Universal Server Hardware Platform – Which To Choose?

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The problem with supermicro is that the end user assembles them; If you use ESD protection, this is fine. If you dont? go buy a dell or something.

The big problem is that many of the smaller assembly houses also don’t believe ESD is a big deal. If there is carpet on the workshop floor? run. If you see techs working without a wrist strap? walk.

I’ve assembled hundreds of supermicro servers with and without ESD protection, and the behavior is fairly reproducable. Yeah, the problems don’t always show up right away? but they come.

I remember when I first figured this out; we had been having about 1 in 3 of our supermicro servers not pass burn-in. Then, in production, we’d lose things like RAID cards and ethernet ports all the time. I’d spend days swapping out parts and RMAing stuff, just to get one server built. I mean, I didn’t really believe that the factory was sending me broken shit, and there was noticable static in the office. (I always ‘took the power supply pledge’ before touching anything) Anyhow, I read a study by adaptec (we were using adaptec hardware raid in everything, and they were failing like crazy) saying that nearly all customer RMAs, upon inspection, were due to esd damage.

Well, the boss ended up ordering something like 70 servers (rather than the three every two weeks he was ordering before) – I talked him into letting me blow $200 on ESD protection, just to see if that was the problem, and instead of having 1 out of 3 die as before? all of them passed burn-in on the first try.

Properly assembled supermicro kit (both AMD and Intel) is just as good as the dell stuff. I have one server that’s been chugging away for something like ten years now. (I need to get rid of it; Dual socket 604 xeons. It’s a space heater, and it doesn’t get me much by way of compute power. I’ve got all customers off of it, but my own personal vps? I haven’t had time.)

But yeah, you’ve gotta get someone to assemble it that gives a shit. I mean, me? I know that it’s my pager that is going off at 4am if something breaks. It’s me that’s going to have to fumble around with spares. I give a shit.

As it is, I’d rather assemble my own servers, than trust someone for whom a down hardware is not that big of a deal to assemble my stuff.

Assembling a superserver, if you don’t fuck it up, takes about five minutes. Burn in is trivial when they pass… and when they don’t pass, which is extremely rare, I know I screwed something up.

On the other hand… I have a very low opinion of dell support (granted, I’m pretty hard to please in that department.) but from what I’ve seen? all the big names ship okay stuff from the factory. They have proper esd precautions in the factory. So yeah; if you aren’t willing to go with the table mat, the wrist strap, and the monitor, well, order the server from dell and don’t open it.

2 thoughts on - Universal Server Hardware Platform – Which To Choose?

  • well, the SM kit I’ve bought was built and integrated by a major name systems integrator. they were sold as complete solutions under this vendors’ label, and supported by said vendor.

    really, I’d say its all in the VAR and your service contract with them.
    very few VARs do the level of systems testing that HP or IBM or Dell or whatever do… If you really really want to be your own systems integrator, then do extensive burnin on new systems, and stock spare parts.

  • I agree. Except that you don’t need to do all, or even most of the work that a systems integrator does. For me, the hard part of being a systems integrator is the sales and negotiation bullshit. That’s why
    I don’t build systems for other people. On top of that, you have to deal with your customers opening them up, without ESD protection,
    and adding garbage, or customers blaming OS bugs on you. If you only build for yourself, you don’t have to worry about that sort of thing.

    I mean,you still have to figure out if it’s hardware or the OS, but at least you get to choose the OS.

    But yes. stock spares. I try to make sure I always have one server
    (minus disks) ready to go; If I get a hardware problem (I can usually tell remotely) I put it in the van before I head down to the data center; If I can’t figure things out quickly on-site,
    I take the hard drives out of the bad hardware, put them in the spare box, boot, and go. (Of course, I also have spares of other parts;
    but if something in production is down, you don’t want to sit there farting around trying to figure out which DIMM is bad while the pager is exploding. Swap the whole thing and screw with it back at the shop after you have cleaned up the support queue.)

    (if you use hardware raid, this becomes… more complicated. Test your procedure first.)

    the best possible negotiation, when you buy whole servers? is often
    50% of the total price. Sometimes more. When buying parts? it’s 5%,
    if that. (we’re talking in the 1-5 server quantity here. I’m sure things change if you are buying hundreds or thousands at once and you are saavy. I’ve never seen a saavy entity negotiate for hundreds or thousands of servers or parts for same.)

    That, and to negotiate well, you need to have all of the knowledge you’d need to buy the parts to build your own server. Either way,
    unless you are prepared to just pay full price, you need to keep up with hardware and the relitive costs.

    Heck, I’ll do all the assembly and burn in work, and keep spares around, just to avoid the negotiation bullshit. For me? it’s far easier.
    And if you ask me? dealing with broken hardware is downright relaxing compared with trying to convince some goddamn monkey that the reboot that happened last night was really a hardware issue, and yes, it came back up, but it still needs to get fixed. “But it works now, right?”
    (sorry… I just remember some extremely frustrating experiences dealing with dell’s verson of Mordak. And I was getting paid by the hour, so if corporations had feelings, the company hiring me would really have felt worse.)

    But that has as much to do with who I am and what skills I have as anything else. If I were an extrovert, I’d probably find ‘educating’
    tech support to be less of a hellish experience.

    And, of course, on all but the super expensive plans, if it’s not acceptable to be down all weekend for a hardware failure on friday night, well, you still need those spares.

    (Of course, if I only had one or two servers, it’d probably make sense to just pay twice the price and be done with it. But nearly all of my net worth is tied up in server hardware, so I can’t walk away from that

    But yeah, my point is just that if you build the hardware yourself, you only have to do a small subset of the ‘systems intigrator’ work. Yeah, it’s a lot more technical work than just firing the money cannon at dell or HP, but it’s a lot less social work than trying to get a reasonable deal, or trying to get reasonable service out of dell or HP.