Workgroup Servers Stressed

by December 17, 2005 0 comments

Servers are at the heart of any IT infrastructure, because
they run all critical applications of the organization. The trouble is that one
size doesn’t fit all. On one side, different organizations have different
requirements, and on the other, different applications also require different
configurations. So a system configuration that’s good for a file server may
not be as good for a Web server. A database server would require different
specification than a mail server, and so on. To help you decide, this time,
while doing the server shootout, we address some of these questions. This time,
we received four servers for evaluation, out of which three were dual-CPU, and
one was dual-core. The difference is that dual-CPU means two CPUs, while
dual-core means a single CPU with two cores. It’s supposed to be equivalent to
two CPUs. Both Intel and AMD have recently introduced dual-core processors for
both servers and desktops. We checked all of them for their performance,
features, and pricing. Here’s what we looked for in each during the

This can be divided into three parts in servers-manageability, reliability,

expandability. Lets look at each, one by one.

Manageability In order to give seamless server
management, servers come with some embedded sensors on the motherboard and the
chassis, which gather important server information, such as CPU temperature,
cooling fan RPM, and pass it to software agents running on the server. This is
then further passed on to a centralized remote management console. Servers can
be monitored in two ways; one is in-bound management and the other is
out-of-bound management. In-band management manages server activities, where
software agents can only work when the OS is running. A better way of management
is when you can monitor and manage the server even if the OS is not up or is in
the sleep state. Out-of-band management requires a separate Baseboard Management
Card (BMC) to be installed. The card comes integrated with some boards, whereas
some boards come with a special connector for adding the BMC. With the help of a
BMC card and remote network management software, system administrators can
monitor and control servers remotely even if the server goes to sleep. There is
another way to provide out-of-band manageability and it is called ASF (Alert
Standard Format). Then in manageability comes management software, number of
meaningful indicators, like error indicators, present on the server and tool
free access to the server cabinet. All these issues should be considered while
buying servers.

Reliability Servers are meant for keeping users’
data safe and provide services to them without any down time. However, hardware
failure may cause both data loss and server downtime, further leading to
business losses. In order to protect yourself from this, you should look for
redundancy features in servers, which will safeguard your data and continue to
run the server even if a component fails. For data protection, the best solution
is RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). RAID level 5 is most suited for
servers that store high value user data. A RAID 5 solution requires at least 5
disks. To have RAID on your system, you can buy a SCSI RAID card or some
motherboards also have on-board RAID integrated with the SCSI controller. But
while RAID can provide data protection against single disk failures, to replace
the faulty disk you still have to shut down the server, disrupting the services
it offers.

A hot plug HDD cage can help in replacing faulty disks
without shutting down the machine. You can add or remove disks while the machine
is hot (working). Just like hot plug HDD, hot plug, redundant power supply also
makes the server fault tolerant against power supply failures. With the
penetration of SATA disks in the market, server boards are also coming with
integrated SATA RAID and give you all the features of RAID that are similar to

Expandability Future expansion should be kept in
mind while buying a server. It should have plenty of room for expansion should
the need arise in the future. When thinking of expansion, the first thing that
comes to mind is the CPU, and most people end up buying a dual socket machine,
but populate it with only a single CPU. The thought is that the second CPU will
be added in the future when the need arises. If it arises shortly, then it’s
not a problem. However, more often than not, the need arises at least a year or
two later. By then, the processor may not even be available, and even if it is,
then it would cost a bomb because your vendor will charge you for holding the
CPU in his inventory for so long. It’s therefore better to buy the second
processor right up front. Nowadays, the trend is moving towards dual-core
servers, which is like buying a dual-CPU machine. Even there, you’ll find
servers with dual-sockets servers. Since they will take two dual-core CPUs, it
will be like having a four-CPU server. If you do buy a dual-socket server, then
again, you may want to buy the second dual-core CPU up front as well. Next comes
RAM. Most servers let you add up to 4GB of RAM, but going by the pace at which
applications are becoming memory hungry, look for a server that can support up
to 8 GB RAM.

Up next is storage capacity. How many disks does your
server let you add? A SCSI channel can accommodate up to 15 devices, but then
with more devices you will see a performance hit. So Ultra320 is even more
important than going for an Ultra160 SCSI card.

Unlike SCSI, SATA controllers provide limited expansion as
far as number of disks is concerned. An external SCSI connector lets you connect
external SCSI devices, like tape drives, easily without opening the server
cabinet for doing it otherwise. For adding extra cards, like fibre channel and
RAID cards, to your server, you need PCI-X (64-bit) slots, so you should have
enough free slots on your motherboard to accommodate add-on cards.

