Product of the Day: Appro Servers

by Vendor Written

Product: Appro ServersManufacturer: Appro Systems, Co.Address: 446 South Abbott Avenue,               Milpitas, California 95035Telephone: 800-927-5464URL: www.appro.com

Behind AnandTech - 2002 Server Upgrade

The following article has been provided by one of Appro's customers.

Although the AMD Athlon was launched at the end of 1999, it took several months for the politics and uncertainty surrounding the adoption of the CPU to take their course. By June 2000 and the launch of the Thunderbird, the situation had changed dramatically. It took us no more than two months to realize that with the Thunderbird, AMD had a very capable server CPU on their hands; the only thing that was lacking was a true server platform.

In spite of the lack of a true server platform to run these CPUs on, in August 2000, we built four brand new web servers all based on 1GHz AMD Athlon (Thunderbird) platforms.

Motherboard reliability problems plagued our original four servers, which caused us to perform another fairly massive server upgrade just 8 months later. This upgrade saw the introduction of AMD760 based DDR platforms to the AnandTech Server Farm.

The most recent upgrade we published was the migration of one of our aging Pentium II Xeon database server platforms to a dual Athlon MP/760MP setup. This upgrade happened in August of last year and has been able to keep up with the incredible growth our Forums have seen over the past several months. A smaller upgrade that we didn't publicize much was performed a few months ago that took the original dual Athlon MP 1.2GHz setup to dual Athlon MP 1800+ processors and increased the installed memory size from 2GB to 3GB.

Our two remaining database servers (one for the AnandTech main site and the other for our Advertisements Server) remain in their configurations as of January 2001. These will most likely be included in the next list of server upgrades we perform, but for now we had a different task at hand.

Moving from desktop systems to servers

Regardless of what load they were under and how often we kept them running, those four original Athlon webservers were nothing more than desktop systems in rack mounted cases. When we moved to Athlon webservers, we were forced to buy cases that would accommodate desktop power supplies so we could build those systems much like we would build a desktop Athlon. Back then AMD wasn't being taken seriously as a server chip manufacturer, but they quickly proved to us through solid performance in a server environment that they had every reason to be taken seriously.

Today the situation is much different; the release of the 760MP chipset and the Athlon MP processor marked AMD's official entry into Intel's server stronghold. The migration over the past 7 years from RISC architectures over to x86 servers has primarily been a migration to Intel platforms. With the release of the first MP platforms from AMD, the x86 server market could belong to more than just Intel. And with Hammer on the horizon, there's no reason to believe that AMD won't make some positive gains in that sector.

While the major server manufacturers are continuing to stay away from AMD, a few smaller firms have taken the same risk we took back in 2000. One of those manufacturers happens to be Appro; as you may recall, Appro was the first manufacturer to adopt and offer the Athlon MP/760MP platform in a true server form after its launch in June 2001. Appro also makes the 1124 760MP solution which ended up being our database server of choice for the AnandTech Forums.

With Appro's proven R&D efforts that went into developing the 1124 chassis, a 1U dual Athlon MP solution, the time had come for us to say goodbye to our crude 4U and 5U Athlon web servers. They served us well during the years before anyone ever thought of shoving an Athlon in anything smaller than a desktop-sized case, but now the time had come to move to something a bit more serious.

As our first server upgrade of 2002, we didn't pursue an upgrade out of a need for more power, but rather we upgraded in order to provide more headroom for the future - literally. Remember that our old Athlon servers were put in both 4U and 5U cases (we managed to get a couple into 2U chassis), which are highly inefficient. To put things into perspective, the racks that these cases are mounted can accommodate a combination of cases and devices totaling 45U in height (1U is approximately 1.75" high).

