ASA 2URS3 Rackmount 2U Server

by Logan G. Harbaugh

Many people come to Linux looking for an inexpensive server platform, but web sites, databases and other Linux-based application servers have ways of growing in size, complexity and importance that affect the company's bottom line. When this happens, it becomes desirable to upgrade the server hardware from that old 486 desktop system to a real server platform.

Servers come in a wide range of qualities and prices. At the low end are inexpensive systems with desktop cases and motherboards, and at the other are name-brand, custom-configured, redundant-everything rackmount boxes with five- or six-figure price tags. ASA Computers offers a multitude of servers in 1U (1.75"), 2U (3.5") and 4U rackmount configurations, as well as pedestal (desk-side) cases with up to four processors. The 2URS3, in a configuration intended to be a database server, offers high performance and top-of-the-line engineering at a reasonable price.

The 2U rackmount server I tested included an Intel SCB2 motherboard with on-board SCSI, dual 1.13GHz Pentium III processors, 2GB RAM, an ICP Vortex 64-bit/66MHz Ultra 160 RAID controller, one IBM 9GB Ultra 160 boot drive and four Seagate Cheetah 10,000RPM 18GB Ultra 160 drives in a hot-swappable RAID-5 configuration. It also included integrated dual 10/100 Ethernet interfaces, an integrated ATI Rage 8MB video controller, an Intel PRO/1000 Gigabit Ethernet NIC and a Hewlett-Packard 12/24GB DDS-3 DAT drive.

The keyboard and mouse (not included) can share a single PS/2 port via a Y-cable, or two USB ports also are available. There is no parallel port, and the one serial port has an RJ-45 connector rather than the standard DB-9. (There's only so much real estate available on a 2U case.) The standard warranty is one year for parts and three years for labor. On-site service is not currently available.

The motherboard supports up to six 64-bit/66MHz PCI cards, three full-height and three low-profile, with each set of three on a separate PCI bus. Two slots were used for the Intel Gigabit Ethernet NIC and the ICP RAID controller. The motherboard supports up to 6GB of PC133 interleaved RAM and one or two 1.0, 1.13, 1.26 or 1.4GHz Pentium III processors. The system uses a nicely engineered Intel SR2200 case that is capable of redundant 350 watt-power supplies, though only one was installed. All sheet metal edges are folded over to prevent sliced fingers; construction is solid and the case supports up to six hot-swap SCA drives. A floppy/CD combo drive (or a seventh hot-swap hard drive) can be added, and there is room for a tape drive as well (or a floppy or CD, if the seventh hard drive option is in use). A rackmount rail kit is also included.

The only quibble I have with the case is that the locking button for the slide-off top can be easily bent too far, which then keeps the top from locking closed. This won't be much of an issue when the case is mounted in a rack.

The system is a real screamer, fully capable of running with the fastest Intel-based systems around. Throughput on the Gigabit Ethernet adapter was over 900Mbps, and sustained file transfers reached speeds of over 30MB/sec using the RAID volume. This speed could be increased by adding spindles to the RAID. In a effort to benchmark the overall system performance, I used an Antara FlameThrower to generate requests against the web server, downloading graphics and sound files as well as text pages. The overall performance numbers were about 1.6 times as high as for a 1.4GHz single-processor Compaq server, indicating that SMP is working well and overall system performance is comparable to the best systems around.

The price quoted by ASA Computers for the system as configured is $5,542. Using Dell's web site, a comparable PowerEdge 2550 2U server came in at $7,911. The ASA Computers system is a well-engineered system with high-quality, name-brand components and a huge bang for the buck. So what don't you get for the price? Two things—name recognition and hand-holding.

ASA Computers is a relatively small company (compared to Compaq, Dell or HP) that has been around since 1989, a fact that has both pluses and minuses. ASA is much more likely to respond to special requests from customers and give those customers quick results. On the other hand, it can't offer the kind of service organization and sales support that the big companies can. For example, the system I received had no documentation other than the vendor documentation for the motherboard, chassis and RAID controller. A simple hardware build sheet didn't include any information on what software was installed, what packages were installed, how the RAID was configured or even what the root password was for the system.

For administrators who intend to install their own standard server software, or who are comfortable with rooting around in the depths of the system, this lack of documentation might not be a problem. When I called, the support technician at ASA was able to give me the information I needed immediately, with no time spent on hold. ASA does offer customized hardware/software configurations that could be specified to include documentation and software at additional cost. However, the sales support that you may expect from one of the big companies, which could help you select the OS, database software, appropriate storage devices, configuration details for the devices (what RAID works best for a given type of database?), configure the OS and database software, install it at your site and provide ongoing support, is not available. This is the kind of capability you pay the extra money for when you buy servers from IBM, HP, Compaq and other, larger companies.

If you can provide your own support, however, ASA offers a wide variety of equipment. Everything from 1U web servers to four-way Xeon servers with ten drive bays are available, all with best-of-breed components and all at great prices.

Product Information/The Good/The Bad

Logan G. Harbaugh ( is a freelance writer specializing in networking. He has worked as an information technology manger and manager of systems integration and has been a networking consultant for more than 15 years. He has also written two books on networking.
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