Over the years, we've come across a number of interesting hardware and software components. Some of them we've loved, some of them are worse than watching Initial D sober. As the list of do's and dont's grew, we decided to start listing them on a separate page instead of filling up the header of the server list page.
Due to the international nature of these technical details, this information is provided only in English. Feel free to contact us with any inquiries you may have.
Right here, right now
This part is for recent stuff.
That was fast. We managed to upgrade every i7-9x0 based system to i7-3820/3930K in under half a year, including the testing phase. Last week, we sold off our last i7-950 motherboard. Next, we're doing some major upgrades on several backup systems.
Christmas is finally here! That is to say, our first three Sandy Bridge E based systems have arrived, starting with i7-3930K. Epic testing starts now!
This year has been a hardware disappointment year. We started selling off older servers, mostly i7-860 and i7-920, starting spring this year. We figured that either AMD or Intel would bring something good to the market this year. We figured wrong. Bulldozer was a performance joke and Sandy Bridge E was a rather minor performance gain. On the other hand, the previously tested Sandy Bridge i7-2600 based setups failed due to lack of a suitable motherboard.
However, we have a major lack of hardware on our hands so we ended purchasing a few i7-3930K based setups, and expect to receive them early December. We'll be testing new virtualization setups and of course the usual stability tests before putting them into production use. Let's hope Ivy Bridge comes to the rescue next year.
The second major series of Core i7's has started its testing runs with a few i7-2600 setups. We're hoping the P8P67 EVO from Asus will work as fine as their P6T Deluxe series did. Also, we've stopped buying 2 GB DIMMs as 4 GB models have been priced more reasonably.
A second phase of virtualization testing started on 2010/06. The tests went on for a few months and moved into production in 2010/09 through 2010/10. After a large amount of testing, we found again that Xen was our best choice. Naturally the version was upgraded and changes to the management tools were tweaked as well.
Where it began
The information (and memory) is already a bit sketchy, but our first server was Youzen (youzen.bishounen.st at the time, reverse name pc3.vekoduck.com), originally a Pentium 133 MHz box running behind the desk at Kyuu's home on an unsupported test/development ADSL connection. The first OS used was Red Hat Linux version 6.2. That's something that none of us miss. The lowest end server on the B2 network was the first incarnation of Tamahome, which was an HP Vectra 486dx2-66 with 500+400 MB hard disks. It was actually upgraded step by step eventually into a Core2Quad Q6600, until we realized a virtual server was really all that was needed.
Testing out alternatives
The first production use non-x86 server was Lafiel (PowerMac 9500/200), put to use in 2002, upgraded to PowerMac G3 in 2005. In 2007 it was replaced by a G4 system named Rin. We also tinkered a while with Itanium2 hardware in the form of HP's 1600 and 2600 series Integrity rack servers. They were rock solid, fast, epic and in general quite cool, but didn't leave much room for affordable upgrades or tweaks. The same comments go for a SUN Netra we played around with for a while. Thus we went back to boring x86 and amd64 hardware. We do have a few Alix boxes doing some low power dirty work.
We've also tried out some brand name hardware now and then. In addition to the Apples and HP Integrity pieces mentioned above, there's been an ICL TeamServer, some HP NetServers and a number of HP Vectra and IBM workstations. With some exceptions, we mostly prefer the adventurous, renegade lifestyle that clone hardware brings. Some of us actually like screwing in motherboards on a friday evening.
More bits, more cores, more work
Since around 3Q/2004, 64 bit architechtures, starting with AMD64 were accepted as stable operating platforms. Unfortunately, 64 bit linux distributions lagged a bit behind, so it took almost a year to switch most of the servers to 64 bit operating systems. The first high reliability production server that switched to 64 bit hardware(AMD64) was Zelgadis, upgraded from P4 to AMD64 on 2005/02/22. The first production server to switch to a 64 bit OS was Tamahome, which switched over to Debian-Pure64 on 2005/04/15. During the same year, as more standardized Debian options became available, the upgrade became faster. Unfortunately before this happened, we had tested many not-so-supported 64 bit linux options and it took quite a while to reinstall them from scratch.
Dual core systems came around in mid-2005 and in production, August 5th 2005 for Tsukasa (later Haseo, which was retired as unneeded in 09/2009). We started with Athlon64 X2 models but very soon we found out that while AMD was faster at the time, the chipsets and motherboards just plain sucked. Eventually we started switching to Pentium D and soon after, around Q4/2006 to Core2 Duo, in Q1/2007 to Core2 Quad and in Q2/2009 to Core i7. Too bad for AMD - decent CPU's fail constantly because nobody could make a reliable motherboard (and yes, we've tested dozens of them over the years).
Virtualization tests were started in Q2/2007 and put to minimal testing soon after. We've been using Xen and Linux-vserver. So far, these seem to have worked nicely and larger production use started in late 2007. We've played a bit with Hyper-V and KVM as well, but these haven't been put to production use.
