Monthly Archives: August 2011

Building A New Storage Test Server

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Not to sound too obvious, I test IO systems. That means from time to time I have to refresh my environment if I want to test current hardware. Like you, I work for a living and can’t afford something like a Dell R910 Heck, I can’t afford to shell out for the stuff that Glenn Berry gets to play with these days. Yes, I work for the mighty Dell. No, they don’t give me loads of free hardware to just play with. That doesn’t mean I, or you, can’t have a solid test system that is expandable and a good platform for testing SQL Server.

The hardware choices, inexpensive doesn’t mean cheap

Well, most of the time. Realize I’m not building what I would consider a truly production ready server. Things like ECC memory and redundant power supplies are a must if you are building a “fire and forget” server to rack up. A good test server on the other hand doesn’t have the same up time requirements.

Case

A couple of years ago I would have bought something like a Aerocool Masstige. It will take a full size motherboard and has 10 5.25 bays. This allows me to then put something like this 3×5 5.25 to 3.5 mobile rack. with 10 bays I can put 15 hard drives in plus have one bay left over for something like a CD-Rom drive or another hard drive. The Aerocool Masstige does have two internal hard drive bays as well making for a total of 18 3.5″ drives in one case. The cost does add up though. The case has been discontinued but can still be found for around 110.00. The three drive cadges will run you another 100.oo. Oh, and you need a power supply that’s another 100.00. That brings the cost up to 510.00. Considering that a 3U Supermicro case with 15 bays will run you 700.00 easily. Not horrible for the amount of drive bays but there are better options now.

Norco RPC-4224 4U Server Case
This thing is big, I mean really big. It is deep and tall. It was designed to be a rack mount server but sits just fine on a shelf if you have clearance in the back. I was looking at another version of this same case that houses 20 drives but the price difference just made this hard pass up. This case isn’t a Supermicro case. It doesn’t have the build quality. To be honest though, I’m fine with that. What it does have is the ability to take a large range of ATX motherboards and a standard ATX power supply. Right now Newegg has this case on for 400.00. With a power supply that brings the total up to 500.00 still cheaper than the Supermicro with a ton of drive bays to boot. If you have worked with servers and had to cable them up you may notice that the RPC-4224 has a very different backplane layout. Every four drives has its own backplane and four lane SFF-8087 connector. Usually, most back planes have a single or maybe two connectors for 8 lanes shared via on board SAS expander. Since this doesn’t have that feature it actually makes it easier to build this thing for maximum speed. I can ether buy a very large RAID controller with 24 SAS ports or I can buy my own SAS expanders. The only down side to the backplanes on this server is the fact they are SAS 3Gb/s and not the newer 6Gb/s ports. For spinning drives it isn’t that big of an issue but if you are planning on stacking some SSD’s in those bays it can hurt you if the SSD’s support the newer protocol.

The one warning I’ll make is this thing is very front heavy. Oddly enough having 24 drives stuffed in the front doesn’t make for good weight distribution.  Pro tip, don’t put the hard drives in until the server is where you want it. It is a lot easier to move the case if it isn’t as heavy as two car batteries.

CPU

Just like Glenn, I think the Core i7 2600k is a very good choice for this build. At 314.00 you are only paying a slight premium over the 2600 for a lot more flexibility, *cough*overclocking*cough*.

Motherboard

I thought long and hard on this one and settled on a GIGABYTE GA-Z68A-D3H-B3. This is a very reasonably priced motherboard at 129.00 with some nice features. First, it is based off of the Intel Z68 chipset which means I have video built into the system and don’t have to give up a PCIe slot to video. Secondly, it has USB 3.0 which makes it easy to hook up an external USB 3.0 drive and get some livable speeds. Thirdly, it has SATA III 6Gb/s ports native. It only has two out of the six ports available at that speed but it does give me a few more drive options outside a add on RAID controller. Lastly, the PCIe slots on board are upgradeable to the new PCIe 3.0 standard. This means I don’t have to change my motherboard out to get a nice little bump in speed from newer PCIe RAID controllers or solid state cards.

