt the RAM itself and the only way to clean the RAM is to reboot the computer (disable quick reboot or quick memory test). Note: If you don't want to use a USB key with bitlocker, you have to get a motherboard that supports TPM.

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