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so what makes a server a server?


nrf
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posting here since not specific to a single vendor..

 

I see these 'servers' on sale 'cheap', T20, ml2v2, etc. but they do't look anywhere as convenient to work with as the 'microserver' line - lots of work required to put disks in/out, they don't even say anything about ECC memory.

 

very time I see one for $149 or 175 I go through the exercise asking myself why they would put me in a better condition than my current setup... and don't see any clear improvement.

 

so I am wondering what makes a 'server' different from a 'desktop' ? 

Edited by nrf
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Nothing really.  A "server" is actually a network device that "serves" applications and or content to other users or devices on the network.

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Depends on what you need/want. As jmwills points out above a server is more of a function than a piece of hardware. The Dell T20, Lenovo TS140 and HP ML10v2 are all somewhat similar in appearance to desktop PC's. To me, what makes them servers systems is the companies that have manufactured them have certified that they support a defined set of server OS's. They all support/require ECC memory. They all have some flavor of remote access built in, iLo or IPMI. They all have approved RAID controller options. If someone is building a home lab to learn ESXi or a server OS, it is beneficial to have hardware that is approved/certified to work. On the other hand my daughters MineCraft server at home is a HP DC5850 desktop running HyperV with four VM's of MineCraft. It works well, but I know if I have an issue, I am on my own.

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ECC memory is not very prominent in the vendor web sites, but something I consider a requirement for a server. the other things like raid controllers and ILO seem like options on these cheap 'servers'. in general I think kevin's take on the question is pretty reasonable.

 

unfortunately, one has more options in software and peripherals with a desktop OS as opposed to a server OS, for example I recently bought a usb3 gigabit NIC that supported only 2008r2 and 2012 but not 2012R2, But it works fine with 'desktop os' including win10. installing many applications on a server os can be problematic as well. 

Edited by nrf
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  • 2 weeks later...

Schoondoggy's definition pretty much fits mine for definitions of a server.

 

Must haves:

-Support for at least four hard drives that can be easily inserted/removed (though more is better)

-Support for at least a single quad-core processor (doesn't have to *have* it, but must support it)

-Support for hardware virtualization (if not out-of-box then via CPU upgrade)

-Support for at least 16GB ECC memory

-Support for at least two gigabit NIC ports (does not have to be onboard; if it can be added through a PCIe slot this counts)

-Support for an optional hardware RAID controller

-Minimum basic lights-out management (Intel AMT, IPMI of some sort)

 

The T20 is right on the edge.  Dell won't officially support it, but you can stick a PERC H700/H710 RAID controller in and it will work (though drive space is a little cramped).  The Thinkserver TS140 is just a tad more flexible.  You can use the ThinkRAID 700 (basically an LSI 9261-8i with Lenovo firmware; the OEM version will work in the Dell or the Lenovo).  The ML10v2 has the advantage of iLO4 and the advanced key may be purchased, which puts the lights-out management worlds above the other two.  While not officially supported, the P222 and P420 Smart Array controllers should work well and likely inegrate with the iLO4 for monitoring.

 

The downsides are that the cheap builds are missing those benefits you want.  Core i3 CPU, so no virtualization and only two cores.  All three have average drive mounting systems compared to the servers next up in the lines (HP's ML30 Gen9, Microserver Gen8, or ML310e Gen8v2, or Dell's PowerEdge T130).  The T20 and TS140 have only a single NIC unless you upgrade it.  The T20 can't be upgraded to Dell's full iDRAC remote management capabilities; it doesn't even have an iDRAC, just Intel AMT, as does the TS140.

 

In the end, the ML10v2 is the best budget product of the three due to dual NIC ports, more capable drive mounting, and most of all, iLO4.  But if you're a tinkerer, saving a bit more for a higher end configuration, or, getting a closeout deal on a Proliant ML310e Gen8 v2 (at least if you're in the states) does get you more flexibility yet.

 

P.S.  to me, a USB NIC is not a server NIC, ever.  The NIC chip will never have the capabilities of Intel or Broadcom server NICs, throughput is unlikely to be as good, and driver support for a server OS, as you mentioned, is limited.  A USB NIC is strictly a desktop product.

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I use the usb nic as a cheaper-than-quad-nic fourth nic for VMs in the event I am playing with them which is 'in frequent' :)

 

I am not really impressed with the amount of effort those cheap servers require to put the disks in.

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Core i3 CPU, so no virtualization and only two cores.

Pretty much everything supports VT-x hardware virtualization now. VT-d IOMMU support is generally only on Xeons but that is a far more niche feature anyway and most people won't need or want it. The lack of VT-d isn't going to be a killer for a server IMO.

Edited by GotNoTime
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Pretty much everything supports VT-x hardware virtualization now. VT-d IOMMU support is generally only on Xeons but that is a far more niche feature anyway and most people won't need or want it. The lack of VT-d isn't going to be a killer for a server IMO.

 

VT-d is available on i5 and i7 CPUs too, if you choose the right model.  Though to clarify, those aren't shipping configurations in prepackaged servers, which may be what you meant.

 

To me, VT-d depends on what you want to do, but if you're serious about running virtual machines, the ability to do PCI-passthrough of devices can be quite nice.  Also, the requests of people in the forums here who have wanted to pass through a graphics card to a virtual OS has slowly increased too.  While I would rather have a physically separate device for my graphics acceleration needs at this time, that could change as new use cases become available.  For those things, VT-d is a requirement, so it's a good thing to know about.

 

For additional information to everyone on what GotNoTime and I are discussing, here's a basic reference:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X86_virtualization#I.2FO_MMU_virtualization_.28AMD-Vi_and_Intel_VT-d.29

 

And a more in-depth one.

 

https://software.intel.com/en-us/blogs/2009/06/25/understanding-vt-d-intel-virtualization-technology-for-directed-io

 

For those who are running a physical server, and do not ever plan on virtualizing operating systems (e.g., running Microsoft HyperV, VMWare ESXi, Citrix XenServer, and running virtual computers on top), VT-x and VT-d aren't a high priority.  For those that are, VT-x is a must;  VT-d is a maybe, but can be useful if you wish to remap certain physical hardware directly to a virtual machine.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I'd argue the HP machines are the most difficult to work with. Mucking about with SPP, iLO making a hash of cooling, difficult to obtain drivers, difficult to flash firmware. The T20, TS140 et al are basic, and simple to set up for home use. ECC is supported on them, again using commodity parts. I don't understand the HDD fitting argument either, the HP machines need extensive screw driving. All the rest use plastic trays that take seconds to clip a drive in to.

Edited by HSS-Dave
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