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Yet another cheap build question

Discussion in 'DIY Server and Workstation Builds' started by othersider, Nov 12, 2017.

  1. othersider

    othersider New Member

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    Hi there, I'm trying to build a storage/vm box on a low budget and since it's been a while since I last did one and tech evolved a lot, I was wondering if any of you could validate my thought process below, for tldr you can skip directly to the conclusion.

    Goal
    First let me explain what I want to build: I'm looking to setup a new box, can be prebuilt or parts. I want to use it for:
    - "cold" decent quality storage; "cold" means low frequency access storage so no intense queries and updates on the filesystem. I also had some good experiences with ZFS in the past so I'm a bit biased here.
    - hobby non-public projects, mainly VMs, no more than a handful, 3-4 running at the same time to try out web stuff; non-public meaning I don't plan to expose the projects outside with the resulting spike in processing power.
    So essentially this should be a machine that sits in the corner and gets to occasionally retrieve stuff off a storage array or play tricks on the trending JS framework of the week.

    With the above use case in mind I started looking for options. I set my budget to around 300 usd/eur.

    First I decided not to look into used stuff like refurbished boxes because I found it that either they're too power hungry given my use goals, think used Dell R160 or I'm not covered by a good warranty.
    I then also thought against small form factor solutions such as Intel Nuc because the storage would have to be external via usb so it would probably mean no or hard to get ZFS.

    The options
    I looked rather enthusiastically at Supermicro based builds, IPMI looked tempting, but I could not get something on the cheap, example: My FreeNAS Build: Supermicro X10SL7, Intel Haswell Xeon, ECC RAM - Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat (around 800,-) :(

    I then turned the knob down a notch, looked at various consumer grade builds such as this Ryzen based vm host, but that also came in at around 600,- (Building a Low-Power, High-Performance Ryzen Homelab Server to Host Virtual Machines).

    Then there are the promising Dell Poweredge T30 machines, Xeon based, offers ECC/non-ECC support; found one at around 400,- which could fit my designated budget. What turns me away from that offering is the weird display connectivity as it only offers DisplayPort interfaces and rumor has it the HDMI adapters need to be active, so would require some experimenting and probably extra cash for the adapters. Intel ME which is present on the Xeon also got some bad press these days, sigh..

    Blast from the past, I found the HP Proliant Microserver line to be alive and kicking, last time I played with that was before the current G series. The general setup hasn't changed radically, except of course the new tech and seems to fit my annoying use cases quite well:
    - decent CPU for my goals, on latest G10 but also on G8, apparently G8 one can also be upgraded
    - low power usage/low noise
    - ECC memory, not a must, but would not hurt if I install a zfs pool
    - small size, but enough to fit a small storage array + some system/scratch disk
    - nice connectivity: display I think VGA port, dual LAN as a bonus
    - fits budget quite well at around 250,-

    So I looked at the latest offer, which is the Microserver G10 released this year. It looks neat, but outside the slightly faster cpu I don't see many advantages to the older G8. It uses the more expensive DDR4 memory and some consumer comments on sales websites reported troubles booting into Linux OSs, though I have not been able to confirm that.

    Conclusion
    Having said that, I'm thinking to take the boring no-risk path and go with the HP Microserver G8 box. What do you think? Makes sense or should I revise some of the options above or others that I have missed?
     
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  2. traderjay

    traderjay Member

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    Does the proliant have ECC memory or not? I would not risk any ZFS system without ECC as silent data corruption can be a hidden killer. I know you are not actively accessing the storage pools since they are "cold" but how about scrubbing?
     
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  3. othersider

    othersider New Member

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    Hey traderjay, thanks for looking into this thread. It seems there is a never ending debate on ECC vs non-ECC use for storage and I'm veering on the ECC side here. All the Proliant Microservers have ECC memory.
     
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  4. pricklypunter

    pricklypunter Well-Known Member

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    Look at your workloads, do they require lots of cores, or mainly single threaded applications etc? What would be the minimum acceptable core speed required for each? How much RAM do these VM's require now and in the future? What is the power budget required/ acceptable? How much local storage do you need and how fast must it be for your workloads to feel all cozy and warm? How loud can you tolerate? What if any physical dimensions are you restricted to? Do you have a preferred form factor, Tower/ Rack/ Something else?

    Choosing your components is always a balancing act with respect to the specification/ budget/ performance, but having a clear idea of what you need right now, what you may need in the near or longer future and adding 25% to cover the obvious mistake you made in your math to begin with, will shake out something you will be happy with for at least the next 3 years :D

    You are mentioning storage, but later saying you're pulling from a network storage solution, it might help to clarify that further. Higher SATA port counts on the mainboard will give you options, but I would look for a board with an onboard LSI raid chipset that can be flashed to IT mode, or at least one with a spare slot so you can add a card later. This gives you the option of using SAS disks also, and the ability to expand beyond that box if required. It also gives you a better than likely chance of being able to virtualise your controller, without hassle, so you could use vt-d to pass through the controller to a specific VM for example and build an all-in-one type box. My advice is go with a Xeon based solution and if your planned (that means now and in the foreseeable future) use case does not need lots of RAM or higher core counts, the E3 line would be a good choice. If you need lots of RAM or higher core counts, the E5 line would be where I would begin. IPMI is very handy, even when the box is located down in the basement etc, but it's just as easy to physically access it, if need be, so I wouldn't consider it a deal breaker for home use :)

    There's a lot to be said for buying a prebuilt server. For a start, all hardware is well tested, reliability is up there etc etc. But there's also a lot to be said for a home grown solution too, not least of which is the agility of it, you can change, upgrade add to, remove from etc easily as you grow into your solution. I wouldn't worry about using used/ secondhand equipment from reputable suppliers either, there's a lot of value to be had right there and you will make your money go further, if not now, certainly with future upgrades if you were careful to begin with :)
     
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  5. traderjay

    traderjay Member

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    For ZFS, I will not risk it w/o ECC memory.
     
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  6. Joel

    Joel Member

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    Another option to consider is the Lenovo TS140. i3 builds support ECC and should come in <$300.
     
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  7. othersider

    othersider New Member

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    Thats some valuable advice and I thank you all for that.

    @priclypunter I did not actually do an accurate power budget estimation. When I mentioned 3-4 VMs running simultaneously that was including some margin as it might be less. I would expect 1 hobby vm running and then I'm guessing 1-2 on the side to simulate a remote machine. They would have modest requirements, certainly nothing enterprise level.
    While looking for a setup, I thought some features were more flexible than others, for example the form factor where I would not mind if it's tower or something else. Others are high on my list but I found they tend to affect the budget quickly, to quote your suggestion a Xeon cpu would be worth it thats why I noted down some builds which either have a Xeon or can be upgraded to one. IPMI would also be nice and I agree it comes in handy + it seems to be more mature than other options. On the other hand, a hardware RAID controller sounds like something that would certainly overload the budget, not just the controller alone but everything that comes around it, disks, cpu/mb with vt-d. I won't deny though that a proper storage setup is very tempting but as I understand it both feature wise and system requirements it would fit a build with a different more powerful profile.

    @Joel, the TS140 looks like the Powerdge T30 but with sane display interfaces. I'll add it to my selection pool.
     
    #7
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