Since we looked at workgroup servers this time, our test load simulated that
environment. For our test load, we used 20 machines connected over a Gigabit
Ethernet switch. These were all P4 machines with 256 MB RAM and were running
Windows XP Professional. They all had a Gigabit Ethernet interface. Each machine
was capable of simulating the load equivalent of multiple machines. So our aim
was of course to see which server could be loaded by how much before its
performance came down.

We’d asked all server vendors to send their products
pre-configured with the OS, drivers, RAID, etc. This was to ensure that we got
properly configured and tuned servers from all vendors. All four servers came
pre-configured with an OS. One of them had SATA RAID and the remaining had SCSI
RAID-5. We didn’t make any other changes to them, other than essential ones
like assigning the correct IP address for communication. Since these were
workgroup servers, we tested them for file and web serving performance. For file
serving, we used the industry standard NetBench 7.0.3 benchmark, and WebBench
5.0 for testing application performance. While the first benchmark stresses the
server’s I/O capabilities, the latter puts pressure on its computing
capabilities. Both tests results were evaluated based on two
parameters-average throughput and response time. Here, higher throughput and
lower response time mean better performance.

Beyond performance tests
Once we’d finished the performance benchmarks, this time, we went a step
further to understand the performance differences due to variations in the
server configurations. We checked what was the difference in performance between
using a dual-core vs. a dual-CPU server. We also tried to see the performance
difference between SATA RAID and SCSI RAID. We even tried to see the performance
difference between single Xeon vs dual-

Xeon servers.

Lastly, all servers came with three years warranty, so we
could only compare their prices. We used the Brown-Gibson model to arrive at all
the weightages.

Connoiseur SkyRunner SR 7520
This server was the most feature rich of the lot and even
gave the highest overall performance score. It was also the most expensive
server in the shootout. The Sky Runner had two Intel Xeon 3.2 GHz processors, 2
GB ECC RAM and an Intel SR7520JR2 motherboard. It also had the maximum number of
fault tolerant features of the lot, including support for RAID 0, 1 and 5. The
server shipped with RAID 5 pre-configured. Plus, it supports hot plug hard
drives and dual hot plug power supplies. The device came to us with four 73 GB
UltraSCSI 320 drives. Interestingly, this server shipped to us with a
pre-installed copy of RedHat Enterprise Linux 3 WS (Workstation) OS. It’s
interesting because it’s a server, but it came with a workstation class OS
pre-configured on it. We sure do hope that the vendor doesn’t ship it like
that to its customers, because workstation OS definitely has its limitations
compared to a server class OS. Nevertheless, the server gave us really good

Tests and results
In our tests, the server turned out to be a very efficient Web Server. We
used the pre-installed Apache to run our tests on and that too without any
tweaking. We just created a Virtual Host on Apache and ran WebBench. The server
was able to handle up to almost 3000 requests per second, which was more than
double of the next best performer in this benchmark. It gave this performance
when the number of clients reached 10. When the number of clients rose beyond
that, the performance started dropping and became steady at around 2500 requests
with up to 38 clients.

Performance in the file serving benchmark was average. The
maximum throughput it was able to provide on our test load was 240 Mbits per
second, and it peaked with 10 clients. After that, the throughput started
decreasing. One reason that might have caused this is that the server was using
an older version of Samba (Windows File Sharing for Linux). At a price tag of Rs
1.5 Lakhs, it was the costliest of the lot. Overall, it’s an excellent choice
if you plan to use it as a Web server.

Price: Rs 1,50,000 (3-yrs warranty)

Key Specs:
Dual Xeon 3.2 GHz, 7520 JR2 Motherboard, 2 GB DDR ECC Reg RAM, Four
73 GB SCSI Hot Plug 10K RPM hard drives pre-configured with RAID 5, Redundant
power supply, Two Gigabit LAN Interfaces and six PCI-X slots

Connoiseur Electronics,


. Tel: 51152203.

RQS# E80 or SMS 131280 to 9811800601

Edge 2550
This server scored second highest in features. Where it
missed out in features was three PCI-X slots as against six in the Sky Runner.
Plus it didn’t have a redundant power supply. But the buyer has an option to
replace the normal power supply with a redundant power supply if he requires, by
paying additional charges. On the performance front, this server did extremely
well in WebBench, but was average in NetBench.

In fact, this server got the second highest score in
WebBench, which makes it a great choice as a Web server. It managed to serve
1234 requests per second with up to 10 clients, as against the Sky Runner’s
2974 requests per second. There are several reasons why this server got the
second highest in Web-serving performance. One is that the Sky Runner had dual
3.2 GHz CPUs, while this one only had 3 GHz. Secondly, the Sky Runner had four
hard drives configured in RAID 5, while this one had only three. Third could be
that in Sky Runner, Apache was running in native mode in Linux, while in this
one, it was running on Windows.