Memory

Another perk of the Z68 chipset is that it will support up to 32GB of DDR3 RAM, when it becomes available that is. In the short to mid term I’ve got 16GB of Kingston HyperX 1600 DDR3 installed. That’s 115.00 in memory. I could have shaved a few dollars off but buying this as a four piece kit saves me from having to play the mix and match game with memory and hoping that it all works out.

IO System

This is where things get a little complicated. Since I need a lot of flexibility I need to have some additional hardware.

RAID Controller

I have an LSI MegaRAID 9260 6Gb/s card in the server now. At 530.00 it is a lot of card for the money. If you wanted to skip the SAS expanders and get a 24 port card you would be looking between 1100.00 to 1500.00. What’s worse, you really won’t see a huge jump in performance. Hard disks are a real limiting factor here.

SAS Expanders

SAS expanders are a must. There will be times where I will power all 24 drives from a single RAID card that has 24 lanes. There will also be times where I have smaller controllers installed and need to aggregate those drives together across or two connectors on a RAID controller. There are a couple of choices available to you. I opted for the Intel RES2Sv240 expander over the HP 468406-B21. The Intel expander supports the SAS 6Gb/s protocol and has one additional killer feature, it doesn’t require a PCIe slot to run. It was designed to work in cases that support the MD2 form factor. That means it could be mounted on a chassis wall and fed with a standard molex power connector. Why is such a big deal? It means I can stack these in my case and keep my very valuable PCIe slots free for RAID controllers and SSD cards. Newegg has them at 279.00 but you can find them cheaper. The HP expander is listed at 379.00 and requires a PCIe slot for power.

Hard Drives

I opted for smaller 73GB 15,000 RPM Fujitsu drives. They aren’t the fastest drives out since they are a generation behind. What they lack in speed they make up in price. Normally, these drives new cost 150.00 a pop. But, I’m a risk taker. You can find refurbished or pulls for as little as 22 bucks a drive. Make sure you are dealing with a seller that will take returns! I personally have had pretty good luck dealing with wholesale companies that specialize in buying older servers and then reselling the parts. Almost all of them will offer at least a 30 day return. That means you need to do a little more work on your end and validate the drives during your return window. Now I have 24 15k drives for under 600.00 bucks.

I’m using a 2.5″ 7200RPM drive as my boot drive mounted inside the case.

SSD’s

You didn’t think I’d put together a new system and not have some solid state in it did you? I’ve got a few SSD’s floating around but wanted to buy the latest in consumer grade drives and see if they have upped the game any. I opted for the Corsair Force GT 60GB drive, four of them. At 125.00 they are a solid buy for the performance you are getting. Based on the new Sanforce SF2280 controller and able to deliver 85k IOps and 500MB/sec in reads and writes they are a mighty contender. The other thing that pushed me to this drive was the fact it uses ONFI synchronous flash. I won’t hash out why it is better other than to say it produces more reliable results and is faster than its asynchronous or toggle NAND brothers.

Again, the case is so big on the inside I mounted two 1×2 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bays to house them. That was an extra 50.00 a pop.

Lets Recap

Case 400.00
Powersupply 100.00
Motherboard 130.00
CPU 314.oo
Memory 115.00
RAID HBA 530.00
SAS Expanders 558.00
24 15K drives 558.00
4 SSD’s 500.00

Grand total: 3205.00

What does this buy me? A server that can do 2GB/s in reads or writes and 160k IOps or more. I’ll let you in on another little secret, shop around! Don’t think you have to buy everything at once. Don’t be afraid to wait a week for your parts if you get free shipping. By taking a month to put this machine together I paid about 2700.00. A huge discount over the listed price getting 30% or more off some stuff like the expanders, RAID controller, SSD’s, Case and CPU.

Just in case you were wondering what it looks like:

With the bonnet off (early test setup):

The SAS Backplanes cabled up:

Why You Should Attend SQL Saturday 97

Reposted from :http://sqlaj.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/why-you-should-attend-sql-saturday-97/

By AJ Mendo

Free Training

Part of the mission statement of SQL Saturday (read the full statement here) is to provide a day of free training to SQL Server Professionals and those new to SQL Server an event that combines training and networking as well as find and grow new speakers (see Calling All Local Speakers) that means you!

