What I run… (And why boot-from-san is a good thing.)

It amazes me how much power you can get in a desktop today.

From the Quad-core “Extreme” desktop processors, to 64bit Operating Systems that are almost ready for prime-time, the options are limitless.

I recently ‘came into’ some hardware and decided to build a server workstation around it.

The ‘found’ hardware was 16G of Registered, ECC memory in a 4×4 configuration.  (From a client for whom I upgraded to 4×8 who told me to…and I quote…”Keep it, I’ve got no use for it.”  – Why thank you, don’t mind if I do.)

First step was to put a motherboard under it.  Most people know that Registered, Fully buffered, ECC memory won’t work in any motherboard.  Requires server hardware.  So I go to my favorite computer shop, Affinity Computer Technologies (Sterling, Virginia area) and I ask Bill what I I should buy.

My requirements:

  • Must take the memory I have on hand.
  • 2x PCIe x16 slots (for the dual/dual-port video cards I run)
  • at least 1x PCI-X slot for the Emulex LP9802-DC.

What he comes up with, after about 15 minutes of careful research (he’s that good) is a Supermicro X7DAL-E+ motherboard.  (Link – pictured above)

This board rocks.  Dual Xeon, supports up to 24G of RAM, and meets the rest of my requirements.

Next buy was the processors, because i certainly don’t have Xeon processors lying around.  (Well, point of fact, I do, but not THOSE Xeon processors)  I opted for a pair of Quad-Core 2.0Ghz processors.  They weren’t the best processors I could buy, but they were in my price range.

Thanks to the boys at Affinity, the whole thing was had for under $1,250.

And I bought a new case, the Antec 300, because I the case i was running wasn’t fully ATX compliant, and required that I choose between having a CD-Rom and the second processor.  (Not gonna happen)  Antec makes some pretty decent looking / sized cases for under $100.

No hard-drives please.  I’m booting from SAN.

First thing I have to say is that when I first installed Win7 on my old workstation, I learns is that powerpath does NOT work correctly at all on Windows 7.

Second thing I learn is that Windows2008-R2 64Bit almost perfectly emulates Windows7 when you put it in desktop mode and enable all the bells/whistles.

Third thing I learn is that 8CPU cores 16G’s of ram, and 2 1Gbyte video cards makes World of Warcraft SCREAM. 😉  Even when there are four VM’s running in the background. 🙂  Yes, I’m *THAT* nerd. 🙂

But the best part of it was the migration.  Now as I’ve said in the past I’ve been running the boot-from-san for some time (most recently with the Win2k8R2/Powerpath up and running), so of course the Emulex drivers were already a part of the operating system. So this is how it went:

1. Build new system.

2. Shut down old system.

3. Move Video/Emulex cards to new system

4. Connect and Power On.

5. Reboot twice as motherboard/CPU specific drivers are loaded.

6. Done.

Total migration time – about 45 minutes, including hardware swap.

Now *THIS* is the reason I strongly support and encourage boot-from-san in a datacenter.  Not only does it make it amazingly easy to protect your data.  (SnapView, MirrorView, etc) but you have the option of upgrading hardware and keeping your disks/OS in-tact.

So when the G3 HP’s go out of fashion,  you shut it down, make a simple zoning/masking change, and power the new box on.

if it’s linux, you don’t even need a reboot most of the time… (however your ifconfig settings will need to be updated – they’ll get hashed when the MAC of the network card is changed.

This is what I do for fun. 😉


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    • Jason on April 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm
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    I agree with you in principle.

    In practice, the same simple underlying hardware swap is not always as easy on AIX or HP-UX (I’m uncertain on Solaris). Not going to a new generation of hardware, anyway. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done.

    However, even if you exclude those from the list, the problem that I have with actually recommending boot-from-SAN in the datacenter is that it has repeatedly proven difficult to educate the server admins on how to configure it.

    That and typically by the time a customer decides to do a hardware refresh, it’s probably a good time to talk about a new OS install anyway (either because it’s a newer OS, or just to clean out the cobwebs on the old one).

    That being said, boot from SAN does offer lots of benefits, particularly the data protection options that you mention.

    I think in a well-maintained environment where you have a great technical team (you know, that pie-in-the-sky perfect place to work that I’ve never seen), then it can be used to great effect.

    I’m actually looking forward to a day when we can boot from a write-protected OS image. All that would need to be read-write would be swap space and maybe a handful of local configuration files. The management and security advantages to such a setup would be fantastic.

    1. Education is *ALWAYS* the hang-up. Convincing a customer to change they way they’ve always done things always seems to be the one part of my job that still leaves me considering truck-driving school at the end of the day.

      One of the things I’ve liked about it is being able to throw new software at the system with knowledge that the OS drive is protected by a snapshot as well as the data volumes.

      (Windows supposedly does this through it’s own system restore setup, but i’ve never seen it work completely because it’s not a block-level copy, and tends to leave remnants of the changes behind in the form of DLL files that for one reason or another don’t get deleted.)

      • Graham on August 27, 2012 at 6:20 pm
      • Reply

      Read only OS images are here with Citrix Provisioning Server – but that’s another story.

      1. A bit out of date, it’s been a while since the SAN has been in my office.

        The $600 electric bills got to be a bit much so I moved all the heat-generating equipment to a co-lo site. 🙂

    • TT on October 22, 2010 at 1:27 am
    • Reply

    Heh, I not only implement boot from SAN, I also implement hands-off scripted install of the OS to SAN via PXE boot 🙂

    • Nakarti on August 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm
    • Reply

    Yeah I’m not sure I would do it for the migration ease. Even Linux sometimes pukes on hardware changes, and its fastest to clean-install.
    But everything else, yes that would be awesome.

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