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Server Hardware Requirements and Costs

Server hardware requirements can vary widely between computing sites, depending on site needs, purpose, and budget. Smaller networks (such as 5–10 PC LANs) may be designed without the need for a server, but larger sites such as ACME's need to use a client workstation and server-based arrangement for cost efficiency. Sharing applications, providing network storage, and hosting printing services can help consolidate and reduce costs in hardware acquisition, maintenance, and administration.

Obviously, the size of a network and the capabilities and associated support hardware or environment for a server will affect initial hardware costs. The additional cost of switches, hubs, or routers; a matched uninterruptible power supply (UPS); environment cooling requirements; virtual keyboard and monitor hardware (KVM); and backup hardware and media can add considerably to the cost of a new system.

Linux Hardware Requirements

Linux distributions have various levels of hardware requirements and compatibility, depending on the distribution's target host CPU and base platform target (such as i386, i586, or i686 for Intel-based CPUs; or the PowerPC, which represents the greatest availability of off-the-shelf hardware in the consumer- and business-level markets).

Unlike current Microsoft desktop and server operating system products, Linux runs on a variety of CPU platforms. These platforms include the Alpha AXP, SPARC, UltraSPARC, Motorola 68000, PowerPC, PowerPC64, ARM, Hitachi SuperH, IBM S/390, MIPS, HP PA-RISC, Intel x386 and IA-64, National Semiconductor's x86 Geode processor, DEC VAX, AMD x86-64, VIA Eden ESP and C3, and CRIS (Axis Etrax100LX RISC processor) architectures.

The current Red Hat Linux consumer distribution is version 8.0, although version 8.1 is in the second stage of beta testing at the time of this writing. Red Hat, Inc. offers two tracks in its Linux offerings. The first is the basic consumer and professional distributions, which are released in new versions about every six months. The base distribution is available free over the Internet. The second is its advanced distribution, the Red Hat Advanced Server distribution, currently in version 2.1 with a version 3.0 planned for release later in 2003 or early 2004, and which is available in source code form for free (or if desired on bootable optical media, can be purchased from Red Hat or other vendors).

Red Hat's Advanced Linux Server distribution has been deployed by many institutions around the world, including enterprise-level companies such as Amazon.com, Toyota Motor Sales USA, and the French daily newspaper Le Figaro. Millions of users worldwide either purchase commercial shrink-wrapped copies of the base Red Hat distribution or download the free version.

Linux can run in as little as 2MB RAM and a single floppy drive on the embedded development end of the deployment spectrum. Today's generation of PCs are usually more than adequate to host the very latest offerings from Red Hat, Inc. Realistic minimum hardware requirements for a desktop system are, according to Red Hat, "...an i686 compatible processor with at least 256 MB of RAM and at least 3GB of disk space..." Practical testing reveals that a 300MHz Pentium-based CPU with 128MB RAM and 3GB drive storage (or even less) is more than satisfactory, depending on how Linux is deployed, such as in a network booting environment. (See the next section, "Designing a Linux System" for more details.)

Deployment of Red Hat's enterprise-level distributions and software in a small business environment will have greater budget need and more extensive hardware requirements, depending on the technologies employed (such as clustering, which is used to ensure data integrity, high-availability of applications, and hardware failover). Advanced features will require redundant power supplies, power management, raid controller hardware, and shared disk storage. Red Hat offers these features in the cluster-management component of its Advanced Server software.

References:

http://www.redhat.com/docs/manuals/advserver/RHLAS-2.1-Manual/cluster-manager/ch-hardware.html#S2-HARDWARE-MINIMUMREQ

http://hardware.redhat.com/hcl/ - Red Hat, Inc.'s hardware compatibility database

http://kb.redhat.com/view.php?eid=286

http://otn.oracle.com/tech/linux/pdf/9iR2-on-Linux-Tech-WP-Final.PDF

https://www.redhat.com/pdf/as/as_rasm.pdf

Designing a Linux system

Concerns in design of a Linux computer site usually center on issues such as choice of kernel, distribution, hardware, software, network scheme, backup strategy or methodology, and remote access needs. Linux can be deployed in a variety of ways to provide centralized control or as a distributed computing resource, such as using a central application server or segmented Local Area Network (LAN) servers.

The capability of Linux to adapt to nearly any off-the-shelf hardware provides great flexibility in the choice of a hardware platform. Depending on ACME's particular needs, Linux can be deployed on computers that range from inexpensive network terminals, such as the ThinkNIC New Internet Computer or VIA mini-ITX motherboard-based PCs to IBM e- or z-series servers.

The choice of hardware in a small business will usually be dictated by budget. Because Linux works well even on legacy (now low-end Pentium) hardware, portions of the existing computing infrastructure may be able to be recycled into any planned migration or deployment of a new operating system platform. The most flexible aspect of a Linux deployment will mostly likely be compatibility of Linux with current desktops (clients in a server-based network).

