Fit for Purpose — Benefits of Properly Sized Servers

GUEST BLOG BY Justin Bandholz…Standard operating procedures have served IT administrators well for decades. The well-worn rules of thumb have enabled quick and low-risk decisions when sizing new deployments. What worked well in the past is carried forward and incrementally improved to accommodate new technologies and business needs. Incremental improvement is the foundation for good processes; however, by relying too much on incremental improvement, you risk over-optimizing for a particular way of doing business to the exclusion of better opportunities. Computing technology is advancing at an accelerated rate; and in many cases, these advancements have exceeded the technology needs of end users. For users on a budget, properly sizing equipment to actual requirements can result in significant operational and capital savings.

A recent article on GIGAOM discusses how even with the broad adoption of virtualization, most servers are extremely underutilized. The article goes on to identify industry trends that will likely drive improvements in system utilization, but these trends will require longer-term architectural changes in your environment. It’s all about understanding your workloads and how those workloads drive server utilization. Using that understanding, you can develop requirements for right-sized or “fit-for-purpose” systems to help you allocate server capital budget more efficiently and drive operational savings. Consider these points when specifying requirements for your next purchase:

  1. If CPU utilization is in the basement, manually disable cores in BIOS setup to see if you can get the same application performance with fewer resources. If this helps, purchasing Intel Xeon E5-2407-based systems vs. Intel Xeon E5-2650-based systems can save you hundreds of dollars in system cost.
  2. Are your applications forcing memory swapping to disk? The standard remedy is to add more DRAM. If the duration of peak needs is short, a suitable alternative might be to move the swap file to solid-state disks (SSDs). SSDs have the additional benefit of accelerating all storage accesses improving the overall system performance. 100GB of SSD can be purchased for approximately the same price as 8GB of DRAM.
  3. Is your NAS or iSCSI storage traffic saturating your 1Gb Ethernet network? New 10Gb networking might provide more upside than investing in more CPU or memory. Intel’s X540-T2 10Gb adapter is only about $200 more than their i350-T4 1Gb offering.
  4. Power supplies operate at peak efficiency at 50 percent+ load. Size your power supplies accordingly, even if it means that short duration peaks are power capped. 80plug.org lists efficiency criteria for labeling at http://www.plugloadsolutions.com/80PlusPowerSupplies.aspx#.

Instead of spending your money on a few extra cores, more memory or a bigger chassis — and buying a little insurance against unforeseen workload peaks or changes in datacenter needs — perhaps that extra capital can be better spent on balancing total system performance with SSDs or 10Gb NICs. An alternative solution might be to bank the savings and buy an entirely new server with the latest technology when demand arises. A simple web comparison shows that you can purchase almost two ThinkServer RD330 systems (Intel EN-based 8-core, 64GB, 4TB RAID5) for the same price as a single system from one of our competitors (Intel EP-based 16-core, 64GB, 4TB RAID5) at $4,200 for the RD330 systems vs. $8,100 for the competitive system. In most cases, twice the number of equivalently configured servers is going to net you more performance than twice the core count. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if a $3,900 insurance policy brings value to your business.

I hope you find this information useful. This is the first in a series of blogs I plan to write on exploring the rapidly changing IT space encountered by smaller customers and business partners. The posts will cover discussions of general datacenter IT trends and strategies on improving IT productivity as well as tactical reviews of common problems and scenarios. If you are interested in a particular discussion topic, please contact us @ThinkServer on Twitter.