Take a look at all the sessions submitted. The tracks are not finalized yet but so far we have sessions submitted for DBAs, Developers, BI professionals, dotNet, and an Advanced. As you can see there is something for everyone.

Cool People To Meet

For me networking is one of the best parts of any SQL Saturday event. You can catch up with old friends and meet new ones. I especially like meeting the people I have chatted with on twitter and not met in person. That’s part of what makes the SQL community so strong and always growing. You can have conversations (all be it short ones) on twitter and when you actually meet them it’s almost as if you have known them for years.

The Weather Is Fine Wish You Were

I am sure you have seen something in the news about how hot it has been and the serious drought conditions down here in Texas recently. Yes it’s true; we have many days during the summer over 100 degrees and have not had measurable rain in several months.  However, our fall weather is usually very, very nice.

The normal high temperatures for October are in the low 80s and the normal low temperatures are in the upper 50s. Our average monthly rainfall is below 4 inches. That is not too shabby when compared to other areas of the country or world for the month of October. This year will be no different it is going to be a beautiful weekend to be in Austin.

Things To Do

After getting your learn on during the day, and after you have hung out at the Networking Social post event party you can stroll along 6th street. Checkout the clubs the people and maybe, just maybe run into the world famous Leslie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leslie_Cochran).

Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World! Every weekend for sure and just about every week night you can find live music to your liking in Austin. Whatever you decide to do Austin has the nightlife to support it.

Vendors

Vendors are a big part of any of the SQL Saturday events and ours is no different. They support the events financially and with people. Please make it a point to visit the vendors, talk with them, and check what they have to offer, get a free pen or a splat ball, and if they are giving something away, throw your name in hat for a drawing at the end of the day. Who knows you may win something and get more than just free knowledge. I was at an event in the spring where one of the attendees won several things in a row. That could be you this time.

Final Thoughts

When you look at the wide range of session topics submitted. The speakers on the list, then networking possibilities, not to mention it is FREE, there is bound to be something for every level of experience.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I am really excited to be a part of CACTUSS and that we can give a little back to the community by SQL Saturday 97. If you are attending, find me and say hi. I’ll be the one grinning from ear to ear.

Cheers!

What It Means To Me To Be A Volunteer

Hi my name is Wes, and I am a volunteer

I am not unique. There are others like me, who give time, money or both. I am not the biggest giver. There are some who dedicate their lives to helping others. I couldn’t stop being a volunteer even if I wanted to. It is simply part of who I am.

All Shapes And Sizes

People from all walks of life are volunteers. I’ve met people who had very little in the way of material goods still giving to those who had less. I know people who have found success in the highest levels of their professions still take time to give back. Does the person who has millions of dollars and gives the same amount of time as the person who lives paycheck to paycheck valued less as a volunteer? I don’t think so. The rich person may give because he can while the poor person gives because he must, doesn’t diminish the gift.

Why People Volunteer

There are no wrong reasons for being a volunteer. I’ve had some heated debates on this one. Some people feel that if you gain materially through being a volunteer it cheapens your contribution. I personally don’t agree with that assessment. I know several people that are private consultants that give their time and money to the SQL Server community. In return they may get some business. I know some people that it is literally their job to interact with the community. I’ve heard people say things like “He gets paid to do that.” and it is true. It doesn’t change the fact that someone’s life has been enriched by their activities. We consider some paid volunteer positions noble in nature. Take teachers for example. They touch our lives in ways that just can’t be measured. A great educator can effect whole generations and have a lasting impact long after their teaching years are over. Sometimes being a volunteer is encouraged by your employer. It may be part of your improvement plan and factored into your bonuses or promotions. It doesn’t lessen your contribution to the community just because you get direct or indirect benefit from it.

Should You Volunteer?

I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know. Would I like you to give back to the community? Without a doubt I would. Should you volunteer is a personal question I can’t answer for you. I can tell you about my choices and introduce you to others that have made the choice, but I can’t choose for you. I’ll share another little secret with you, if you choose not to volunteer you aren’t a bad person. Even if you benefit from my work and don’t share in return I’m fine with that.

