Web 2.0 and The "Whatever Box" Server

One of the key differences between the original dot-com bubble and the Web 2.0 bubble we're entering now is that our servers are a lot cheaper and a lot more powerful. Moore's Law in action isn't exactly news, but the new web is definitely powered by cheap "whatever boxes":

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/04/web-2-0-and-the-whatever-box-server.html

Since I’m such an intently lazy person, could I perchance to wonder (rather than bother to research) how powerful a server could one buy from Dell right now at a similar price with similar redundancies and hotswappabilities? You’ve more than made your point anyway, but it’d be nice. And secondhand boxen from auctions are an absolute joy for learning hobbyists. :slight_smile:

You will always have the “Are we ready to take the next step” situation.

I actually think it is very few situations where people take the step to early. People always do a lot of research on new machines and technology. But maybe too many take the step too late?

Ether way it is a technical decision that are funny and exciting; switching to new technology and new ground.

But the problem is not what you solve your problems with, but how you solve them.

My manager can easily drag’n’drop together applications from his UML diagram faster then I can enter my console. It will on his new machine perform and he can show it off and give me a display on how worthless my knowledge in pointers and garbage collection is.
But sooner or later the application will start to leak, the database connected has grown too large or some other issue.

I do not fear adopting higher levels of languages but I fear the careless coding.

If you want to compare to scsi fairly, just add $600-800 for the difference. Even still, it’s half the price.

It is shocking how different the tech world is from the time when NT 4 and SunOS 5 were king, especially when it comes to management of networks. I occasionally find myself thinking, it’s a shame they only had 1 GHz ten years ago - until I remember that it was only 6! :stuck_out_tongue:

The captcha really must be done in green, or blue, or any other color, perhaps a random one. Or maybe I’m just goofing off too much.

how powerful a server could one buy from Dell right now at a similar price with similar redundancies and hotswappabilities?

There were two reasons we opted to build our own:

  1. Dell has an unholy pact with Intel, so we’d be stuck with Intel Inside. And Intel’s Xeon CPUs are currently quite inferior to the AMD Opteron/Athlon64.

  2. The Dell machine was about 2x the price for similar (but more hot-swappable) stuff. I’d guesstimate $4k+, possibly even $5k.

any other color

Perhaps ORANGE?

I’ve been approaching this the other way in my datacenter; I’ve been buying up (off ebay, natch) as many $100 servers as I can. This buys me dual PIII@900mhz, 1GB ram, dual scsi HDs. This is the box that used to cost $4K not so many years ago- and at these costs, I can afford to buy ten and make them redundant- and since everything gets filtered by a 100Mhz feed anyway (slightly slower than a 1x CDrom drive), it pretty much keeps up. So I can run yesterday’s eminently suitable hardware- at 2.5% of the cost.

I just checked the Dell site and the closest 2006 config to our $1,750 newegg homebrew is the PowerEdge 2850 in “Enhanced” config:

  • Dual Xeon 3.0 GHz
  • Dual 74GB 10k SCSI
  • 4GB RAM
  • dual 1000baseT network


As I said, expensive, and the P4 Xeons underperform the AMD equivalents by a pretty wide margin.

So I can run yesterday’s eminently suitable hardware- at 2.5% of the cost.

That’s clever, as long as you have an app that scales proportionally across many server nodes!

Dell stuff is a lot cheaper when you A) get a rep and B) buy it at the end of their fiscal quarter :slight_smile:

I love how the server is on casters. We had some similar servers at one of my old jobs.

What’s also remarkable is that you can get all those server features in a 2U formfactor!

Captcha: you just know it’s an experiment by Jeff to show that most captcha solutions are overly complicated.

I’m an admin who reads a few developer blogs out of interest.

This post basically reinforced my stereotypical notion that developers should just stick to talking about developing software (and, in your case, usability, I love those posts!).

Things like “even on a single “whatever box” server.” would be funny if they didn’t really happen in the wild.

Running critical apps (and basically, if they’re not critical to the core business of “making money”, why run them?) on single mock servers that are basically desktops squished to 1U is basically insanity defined, but it happens and the guy who suggested ruining customer trust gets rewarded for “pushing cost down” and the admin who’s stuck with a failing piece of metal running a non-certified, non-vendor-supported environment gets the blame.

Additionally, those cheap servers tend to produce noticeably more heat and take more power (except for Dell, whose products I wouldn’t touch with a 10’ pole anyway if I can choose it), create more “where to get replacement parts 1 year after original purchase” horrors, etc.

What you’re pushing here is just a decline in operational culture and ITops understanding presented as progress, as Moore’s law is not really news (which you acknowledge).

If there’s money to be saved on a large scale by working smarter, it’s desktops and support.

Normal companies should once again look at thin clients, and Web 2.0!!!1! companies should just give their developers the best Workstations that they possibly could, and invest the savings in development time in some decent servers. It’s not like cutting cost is all there is to it, because else the most successful companies were the ones that just cease operations (wow! zero cost!)!

Summary: WHY DID YOU MAKE ME FLAIL? :wink:

Well, bnerd, I don’t agree. I used to write for TechReport, so I have a lot of experience with computer hardware. I think a lot of the traditional server costs (“certified”, “vendor supported”) are waste, and can be duplicated with off the shelf whitebox parts that are trivially easy to replace. DIY!

If your org has a defined IT infrastructure, I’m not proposing that be thrown out and replaced with a random assemblage of ad-hoc servers built from newegg.

However, for small companies starting out on shoestring budgets, a heavily formal IT infrastructure is a giant waste of money.

Jeff, I take issue with the phrase, “starting out,” on shoestring budgets. Small firms tend to be on shoestring budgets at all times, whether they’re starting out or well into a mature upgrade cycle :slight_smile:

Jeff, I was flailing more out of professional frustration with being in a bad spot as an admin because of arguments much like yours, than out of disagreement that a sensible IT env can be built out of high quality parts.

It definitely can, and in the grand scheme of things, wonderful things happened on white box boxen.

The problem is basically “quality parts”, combined with what Richard says.

I think the disregard for operational issues comes from the plain fact that admins are not as smart as developers (I’m certainly not as smart as the people who develop software as well as I admin), and the resulting idea that it’s child play - which is propagated by many developers who teach managers that bad lesson.

The problem there is that I think while coding is a genius-and-hard work profession, adminning is a sweat, sweat more sweat profession; and a lot of time is needed to develop the proper skills and contacts.

Just my 2 cents.

I was curious how much an 8 gigabyte RAM, 4-way CPU server would cost. So I put a newegg wish list together:


It’s $3,354 which is almost exactly 2x the cost of the 4 gigabyte, 2-way CPU server.

If you have S-ATA drives, then you can swap them out without powering down, unless it is the boot drive.

Almost one third of the price… And less than one third considering the inflation (16.88% from June 2000 to April 2006, according to this calculator http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Calculators/Inflation_Rate_Calculator.asp)