Choose a server: where to go, to whom to go?

Sooner or later, the system administrator, technical director or some other responsible person needs to buy a server. And today we will try to alleviate this problem by setting out on behalf of the server manufacturer ETegro our view on this difficult market and describing the possible advantages and disadvantages of various equipment choices.

We’ll make a reservation right away: we won’t advise you on specific server options for specific tasks — we believe that you are reasonable people and know how to choose hardware for your purposes. Moreover, we will try to do without even mentioning names. We want to talk a little bit about another aspect of the choice, which, judging by our customers, still carries with it things that are difficult to understand.

So, you are ripe before choosing and buying one or more servers. Suppose even that you are not initially limited to any initially specified framework and can choose from all the presented variety. So what are the options that stretch before you? By and large, the entire market can be divided into 3 large sectors:

  1. The so-called "A-brands", that is, the products of the largest world-famous corporations for which the server market is only one of the areas of activity. But at the same time, they have been working on servers for a long time, have formed a series of ready-made server platforms with different contents and produce proprietary components for their equipment.
  2. The strictly opposite side is the so-called “designers” —that is, server platforms that exist not in the form of a series of expandable but already finished products, but in the form of a catalog of components from which a third company or the buyer himself assembles a server.
  3. And finally, an intermediate option, which includes ETegro and other Russian server manufacturers. Companies of this level deliver finished devices from warehouses, for which they are fully responsible.

Let's start with the A-Brands. Advantages, in general, are in sight: a well-known name designed to guarantee certain quality standards, a wide selection of models for every taste, a variety of technical support, developed unique software. But what are the disadvantages? Well, let's start with software. Yes, proprietary systems for deploying servers and working with data are excellent and very convenient, especially when it works at the level of a single corporate standard. But as soon as life circumstances force the use of equipment from other companies, all this beauty and lightness disappears, and the need to change long-established patterns of action and think over compatibility issues comes to the surface. And all this requires effort, and most importantly, time, which is always not enough.

The next unpleasant moment is the cost. The cost of the base platform can be extremely low, and even give a decent discount. Yes, the trouble is that the cost of the components will be much higher than in other options. And you won’t be able to use third-party ones - all the major manufacturers try to make sure that they take only from them: the servers understand the memory only with a certain SPD, the disks only with the necessary firmware (and it doesn’t matter that this is actually one of the three remaining in the world of manufacturers, only with a different sticker), VRM-modules - only on a special board, controllers with their identifiers. There was even a rule for processors - they began to make them with their own unique strapping, so that, God forbid, they would not save money and would not buy in the store at the usual, and not the price, platform manufacturer.

And finally, the question of technical support is not so simple at all. Yes, it is, multi-level and round-the-clock when acquiring the appropriate warranty plan. But in any case, you will be only one of many clients of a large corporation. And this automatically means when solving serious issues extremely low efficiency and a high degree of bureaucracy. Do not expect that you will be bothered - everything will be polite, with a smile, within the framework of the warranty service agreement, but without any particular enthusiasm in solving complex problems requiring the participation of not only support specialists, but also developers of the platform or its software.

By the way, Russian realities also dictate another unpleasant moment - it’s not at all a fact that the model you need will be in stock in Russia, which means that the delivery time can turn out to be unpleasantly long. The same, although to a slightly lesser extent, applies to the supply of components to replace failed ones.

And what about the "designers"? A huge selection of components, the ability to assemble exactly what you want, more than gentle prices, often also complemented by large affiliate programs (probably everyone understands who they are talking about). Alas, not everything is smooth here. The main problem is the compatibility issues of components. If in the simplest versions everything looks smooth and simple, then in the case of any complex systems, no one will give you a guarantee that all components will work perfectly and without failures. Moreover, all the issues of problematic drivers, physical incompatibility, high-quality cooling, firmware compatibility and sufficient power you will have to think about personally. For example, how many types of SAS connectors are available for you? We know 23.

And of course, we must not forget that the question of the availability of all the necessary assortment in the warehouses of suppliers will always hang over you with a sword of Damocles. It’s always possible to buy popular server platforms and main components, but something relatively rare may simply not exist. And here you have to either carry on order, with the appropriate waiting time for delivery, or look for other suppliers. This is especially unpleasant when you need to expand an existing server system or urgently bring back something that has failed.

And so we got to our beloved and native sector of the market, where in addition to us there are several more companies. Its inhabitants balance between the two extremes voiced above “on the wave” of balance, trying to simultaneously offer quite functional finished models, with at least the worst options compared to A-brands, and at the same time not to tear themselves away from the “designers” at a price . Probably, according to the advantages and disadvantages voiced above, it is already becoming clear what is between the extremes that customers love to hit so much. “Winning” our customers in our sector is obtained only by quality - both the products themselves and the services provided for maintenance and support. Figuratively speaking, our customers are those who respond to megabytes, megahertz and other mega with a smile, who is not affected by the disease of “branding”, but at the same time appreciates his time and energy so as not to engage in assembly himself, leaving this to professionals. We will not say that the best servers relate exclusively to our sector - someone will still be more comfortable with the products of large corporations (especially if there is already an infrastructure built on the products of only one manufacturer), others will choose “designers”, therefore that they are quite enough for their tasks. We call for one thing: approach the choice as a serious task, evaluating all the pros and cons, including those that are not very obvious, since subsequently the cost for errors may turn out to be too high.

In conclusion, I would like to tell one story, just related to the choice and, it seems to us, somewhat funny and instructive. About 6 years ago, a rather large number of 1U servers were formed in our warehouses, which we were ready to sell at the lowest price in order to empty the warehouses. Negotiations began with one major client, but he did not like our price, because he managed to find the option as much as $ 16 cheaper. We sighed sadly, but still wondered where such a budget option came from. It turns out that home-made chassis directly competed with our rack-mount servers, with the most common desktop components installed in them (and very, very cheap motherboards). Well, the client created his own data center, we found another client for our servers ... It was in the spring, May was very hot. And one day we learned that the client has problems with the data center. The answer is simple and commonplace - low-quality capacitors on the motherboard and in the power supplies from the heat swelled up and the data center burned out. We smiled and had almost forgotten about this story, when a phone rang with a familiar number. “Guys, I understood my mistake!”, The beginning of the conversation was almost a balm for our souls, but then ... “There was nothing to put the buildings at all, it was necessary to do without them!” The following year, history repeated itself.
PS Believe me, we know how google data centers are organized - it was self-assembled there and then it didn’t smell, excuse me for the expression.