On the OS front, we've tested and haven't missed RHEL, Fedora or Gentoo. We've also played a bit with Ubuntu, but we've ended up preferring Debian for most uses. Some BSD testing has been tried, but there be dragons.
The coming of i7 and internal standards
Core i7 has quickly become the dominant architechture, starting with Youzen on 2009/05 and Lelouch (up to version 3) on 2009/06. First S1156 i7 on Zelgadis 2009/11 though we went back to 1366 soon after. Also during 2009/11, we're retiring the last Q6600 CPU's. In early 2010 we decided to emphasize purchases on a combination we've found to be foolproof: Asus P6T Deluxe V2, i7-9xx CPU, Kingston KVR memory and Nexus RX PSU's. By 2010/11, all servers had switched over to this setup. Most servers are also accompanied by a varied amount of Samsung F3 SATA hard disks.
The good experiences with the P6T based setups have emphasized the usefulness of standards. Instead of buying whatever hardware seems fun at the time, we'll buy certain models of motherboard, CPU series, HDD's and so on. This is most useful when dealing with hardware faults, when a replacement is always nearby.
Physical server numbers are decreasing. This seems like the natural trend to go with. We've dropped another two physical servers between Q4-2009 and Q1-2010. We'll probably go with this amount for now.
Starting 2009/06, all Core2 based dual core CPU's have been switched to quad cores in all production servers. The quad core Q6600 was a long standing classic for us, but the last one was finally retired in 2009/11. The last 775 socket CPU was retired in 2009/10, when we replaced the Q9550 on our co-operated server Athena with an i7-930.
We've also started adding hot swap SATA trays to new servers. With luck, they'll minimize downtime in the future.
This area is all about stuff we use, stuff we like and stuff we don't like.
Stuff we like
Nobody really makes the perfect computer case. However, Compucase has made some real effort with their 6919 series, which unfortunately isn't available anymore. With the 6919, putting pieces in and taking them out is quite effortless and simple. Anything can be changed without hurting your fingers or brains. No wonder we've stocked a dozen or so of these cases into a well guarded location. Chieftec's Bravo series big tower is a nice one too, for someone who wants to shove a lot of hard drives into one case. Right now we're testing out cases from Nexus and can recommend their EDGE model.
A case needs a good PSU. We've found extremely fine products from Corsair's HX series. They're quiet, reliable, very powerful, providing amazing efficiency ratings, with the only downside of being a bit on the expensive side. A nice find was the Nexus Value 430, which is quiet, efficient and cheap enough to provide a very high value for money. Nexus RX models can also be recommended.
A good way to ease maintenance is with hot swap trays. We've used some from Icydock and from Chieftec. Nothing odd in either ones, they do the job.
Motherboards are a pain. In short, only Intel can get a proper recommendation from us. Intel boards are a bit boring and generally lack a large amount of slots, drive connectors and memory support. On the other hand, they're stable, well documented and they always do just the job they promise. As odd as it sounds (especially considering the stuff we don't like), Asrock has some rather usable boards in the very cheap price range. Asus has also gotten better and can actually be recommended nowadays, with the exception of S1156 boards, where they failed massively and we switched to MSI. For S1366, we've got a large pile of Asus P6T Deluxe V2's and they've worked absolutely perfectly, every last one.
Hard drives are also a pain. So far it looks like Samsung is doing a decent job with them, but we've only used them for two-three years. Takes a couple more to see if they become another horror story, joining so many others before them.
For memory, we'll buy Kingston. Haven't been able to break a single one yet. Noting that most other brands tend to break after a bit of component swapping and long term use, that's much said.
On the OS front, we're putting several thumbs up for Debian. Ubuntu is okay too, though it tends to get a bit too bloaty a bit too easily.
Application wise, we're going to have to give this some more thought. By looking at what we run, you can see we get along with stuff like Apache, PHP, MySQL and Exim. Maybe, in time, we'll write something a wee bit more poetic about this stuff. However, it's worth noting that we have rather epic fights about software preferences, especially with workstation applications. Gimp versus Photoshop, Thunderbird versus Outlook and such.
Stuff we don't like
Compucase may make decent cases but their PSU's (branded as HEC) aren't much to talk about. They just don't win in the efficiency/power output competition. They mostly work though, which is nice. Antec PSU's are to be avoided at all costs. Fortron models have also proved to be rather unreliable. A recent unfortunate find were recent (2009-2010) Nexus NX models. Each one we've bought has broken at least once, many of them two-three times during warranty period.
Motherboard makers need to get a grip. Back in the days of stone knives, Abit used to make some nice boards. During the S775 times, MSI made perfect smoke machines (too many DOA's to count) and Asus boards are just mysteries. Even though some work perfectly, others just die.
Seagate once made good hard drives. Maxtor never made good drives. Then Seagate bought Maxtor and now both are just kaboom machines.
Nothing worth noting here - yet?