The design of ACME's network should segment portions of the company's LAN in order to segregate different departments (such as production, sales, administration, and so on). This will form some basis of security between departments (such as payroll and sales). Other considerations include the layout of physical wiring, physical location of wireless network access points (if used), and telephony wiring. Wireless network operations can reduce the cost of physical wiring and the need to accommodate local fire codes, but unless properly designed, can introduce security problems and performance issues (for example, if signals do not reach intended portions of a LAN). Linux works quite well with the majority of existing wireless devices and networks, and the careful choice of compatible hardware will reduce or eliminate problems.

Red Hat, Inc. calls its deployment/migration project management strategies the Red Hat Engagement Model. Projects are broken into several stages and steps: assessment, planning and design, development and validation, and (finally) deployment and operations.

The initial assessment can provide cost savings by determining which portions of an existing site may be retained, upgraded, or migrated for the best efficiency, given current and future needs. Budget issues will quickly become apparent at this stage because the project cost is determined before project expenditures, and planning and design, which provide the project's roadmap. The next stage, development and validation, sets the groundwork for the deployment by creating an efficient marriage of the planned software and hardware. When finished, the solution is deployed with support and maintenance services.

Flexibility is a key advantage when choosing to deploy Linux because the Linux kernel can support many different network schemes. Features such as Network Address Translation (NAT, also known as IP Masquerading) and kernel routing may be used to eliminate or supplement associated network hardware. Specific details of the networking capabilities of Linux can be found in 75 different documents under the /usr/src/linux-2.4/Documentation/networking directory of any system if the kernel source has been installed.

Design of one or more Linux servers in a deployment may also depend on intended use. For example, it is unnecessary to have software development tools or graphical user interface (GUI) desktop support if a server is to be used only for file, print, or electronic mail serving or a as a Web server; in fact, such installations can be a serious breach of security! Linux may be used to host server operations on even the most basic desktop PC, but a Linux server intended for use as an application server and to provide network-mounted user filesystems will need to have much more memory and available storage, along with a more-or-less complete suite of installed software to support desktop or development operations.

Typical Linux server solutions provide the services such as Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP), network firewalling, NAT, virtual private networking, cross-platform sharing of files, database operations, network access control (into or out of a LAN), user management, electronic mail, Web server, proxy server, and Domain Name Service (DNS).

References:

http://www.redhat.com/services/consulting/

http://www.redhat.com/services/engagement/

http://www.redhat.com/services/focus/

http://www-1.ibm.com/linux/article_smb.shtml

Comments

Table 1 provides a base outline of a simple solution for ACME's computing needs. As mentioned previously, design, deployment and initial costs for a new site will be more expensive than a migration using existing facilities or deployment to overlay a portion of an existing facility. The table provides cost estimates for a basic primary and secondary server. Cost considerations for desktops for administrative personnel, laptops for a small mobile sales and marketing team, along with more capable workstations for development work or computing operations outstripping the resources of a desktop, are contained in the Client Computers section later on in this article.

Table 1—Base Server Hardware Estimates1

Hardware

IBM xSeries 235 Tower, Xeon CPU 2.8GHz; 512MB RAM; 48X CD-ROM2

2.8GHz 533MHz 512KB L2 Cache Upgrade with Xeon Processor 3

1GB DDR PC2100 ECC RAM DIMM4

73GB 10K RPM SCSI hard drive5

15" IBM E54 Monitor (black; 13.8" viewable)6

Unit Price

$2979

$999

$779

$639

$100

Quantity

2

2

4

4

1

Total

$5958

$1998

$3119

$2556

$100

Grand Total

$13,731


The hardware listed in Table 1 will support either Linux or Microsoft operating system products. Hardware costs for one or more Linux servers will be comparable to that of Windows 2000 if the Linux server design designates segregation of server duties. For example, a single Linux server can host nearly all services for a large LAN, including file, print, and application serving. Although this is a cost-effective approach for small installations (25 users or fewer), security, performance, and costs issues will dictate that ACME use at least a primary and secondary Linux server.

The table outlines the current prices for a pair of high-performance, Intel-based dual-CPU servers with 2.5GB RAM and nearly 150GB of online storage. Storage requirements may be supplemented by additional network-attached storage (NAS) units. KVM, input device and UPS hardware costs are not included in Table 1. Hardware service maintenance agreements are available from IBM, and may be used to extend or enhance coverage of the hardware.

Reference:

http://www-132.ibm.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?catalogId=-840&storeId=1&categoryId=2543011&langId=-1&dualCurrId=73

Windows 2000 Hardware Requirements

The hardware requirements listed in this section are based on official Microsoft specifications and are generally accepted real-world recommendations. Windows 2000 is available in several variants, such as Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Small Business Server, and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. Microsoft also markets an enterprise-capable Window product named Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, which is not covered in this narrative. Also, note that Microsoft may soon release a new version of its server software, Windows Server 2003, sometime this year.