With the help and cooperation of Appro, we spec'd out a configuration using their 1124i chassis (an IDE version of the 1124s used as our Forums Database Server) for all 9 of our public webserver boxes. The systems were configured as follows:

  • Dual Athlon MP 1900+ (1.60GHz)

  • Tyan Thunder K7

  • 512MB DDR266 SDRAM

  • Seagate 20GB IDE HDD

With the dual on-board NICs and on-board ATI RageXL video of the Tyan Thunder K7, we were able to keep the external peripherals down to a bare minimum. Each 1124i system featured two sticks of DDR SDRAM and a hard drive in addition to the CPUs.

You'll notice that we moved away from the IBM Deskstars used all of our previous web servers due to recent questions of reliability in regards to IBM's 75GXP, 60GXP and 120GXP lines. We have no conclusive evidence to support theories for/against the reason for the seemingly large number of failures (we've encountered noticeable amounts in our servers, labs and in personal systems of our staff), but we wanted to remain on the safe side and thus went with Seagate drives.

Many have asked why we choose to go with IDE drives in our web servers instead of SCSI drives for their performance and reliability. These web servers are not very I/O intensive, as most of the material being served is cached and is thus coming straight from memory, which negates the need for a high-performance drive. And as you can probably guess, we go through web servers pretty quickly due to our roots in the enthusiast community (how long have you gone without upgrading your system?). Since the drives are replaced relatively quickly, they rarely get a full workout to the point where long-term lifespan is a factor in our decision to upgrade. Sticking with IDE simply makes the most sense for us (the same cannot be said about our I/O intensive DB servers however).

More on the board itself; the Tyan Thunder K7 has proven to be very reliable since we first brought it to the farm last year. The inclusion of dual Ethernet controllers and on-board video make it perfect for a 1U chassis. The fact that the DIMM slots are angled allows us to use just about any type of registered DDR DIMM module regardless of height.

Our memory of choice has been Corsair as they were the first to provide high-density DDR266 modules that were fully compatible with the Tyan Thunder K7. We currently use three sticks of their 1GB modules in our Forums DB server.

Each web server was outfitted with 512MB of RAM; prior to this upgrade the servers peak memory usage was just under 256MB, so we felt the need to move up to 512MB as a forward-looking upgrade.

Our CPUs of choice were the Athlon MP 1900+ processors: two per box. As we first discovered back in June, the Athlon MP makes for an excellent database server processor. Most database servers rely on the ability to move large volumes of data, very quickly, while performing relatively simple (from a machine language standpoint) operations on the data. The CPU's ALU (Arithmetic and Logic Unit) is the main unit stressed and optimizations for SIMD instruction sets (such as SSE2) are virtually nonexistent. It all comes down to FSB bandwidth, memory bandwidth, cache (size, latency and bandwidth) and raw computational power. The combination of the 760MP platform and the Athlon MP processors provides for a very high performance solution at an extremely low cost.

The same can be said for the use of the 760MP/Athlon MP on the web server side of things. The requirements are much less stringent, but the areas to focus performance are the same. At the time we were giving Appro the specifications for these boxes, the Athlon MP 2000+ CPUs were around a week away from being launched, but we stuck with 1900+ CPUs. After all, another 66MHz wouldn't make a huge difference.

Analyzed and Load Balanced by Pogo Linux

We wanted something in a low-profile 1U chassis that would be as reliable as possible.

Last year, we came to Pogo with a request for a different sort of machine. The stats for all of the AnandTech Web Servers can quickly take up quite a bit of space. These are the stats that record how many people visited the site, how many pages they read, if/when they came back, etc. This information is generally very useful to our sales staff and it's important that it is kept in its entirety. Unfortunately, a month's worth of stats can easily fill a few 40GB drives. While web server logs are easily compressible, sometimes you need them in uncompressed form, and thus we needed a machine that would become an easily administrable storage server for analyzing our stats.

Final Words

With this upgrade we've moved to a set of servers that offers a performance density never previously seen in the enterprise market. This is one of the reasons that Appro's 1124 series has had such great success in the distributed computing market where performance density is quite important.

Not only does this setup offer incredible performance for its size but it's also much more affordable than what was available prior to AMD's entry into the server market.

email: potd@ssc.com

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