Selecting A New Tower Server

It’s that time again when I need to select a new tower server as network capacity has reach close to 80%.  I love and hate this part of infrastructure maintenance, but I’d love it even more if I didn’t have budget constraints.

I love researching the latest and greatest server technologies available for 2018, but at the same time I have to wade through all the marketing and product differentiated pricing to get to the information sweet spot. It takes hours of research to arrive at an informed decision.

What I am looking for is a virtualization server with the following base specifications.

  • 8-16 bay 2.5″ hot swappable bays
  • On-board 2xSD slot for ESXi or FreeNAS
  • DP or QP NIC 1Gbps / 10Gbps
  • RAID Controller with battery backed cache
  • 16GB ECC RAM minimum. 64-128GB ECC recommended
  • CPU with 4 Cores and 8 Threads minimum. 8 Core, 16 Thread recommended
  • ~$2,000 CAD average price
  • Very quiet acoustics.

The above is my base server specifications.  I have two other use cases that I would also love to have a servers for, but is not my aim with this upgrade.

Storage Server: ZFS and RAID storage server. It should have strong virtualization capacity in the form of a good multithreaded CPU and lots of RAM. A value add here would be a Dual Port (DP) 10Gbps NIC, but I would suggest a Quad Port (QP) NIC for efficient virtualization isolation. RAM is very important for a storage server, and is the second most important factor for data storage speed, right after Disk and RAID setup. Select a very good RAID Controller, preferably with battery backed cache. For ZFS, they suggest allowing ZFS to control the disk directly, however I still prefer, when possible a battery backed RAID disk.

A good example of an OEM storage server is a Dell T330 8 bay, 3.5″ or T440 with a 16 bay 2.5″. With 8 or 12TB HDDs or 512GB or 1TB SSDs disks, you can build a very performant tiered storage array.


 

Virtualization Server: Maximize RAM capacity with lots of CPU cores. Passthrough GPU is a bonus. The main focus here is RAM. CPU plays second fiddle to RAM capacity, however buying the best CPU for the price is a very important consideration. Keeping the price under $5,000 is hard, and buying RAM from NewEgg or NCIX will save you 50%. I usually do not like to configure dual socket systems because of the increased cost of licensing software and buying in double when upgrading RAM.  However, if you want to maximize RAM capacity, dual socket is the way to go.

T330 and T430 are good options, however choose a dual socket T630 here. With an option for 18 3.5″ bays, you can pretty much dedicate a hard drive to each virtual machine.

An example of a good CPU is an 85 watt, E5-2630 v4, 2.2GHz, 10 Cores and 20 Threads.  With 8 DIMMS per CPU and 32GB DIMMS you are looking at framing up to 512GB of RAM in this server.  For infrastructure virtualization I suggest 128GB of RAM as ideal.

Some do-it-youselfers may look at OEM parts like the Gigabyte MW50-SV0. It has onboard mSATA and vertical USB 3.0 for FreeNAS or ESXi boot disks, 8x DIMM slots and 13x SATAIII connectors.

GPU Server: Maximum GPU density for crypto mining requires lots of PCIe lots. GPU servers do not have to include a Xeon CPU or ECC RAM, just lots of PCIe slots and when possible liquid cooling.

The average cost of the above servers from Dell are about $2-3,000 CAD working out to between $60-110/month lease for three years. For those with cash on hand and a do it yourself attitude, you may spend a little less initially. The downside is having to deal with build issues, like enclosures and software drivers yourself.

I liked some of these systems builds below and I tried to provide alternative OEMs when possible. If you are wondering why I am exclusively looking at tower servers and not rack or blade servers, it has to do with acoustics. Right now, my Dell T320 under load runs quieter than my Dell Aurora. For almost 3 years, my T320 sat beside me in my “office”, which was in our main living area and nobody noticed. There is no way to go a rack setup after that.

 

Dell

Dell PowerEdge T330

Dell PowerEdge T430

Dell PowerEdge T630 / New T640

DIY

Gigabyte MW50-SV0

Lenovo

ThinkServer TD350

System x3500 M5

HPE

ProLiant ML350 Gen10

ProLian ML150 Gen9

GPU Board max PCIe

Asrock H110 Pro BTC+ 13GPU Mining Motherboard

ASUS B250 Mining Expert

 

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