Lately I have been thinking about the future of servers and more specifically the design around servers. Servers are more and more heading towards these massive beasts with all sorts of options that many might not need, but end up paying for as they are already bolted on. On the other hand you have these massive blade chassis that will allow for 10 / 14 blades, whatever your vendor decides is a nice form factor. While thinking about that I wondered why we have the 1U and 2U servers stuffed with options and the possibility to add disks when all we actually want, in many cases, is to run ESXi as a hypervisor. Even if we want to have local disks do we really need a 2U server?
After doing some research on the internet I bumped into something which I thought was a cool concept. Although it isn’t was I envisioned, it is close enough to share with you. I haven’t seen these types of servers used for virtualization so far and I wonder why that is. There are multiple vendors with offerings like these but I wanted to point out the following two as they offer more than others in my opinion and are VMware Certified. These servers are traditionally used in HPC environments (High-performance computing), but if you look at what they offer they could be suitable for virtualization as well. They are very dense but don’t bring along the requirement to buy a full chassis if you just need 3 or 4 servers. Of course you cannot directly compare them to blade servers and chassis, but think about the possibilities for a second and I will expand on that as well in a second.
Now in this case, the Super Micro 2U Twin2 has 4 nodes. Each node has a set of 6 SAS drives to its disposal and can hold up to 192GB or RAM. On top of that it can hold 2 Intel Nehalem/Westmere CPUs and has an Infiniband 20Gbps on board. This by itself is a very cool concept, but what if we would simplify it? These servers typically have:
- Expansion slots
- Sata / sas controllers
- Multiple 1GbE links
- IPMI Lan port
But do we really need all of that? Wouldn’t a fully stripped down server make more sense for a virtualized environment? Do we really need a Sata/SAS controller? Do we need a CD/DVD Drive? Do we need multiple 1Gbe links plus 20GbE Infiniband and on top of that an IPMI Lan port? What if someone would come out with a server that wasn’t geared towards HPC but to virtualization. Yes we have seen many vendors taking their traditional servers and positioning them as Virtualization Ready but are they? So what would I like to see?
Well for starters I kinda like the form factor above, but I would like to see one without those disks. In most environments there will be shared storage available so there is no need for local disks. It would be nice if they had an on-board dual SD slot, allowing for ESXi to be installed locally. So what if someone could crank out, maybe someone already did if so let me know, a configuration like this:
- 2U “Chassis”
- Max 4 nodes
- Each node supporting max 2 sockets
- Each node supporting 192GB (probably overkill)
- Single 10GbE CNA
- Single IPMI LAN port
- SAS/SATA controllers
But what if we could go even more crazy like that, kinda like what Dell developed with their C5125 Microservers, what if you could host 12 Server nodes in 3u? Would that be something that you would be interested in? Yes, you might be limited to a single processor but without the requirement for a disk and lets say 96GB of memory max it should be possible. Yes I understand their would be implications to a design like that, but that is not the point right now.
I don’t design hardware or servers, but it seems to me that many options have been explored for all kinds of workloads but we haven’t reached the full potential for virtualization. Out in the field we see many people creating home labs with barebone casings, we see people running very stripped down configurations but when you walk into a random datacenter you see DL380’s, Dell R710s etc fully stocked with all bells and whistles while half of these features are not used. Wouldn’t dense and virtualization purpose built servers be nice? Seamicro created a nice solution with 512 servers in a 10 Us, but the CPUs are not powerful enough unfortunately for our purpose. Still I feel there are opportunities out their to really innovate, to lower the cost, lower the chances of failure and to ease management and maintenance!
Which server vendor out there is going to take the next step?