How Volunteerism Impacts My Life

As a life long volunteer I can say it has changed my life in many ways, none of them I regret in the least. I will say it is getting harder to give time without impacting my professional  and personal life. I try to balance my desire to be a volunteer with my duties to my family and work. It isn’t always easy. Since I’m a volunteer my wife is also a volunteer. When I am away from home she has to shoulder all the parenting duties. My son is also a volunteer. Even though he is only three he gives up time with me and does crazy things like ride in the car eight hours so he can be with me when I travel. It also diverts money away from my family. I’m not saying I’m broke or anything, but when I give money in support of the community it means that some things may get delayed at home. We may not get to save as much. Again, I’m not the only one giving in my house. My family gives when I give. Without the support of my family it would be almost impossible to be as active as I am.

Community Reactions

It always surprises me when people come up and thank me for doing what I do. Do I like the praise? You bet I do. It lifts me up and makes me want to do more and try harder. Would I still do this without the pats on the back? Yep. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work where there was zero recognition from the community. Sometimes people tell me I’m a good person for doing this when I don’t have to. What most people don’t understand is I really don’t have a choice. I have to volunteer. I can’t imagine my life without it. It may be something my parents instilled in me or a genetic defect for all I know but it is an imperative that I cannot avoid.

Final Thoughts

If you are a sufferer of chronic volunteerism I’d love to meet you and hear your story. Even better I’d like to see you write about it too. Trust me, there are people that look at me and say “I don’t know how he does it.” I then turn to someone else who does more than I do and say the exact same thing. I wonder what they are giving up to help me be a better person and what I can do to pass that on to others.

Heading to Baton Rouge! SQLSaturday #64

I’ve been honored again to present at Baton Rouge. This is an excellent event from every angle. It is also getting big! This is shaping up to be a truly well rounded Microsoft focused event. If you are there please come say hi, I love to meet new people!

http://www.sqlsaturday.com/64/eventhome.aspx

Check it out and build your schedule. Don’t forget the after party ether. Networking is a huge part of a SQLSaturday, take advantage of it!

I’m A Part Of Things Greater Than Myself, The POSSE Is Here.

Something Is Missing…

Some of you know I have a deep passion for the SQL Server community. I’ve always been extremely focused on local community building. As we started really planning for our SQLSaturday (SQLSaturday #97) I started to realize there was a gap between the user group level and the national level. We initially just wanted to turn CACTUSS into a nonprofit but I’m also involved with the San Antonio community and we want to do a SQLSaturday there too. So, I talked to some people I’ve known for quite a while and started moving to form a new nonprofit organization. The Professional Organization of SQL Server Educators was conseved.

This Ain’t Gonna Be Easy.

I started digging around for how to build the company and make it not only a federal nonprofit but a state nonprofit as well.  If you have ever filed all the paperwork for a federal nonprofit you know just how big a time and money investment it really is. Again, it isn’t easy. The IRS has a lot of information. Eventually I decided to use legalzoom.com for some of the basic stuff. Luckily I have a wife who is in the legal field and is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. The amount of information you have to put together is pretty daunting. It isn’t just a matter of filling out a form and sending it in. You have to prove that you are serving the community and make sure you have everything in place to keep the organization from being co-opted by folks who would use it for personal gain.

Why Would Anyone Do This?

Because. That’s it just because. OK, there is more to it than that. I have complained made suggestions, for the last several years about how PASS could help local chapters. After seeing what can happen when you just do what should be done, I decided to shut up and just get it done. Even if they don’t know it Steve Jones, Andy Warren, and Brian Knight are one of the real reasons I’m doing this. Every time you go to a SQLSaturday and learn something new you need to send those guys a thank you note. They didn’t wait for someone else to do it. They didn’t ask how they could monetize SQLSaturday they structured it to be supportable by the local community. They built one of the best things to ever happen to the SQL Server community.

Now What?

We keep working to get everything squared away. Am I afraid of failing? Yep, but I’m more afraid of just doing nothing.