Since this server uses the same motherboard as the Sky
Runner, it had similar management features. It has two Gigabit Ethernet
interfaces, which can do teaming as well as failover. On the management front,
the server has Intel Professional Management Module, which allows you to do
Asset and Performance reporting, Remote server restart, Hardware, RAID, OS and
process monitoring, Hardware RAS monitoring, Text Console redirection x IPMI 2.0
and SNMP In Band Management. All these can be managed using Intel Server
Management 8.20. This was the only server we received with hardware management

In addition, the server comes with a IDE 52X CD writer so
that one can have backup of the server’s esential files or other data on the
CDs. And its three SCSI hard drives were hot swappable. The server also comes
with a keyboard and a mouse.

To provide physical security to the server box, it comes
with a mechanical lock on its front bazel.
Overall the server is a good buy for Web serving, and its cost is also pretty
decent at Rs 138,900.

Price:Rs 138,900
(3-yrs warranty)
Key Specs: Dual Xeon 3.0 GHz with EM64T and 2 MB L2 Cache, Intel
E7520 motherboard with 800 MHz FSB, 2 GB DDR ECC Registered PC 2700 RAM,
Six DIMM slots supporting up to 12 GB RAM, reliability features like SDDC,
scrubbing, retry on uncorrectable errors, memory sparing, and memory
mirroring, Three 73 GB SCSI hot plug 10K RPM hard drives with RAID 5,
Intel SRCZCRX RAID Card, LSI Logic 53C1020A SCSI controller, Two SATA
ports supporting integrated RAID 0 and 1
Contact: SG Systems,


Tel: 51625065.
RQS# E80 or SMS 130980 to 9811800601

Edge 2500
This was the lowest priced server of the lot. It’s an entry-level model
for basic file serving needs. There was no hot-swap power supply or
hot-swap hard drive. It came with SATA RAID 0 configured, offering good
performance but no fault tolerance. So even if one drive fails, all data
in the RAID array is lost. The server has an Intel Xeon 3.0 processor and

It gave the second
highest NetBench scores. It peaked at 645 Mbps with an impressive 24
clients. As expected, the server didn’t do as well in the WebBench test,
which stresses the computing power of the server than the I/O. The server
peaked at 900 requests per second with up to 10 clients. After that, the
requests serving rate gradually declined.

Overall, it’s a good
choice for basic file serving. You can, however, put in a few more drives
and a RAID card to configure it for a higher and more failsafe RAID level.
Otherwise, it’s a good, cost effective choice.

Price: Rs 57,800
(3-yrs warranty)

Key Specs: Single 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon with 2 MB L2 cache, 2 GB DDR
ECC REG RAM, Intel SE7320SP2 Server Board, Two 120 GB SATA drives, CD-ROM

Up to 8 GB registered ECC DDR 266/333 SDRAM supported, dual interleaved
memory for improved performance, ATi rage XL SVGA PCI video controller
with 8 MB of video memory, Two 120 GB SATA HDDs (with RAID 0)

Contact: SG Systems,


Tel: 51625065.

RQS# E80 or SMS 130980 to 9811800601

Acer ALTOS —G320
This was the only one that came with a dual-core CPU. Plus, it had 512 MB
RAM, whereas the rest had 2 GB housed on an Intel E7230 server board. Its
four memory slots can take up to 8 GB of ECC un-buffered memory. It comes
with a 3×73 GB ultra 320 SCSI hard drive connected on ASRC single-channel
U320 RAID controller. The server has four SATA ports to accommodate four
SATA drives, which can be configured as RAID 0 to 10 with SATA RAID
software. Plus it has three 8X PCI-E slots and two PCI slots. The server
has the option of putting in Acer EasyBUILD and server management

It gave excellent file
serving scores with NetBench, second to the Edge 2500. But Web serving
scores were average. Surprisingly, on raising RAM to 2 GB, the NetBench
scores dropped while WebBench score increased a little. It seems to be a
good choice for mid-sized businesses, given its existing configuration and

Price: Rs 88,999
(3-yrs warranty)

Key Specs: Single dual-core Intel Pentium D processor 3.2 GHz,
Intel EM64T and Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology support, Up to 8 GB of
ECC unbuffered memory, up to 1 TB or more of SATA or SCSI HDD storage,
three PCI-E and two 32-bit 33 MHz PCI expansion slots, integrated
dual-port gigabit Ethernet, integrated four-port SATA software with RAID
0, 1 and 10 support, optional Acer EasyBuild and Acer Server Manager (ASM),
optional Acer eBusiness Value Pack

Contact: Acer





Tel: 25219535.


RQS# E80 or SMS 130980 to 9811800601

Anindya Roy and Sanjay Majumder with help from

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