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Server Bought for the 1 Grand Challenge December 6, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Architecture, One Grand Server, performance.
Tags: ,
3 comments

What seems like a couple of months ago I suggested the idea of The Fastest Oracle Server for a Grand. It turns out this was actually over 1/3 of a year ago! {such is the rapid passing of normal time}. Anyway, I’ve decided to give this a go.

The intention is that I am going to build a server based on PC technology which costs less than £1,000 and see how fast I can make it go. Of course “how fast” is a “piece of string” question – it depends on what you put into the Oracle database, how you want to use or manipulate the data and how business-ready the system is. I’m intending to build something that looks very, very un-business ready. That is, not a lot of redundancy. Before anyone wants to shoot me down for that (a) I am not running a bank or anything to do with finance (b) why are banks systems that only deal with cash so much more regulated and goverend than medical systems that are only relied on to keep you alive? (c) some of the biggest systems I know of are actually running on something close to PC kit.

I’m quietly confident I can build something that out-performs systems consisting 100 times as much. Now, that is a massive claim and I won’t be too sad if I fall short, but you can do a lot with modest kit. I worked for a charity for 6 years and boy did I see some clever stuff done on the sort of budget many organisation spend on office stationary.

So, what have I got so far? I confess I held off until I saw some new technology appear in a price band I could squeeze in. Namely USB3 and SATA3. There is always something just around the corner but I wanted those as I want to maximise the impact of solid state storage. So, my base server is:

  • Asus P7P55D-E motherboard supporting DDR3, USB3 and SATA3
  • Intel i5 760 2.8HHz chip
  • 8GB memory
  • 1TB samsung 7200rpm SATAII disk
  • AZCool Infinity 800W PSU
  • Coolmaster Elite RC-335 case

I chose the motherboard as it was getting good reviews and had the SATA3 and USB3 ports. I chose the case as it was large enough to take many hard drives, small enough to lug about and was a nice case. I stuck to 8GB RAM as RAM is expensive at the moment, but as it is in 2GB chunks I might regret that choice as all my slots are full. Many people forget the PSU but it’s like the tyers on your car. Those tyers keep you stuck to the road, a PSU keeps you powered. It might be utilitarian but they are vital and often overlooked. The hard disc is pretty good, but very likely to be swapped out (I don’t mind sticking it in another system). The CPU is a proper quad core CPU. I had plenty of scope to go bigger and better on the CPU but for grunt for cash, it seems presently to be the sweet spot.

The basic unit is not overclocked. I will increase the cooling and overclocking will be an option. It comes with 64 bit windows but linux is almost certainly going to be the faster option. No monitor is included but hey, it’s a database server, you don’t need fancy graphics. That old CRT in the corner will do! The server does have a rather nice nVidia GeForce GTX 460 in it but I am cutting out the cost of that. The server is currently the best gaming machine I have but that will end when I get time to start working on the Oracle side.

Total cost, £615 or so. That is like $615 seeing as we get so ripped off in the UK for IT kit. I can now go spend money on more fast hard discs, SSDs, even fast USB memory sticks. Any suggestions, I am happy to listen.

The biggest question is – When am I going to get time to work on this damn thing?

Friday Philosophy – Run Over by a Bus December 3, 2010

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Perceptions.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

I chaired a session at the UKOUG this week by Daniel Fink, titled “Stop Chasing your tail: Using a Disciplined Approach to Problem Diagnosis”. It was a very good talk, about having a process, an approach to solving your IT problems and that it should be a process that suits you and your system. All good stuff and I utterly agree with what he said.

But it was a passing comment Daniel made that really set me thinking. It was something like:

You should be considering how people will look after the system after you have gone, the classic ‘what will we do if you are hit by a bus’….. No, I don’t like thinking like that, that phrase… I prefer ‘after you win the lottery and retire to a great life’.

It just struck a chord with me. Mr Fink’s {and I do go all formal when I intend respect} take on this is a far more positive way of looking at the situation of leaving the system in a state that others can look after once you are no longer able to help. The “Bus” phrase is very, very common, at least in the UK and I suspect in the US, and it is a very negative connotation. “Make sure it all works as something nasty is going to happen to you, something sudden, like being smeared across the tarmac by 25 tons of Greyhound doing 50mph, something basically fatal so you can’t prepare and you can’t help any more”. So, not just moved on, but dead.

Daniel made me realise that we should be looking at this from totally the other perspective and that doing so is much, much, much better. “Make it work so that they love you, even when you have gone away to a happier situation – one involving no road-based unpleasantness at all”.

Everyone leaves their job eventually and I like to think it is often for more positive reasons. Like retiring, or a better job {better for you, but a real shame for your old company as they like you so much}, moving to a new area, attempting a dream. Yes, sometimes (depressingly often at present) it is because you get made redundant or things go bad with your managers, or HR take over the organisation. But even so, better to leave knowing you did so with your professional duty intact I think. It’s one way of winning in a losing situation.

If turning the “bus” metaphor into a “lottery” metaphor results in the response in your brain of “well, when I do leave rich and happy, I still want to leave a painful mess behind me” – then it may indicate that you better leave where you are working as soon as possible in any case? As it is not a good situation and you are deeply very unhappy about it.

Up until now I have sometimes used a far more gruesome but less fatal phrase for the concept of making sure things continue after you leave and can no longer help, which is “involved in a freak lawnmower accident”. As in, can’t type but not dead. I’m going to stop using it, I’ve decided that even with my macabre sense of humour, it really is not a good way to think about doing your job properly. Daniel, your attitude is better. Thank you.

Oh, if you went along to the conference you can get the latest version of Daniel’s talk slides from the UKOUG web site (try this link), otherwise, he has a copy here – pick “papers and presentations”. It has lots of notes on it explaining what the slides mean (ie, what he actually says), which I think is a very nice thing for him to have spent the time doing.

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