How do I shop for enterprise-grade servers and storage?
October 14, 2013 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy several servers with 24+ cores and 100+ GB of RAM, as well as storage for slightly over 100TB of data. Where (and how) should I be looking?

I'm fairly comfortable with the requirements overall, but I'll admit that I've never priced out any hardware on this scale. With the dollars at stake, it seems like I should compile the specs for things that I need and find a salesperson and let them figure it out. Is there a better way to approach this?

Most of the storage I need can be set up as a NAS, SAN, or DAS, though I will definitely need a SAN or DAS for ~40TB. The other thing that will need to be included is some kind of 10gb networking infrastructure to support this. Of course, I know next to nothing about 10gb technologies that are out there right now, so any direction on that would be helpful too.
posted by antonymous to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're going to want to write an RFP for equipment, maintenance, support and network.

Most of the companies who sell the network, AT&T, Verizon, etc, partner with equipment manufacturers to provide a total package.

I'd start there. Do some preliminary discussions, and be open minded. Discuss how you want the end point to look, don't just list a bunch of stuff you think you need.

Also, are you sure you want this where YOU live, versus off premisis or in "the cloud?"

Call up Cisco, AT&T, Verizon and I dunno, some other company. And meet with each team individually. Explain what you're trying to do, and ask them for their expertise.

Avoid consultants, a good salesperson IS a consultant!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:44 AM on October 14, 2013

Best answer: Call up Dell, they will guide you through this. I'm sure HP and other big players will do the same.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 9:09 AM on October 14, 2013

Best answer: I agree, with one exception. Compile the results you want first. An exchange server cluster that will support X users with x 9s of uptime, etc. Or a VM cluster that will support X VMs of certain specs.

Then gather the specs recommended by the software makers for the stuff you need to do. THEN talk to HP, Cisco, Dell and EMC about what they offer. Cross off any vendors who are wildly out of whack with what the software people recommend. Then figure out which vendor offers what you need for a price that makes sense.

Don't forget about total cost of ownership and future upgradability. A cheaper solution might be at end of life and need to be completely replaced in X years when you reach capacity. A more expensive solution (like maybe a blade chassis) would give you the ability to add capacity in the future.
posted by gjc at 9:20 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

How many users ? What sort of uptime ? What OSes? What kind of applications, how do the servers connect to storage ?

If you want low cost, don't have high performance and uptime needs, I've been well served by HP's lefthand/Storevirtual iSCSI arrays. If you have high performance needs, then you'll want to consider Fiberchannel.

But there are more than few ways to architect this.

But you really need to have a good idea of what your intended use case is before even placing a phone call. If you aren't clear on which option is best, let the sales people bring in some technical advisors to whiteboard things for you. On a deal of this size, they will be absolutely willing to school you on their products.

You'll save money if you work with a salesperson directly. You can save time by working with a consultant. Which is best sort of depends on how hands on you are going to be with this.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2013

Response by poster: I should clarify a few things I inadvertently omitted from the original question:

We're reselling and hosting a software solution for a client. We currently are hosting this software, but on a small scale (5 users) which only requires one server. This new client would needs potentially 100 users, and fortunately the software manufacturer provides us the specs needed to properly deploy their software for this many users.

Due to the nature of the data, the cloud is not an option. This hardware must be stored at a secure colocation facility. We are not concerned (yet) about this solution being scalable, as this is a one-off project. The servers will run windows, and this is a high-performance/availability application (five 9s of uptime).

Also, I just remembered...we actually have a blade server. An HP c7000 (I think). It's maybe 7 years old, and we're only using 4 half-height blades in it now, and I don't have experience buying blades for it. Not sure why I didn't think of it before.

As of right now, I will prepare to essentially forward the software maker's recommended specs (along with our storage requirements) to various vendors. Please keep the ideas and recommendations coming - being the lone sysadmin at a small company means much of this enterprise jargon is foreign to me. Thanks.
posted by antonymous at 10:36 AM on October 14, 2013

Don't you have a commercial hardware vendor already? If I had this problem I'd be talking to my CDW rep. Not recommending them, necessarily (although they've been fine in my experience), just a vendor my employer uses for big hardware purchases. If you deal with an OEM vendor, you might not get a fair look at the competition in the space.
posted by spitbull at 12:49 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Obviously I don't know the details, and I guess if you're just passing the costs on to your client you may not care. But any software vendor who told me that they need multiple 24+ core/100GB machines for 100 users would have me asking a lot of questions. Very few applications need that kind of resources, and it's also usually more effective to use a larger number of small machines rather than a few huge ones. I've worked with datasets multiples the size of what you're talking about, at major tech companies, and have almost never used machines that large.

If you haven't already done so, I think it's worth drilling down a bit to figure out what the resource bottlenecks are, how the application scales, and what the true requirements are. When you start to get into exotically-sized hardware, you also start paying serious premiums, so you only want to do that if it's absolutely necessary.
posted by primethyme at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I also have a concern about redundancy. If you can co-locate, I'd want to do it in two very different locations, if so, you're going to want to talk to a vendor who can offer that. The network costs may double but it covers your ass if one network should go down.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2013

If you had a design for all this already, I'd say you should just make up an RFP, contact your preferred reseller (such as CDW but there are many, many others) and a couple others and get quotes.

However, it sounds like you're starting almost from scratch. Ideally you should have someone who has experience with 10Gb networking, enterprise storage and servers help to architect all this. That might be a single person but usually it's 2-3 people. There are many, many details involved in all the choices you need to make which will either make your life bearable or horrific over the next few years (assuming you're supporting all this infrastructure).

After you buy the gear, someone will need to configure it all, and troubleshoot any problems. They'll then need to either maintain the stuff themselves (preferable) or train their replacements. It's best to have the staff which will support your environment as involved as possible in the selection and implementation as possible. It's much harder to support an environment where you don't understand the design and implementation decisions.

Your software vendor may have professional services that will help design an environment for you. The larger hardware vendors can do that sort of thing (Dell, IBM, etc.) but you'll end up with a solution that favors their gear (which may be fine, but they're going to be biased).

I prefer not to use Dell because I've had more problems with them than other vendors (with a sample size of thousands of servers and bunches of storage). They do tend to have good prices, however.

In short, I'd hire somebody with experience in the domains you need to cover. If that isn't an option, find a company that provides design and implementation services and start building a relationship with them. You'll want them to support whatever you implement so you'll need a service contract. People may design and implement things differently when they are the ones who have to fix any problems at 3am. Sales people are great when you already know what you want, but they aren't on the hook for making it all work.

Good luck!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 3:18 PM on October 14, 2013

If you already have a blade chassis, then that's probably going to be the way to go. Those chassis are very good fault tolerant wise and probably already have some of the stuff built in that you need.
posted by gjc at 4:55 AM on October 15, 2013

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