Big noisy beast

I really should stop browsing Ebay, as it’s neither good for my health nor my wealth. You’ve guessed it, something caught my eye again the other day and I just had to have it for my rack. It’s yet another HP server, but quite unlike the super-slim 1U 360G5 I wrote about here a few columns back – this one is more like its grandfather. The ProLiant DL740 is one of the bigger beasts in the forest, from its eight 2.5GHz Intel Xeon processors through to its 40GB of RAM – 32GB live and 8GB on hot standby, which is by anyone’s definition pretty beast-like. Naturally, it comes with all the frills and tassels you could want, such as remote monitoring, dual power supplies, quad gigabit ethernet ports and four 36GB hot-swap Ultra320 SCSI hard disks. Inside, it’s built like a battle tank, with an array of fans that could suck a frozen chicken straight through and spit it out in nuggets. It has six 64-bit PCI-X slots, all hot-pluggable, and RAID support on its integrated Smart Array 5i Controller. I’ll admit it isn’t pretty to look at, and it does take up four or five units of rack space, but this is a real workhorse that’s just come straight out of someone’s major datacentre.

Big noisy beast

So what’s wrong with it? Well, it’s noisy, definitely something that needs to be kept a long way off in a remote server room. And it isn’t particularly green when compared to my twin quad-core 360G5, which just gently hums along on a few watts of power: this one is a real fan-heater, well into kilowatt consumption territory, and that puts extra demands on the UPS. But its biggest problem is that those eight Xeon processors are only 32-bit, so there’s no possibility of running a shiny 64-bit hypervisor from Microsoft or VMware on this box – it’s resolutely stuck in the old world of 32-bitness. Although this might sound like a significant limitation, I should point out that most of my clients are still happy running 32-bit Windows Server 2003, and a few are even on Server 2000. Also, there are plenty of industrial-strength virtual machine solutions for 32-bit Windows around, including VMware’s excellent (and free) ESX server and Microsoft’s Virtual Server. So, there’s plenty of service life left in an eight-processor box stuffed to the eyeballs with 32GB of RAM (with 8GB on hot standby just in case).

And the cost of this monster? A grand, delivered. Before you drop your spoon into your cornflakes, I should point out that this box came without much in the way of a warranty, but then it’s built like a tank, all its parts are still available from HP, and the HP website offers a recent BIOS and driver sets for Server 2000 and 2003. Putting 32GB of RAM into any box, new or old, is going to cost you a penny or two, so don’t knock this old ProLiant. It’s more than strong enough in terms of I/O speed and memory to run eight heavyweight virtual machines, each with 4GB of RAM and its own dedicated CPU. Push things a bit harder and you can start dishing out VMs across multiple CPU cores to chew through the workload even quicker. This combination of a brand-new 360G5 for live work and the old ProLiant DL740 for experimental/lab/client hosting test work is a compelling one indeed. Even if it dies within a year, I won’t feel I’ve lost out: it’s a real bargain, capable of doing sterling work for the time being, and you can’t ask for more than that.

System Center Essentials

Last week, I was at a new client’s offices in London and some investigative questioning uncovered the fact that they had no network and server monitoring in place. In the past, this sort of stuff was strictly reserved for the big boys, playing in their datacentres, but with the arrival of MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) a few years ago and the recent release of System Center Essentials (SCE) there isn’t any excuse nowadays to be surprised by problems on your network. It was clear that something had to be done, so I proclaimed in a confident voice that SCE would cover all their infrastructure with no problems. Unfortunately, I’d only read the headline claims from Microsoft about it supporting 30 servers and 500 desktops, and hadn’t got around to reading the small print. My client checked the price of the software and was somewhat shocked to discover that the core engine would cost nearly two grand, with a big pile of CALs (client access licences) on top of that. I said this couldn’t be right and dug back through my records, but it turns out that the basic edition of SCE comes with licences for ten servers and 50 clients, and beyond that you have to buy packs of licences to grow your supported base and remain legal.

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