Friday, January 28, 2005

The Mac-Mini server: reliability through redundancy

PBS | I, Cringely . Archived Column

A great column, even by the very high Cringely standards. This quote, from a very authoritative source, is very interesting.
'The second box is going to be our source-code server. It's safe as heck, because OS X includes one-click firewalls. And, again, it's not like I have so many engineers that we're checking in code every second. If it processes a transaction every ten minutes, I'll consider our company very productive. For us little guys, the Mac mini is the absolute perfect server. I'm hooking up two identical external drives to each Mac mini (total of four), each two set up as a RAID 1. (Each drive is slightly bigger than the mini.) The chances of losing data via disk failure are astronomically low this way. And if a motherboard crashes, I can swap in the other box -- I have a $500 hot-backup OF THE WHOLE MACHINE. I have a complete server 'closet' that fits in less than a cubic foot. It's quiet. It's got a redundant RAID built-in. It's easy to administer and set up. I share a monitor and keyboard with my main workstation, so I don't have any extra clutter. Look out, Linux.'
Hmm. I'm not sure Apple will like this; they sell xserve blades! The cost advantages over doing this with a cheap PC come from security, built-in RAID support, and a low cost quiet machine.

More broadly speaking we've moved to high reliability systems in the past 10 years not by making individual machines more reliable, but rather by seeking reliability at the system level -- not the component level. Hmm. Reliability at the system level. Where have I heard that idea before?

The other point the author makes, that many people forget, is that many servers really aren't doing much work at all. Our home server is a very old Win2K machine and that's overkill.

Cringely has more in the article. Clearly he's fond of Apple. He describes how to build a $9K supercomputer with 16 Mac-Minis:
Imagine a Mac Minicluster running Apple's xGrid software. Start with a 16-port fast Ethernet switch and stack 16 Mac Minis on top. That's a 720 gigaflop micro-supercomputer that costs less than $9,000, can fit on a bookshelf, and can be up and running in as little time as it takes to connect the network cables. High schools will be sequencing genes.
Read the whole thing. Good fun. Now if Apple could only get their #$!* iPhoto product working ....

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