Table 2 details the various recommended hardware minimums for the base Microsoft Windows 2000 desktop and Windows 2000 server products.

Table 2—Microsoft Recommended Minimum Hardware Requirements7

Product

CPU

RAM

Storage

Windows 2000 Professional

133MHz CPU

64MB RAM

2GB drive storage

(650MB free space)

Windows 2000 Server

133MHz CPU

256MB RAM

2GB drive storage

(1GB free space)

Small Business Server8

300MHz CPU

256MB RAM

(512MB-intensive)

4GB drive storage

Windows 2000 Advanced Server

133MHz CPU

256MB RAM

(recommended)

4GB drive storage

(1GB free space)


Windows 2000 Professional

This base offering from Microsoft officially has a recommended minimum hardware support listed as a 133MHz or higher Pentium-based Central Processing Unit (CPU), 64 megabytes (MB) of Random Access Memory (RAM) , 2 gigabytes (GB) drive storage, and a minimum of 650MB free space. Support is provided for single and dual CPU computers.

Windows 2000 Server

The server version of Windows 2000 officially has a recommended minimum hardware support listed as a 133MHz or higher Pentium-based CPU, 256MB of RAM, 2GB drive storage with a minimum of 1GB free space. Support is provided for up to four CPUs.

Small Business Server 2000

This server variant distribution of Windows 2000 officially has a recommended minimum hardware requirement of a 300MHz or faster Pentium-based CPU, 256MB RAM (with 512MB recommended for heavy use), and 4GB drive storage with "two 8GB disks for fault tolerance," according to Microsoft.

Windows 2000 Advanced Server

Windows 2000 Advanced Server officially has a similar recommended minimum hardware support as Windows 2000 Server, but up to 8GB RAM and eight CPUs. Real-world experience dictates that these minimums will be unrealistic in practical settings. Reasonable minimums to allow acceptable performance in a wider range of applications are listed in Table 3.

Table 3—Realistic Bare Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows Operating System Products

Product

CPU

RAM

Storage

Windows 2000

300MHz CPU

256MB RAM

2GB drive storage

Windows 2000 Server

500MHz CPU

1GB RAM

4GB drive storage

Small Business Server

500MHz CPU

1GB RAM

4GB drive storage

Windows 2000 Advanced Server

600MHz CPU

1GB RAM

4GB drive storage


References:

http://www.dewassoc.com/support/win2000/require.htm

http://www.winnetmag.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=8225

http://www.le.ac.uk/cc/dsss/docs/w2k-hw.shtml

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/prodtechnol/acs/proddocs/ac2k/accrbb_cfullinst.asp

http://www.microsoft.com/catalog/display.asp?site=10586&subid=22&pg=2

http://www.microsoft.com/catalog/display.asp?site=656&subid=22&pg=3

Designing a Win2K System

Windows 2000 products offer a range of core software services for a computer network. Refer to Table 1 for a base server hardware listing for use with Windows 2000; there are little differences in actual hardware requirements to host either a Linux or a Windows server product. However, Windows-based server performance requirements may dictate the use of additional CPUs, which in turn can dictate the server product purchased (because only Windows 2000 AS supports eight CPUs at this time).

Summary

For practical purposes, there is no advantage or disadvantage for ACME to compare, shop, or choose different hardware based on choice of operating system for a number of reasons:

  • Lease options on computing hardware will bring the cost of the system in Table 1 below $500 to $1000 per month, depending on the additional components chosen for the server site. Leasing flexibility also provides for term-based computing environments (the capability to upgrade hardware at a lower cost).

  • Capital depreciation of fully purchased hardware can cut the actual cost of such a system nearly in half (local business property taxes or tax incentives can also affect annual costs).

  • Single-purposed servers, such as for DHCP, electronic mail, or printing require far fewer computing resources; this means that lower-end server hardware and even legacy desktop platforms can function as efficiently as higher-end hardware at a lower cost.

  • Linux has the capability to be modified and customized to run on nearly all Intel-based computing platforms and to use nearly any peripheral (except those items that manufacturers refuse to release specifications; fortunately, most computer hardware manufacturers are competitive, want to expand market capabilities, and don't want to lock out potential markets).

Additional savings could be realized if ACME were one-quarter to one-half its size. Linux works well on legacy hardware and performance issues can sometimes be offset with consumer-based systems with RAM and hard drive storage upgrades. Existing computing infrastructure (surplus PCs) can be put to use quickly and easily for network gateway, routing, rudimentary file sharing, networked printing, electronic mail, or dial-up telecommunications gateways.

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