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Rugged Linux Server For Rural, Tropical Environment? 236

Posted by timothy
from the crate-of-netbooks-and-solar-panels dept.
travalas writes "Last year I moved to Rural Bangladesh. My work is pretty diverse, everything from hacking web apps to designing building materials. Increasingly a Linux VM on my MacBook Pro is insufficient due to storage speed/processing constraints and the desire to interface more easily with some sensor packages. There are a few issues that make that make a standard server less than desirable. This server will generally not be running with any sort of climate control and it may need to move to different locations so would also be helpful if it was somewhat portable. The environment here is hot, humid and dusty and brutal on technology and power is very inconsistent so it will often be on a combination of Interruptible Power Supply and solar power. So a UPS is a must and low power consumption desirable, so it strikes me that an Integrated UPS a la Google's servers would be handy. Spec wise it needs to be it needs to be able to handle several VM's and some other processor storage intensive tasks. So 4 cores, 8GB of ram and 3-4 TB of SATA storage seems like a place to start for processing specs. What sort of hardware would you recommend without breaking the bank?"
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Rugged Linux Server For Rural, Tropical Environment?

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  • by Viv (54519) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:34PM (#27638529)

    Yeah, not breaking the bank isn't going to be an option here, I'm afraid.

    • by TJamieson (218336) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:37PM (#27638557)

      What would you suggest? Lesser hardware? Surely there must be a solution somewhere in the middle of "I want this" and "I can use this".

      To me, this situation screams 'require redundancy'. I understand this was not given as an option originally, but with the environment described I would certainly not want to rely on one single server.

      • Go Small or Go Home (Score:5, Informative)

        by grcumb (781340) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @04:55PM (#27639759) Homepage Journal

        What would you suggest? Lesser hardware? Surely there must be a solution somewhere in the middle of "I want this" and "I can use this".

        Yep, there is. But it's not always where you think.

        Shameless (but hopefully useful) self-promotion:

        I've been living and working in Least Developed Countries in the tropics for nearly 6 years now, and for the last 2, I've been writing a weekly IT-related column called Communications [imagicity.com]. There's a ton of advice in there. Go take a look. Check my tag cloud for relevant topics.

        Here are a few fundamentals:

        -1- The first thing to do is to adjust both hardware and - and this is important- software to the circumstances. Focus on the task first, then avoid confusing how that task is completed in a North American office environment with 'the right way' to do things.

        -2- Scale everything down, in order to make the cost of failure of any single element as small as possible. This way, you get a solution that's replicable, affordable and - most importantly- easily replaced when (not if) it breaks.

        -3- If you have unreliable power, then do two things first: Make your system tolerant to current fluctuations[*], and then plan for an intermittently available service. Forget about trying to keep it running at all times. Just minimise the cost of interruptions. A surge suppressing electrical switch on the wall where your main power source enters the building will cost you less and save you more than anything else.

        [*] Bad (i.e. poor quality) power is the source of about 80% of hardware failure where I live. Every time the local power company hits us with brown-outs and spikes, I'd get a surge (heh!) of customer service calls.

        To me, this situation screams 'require redundancy'. I understand this was not given as an option originally, but with the environment described I would certainly not want to rely on one single server.

        Yes, redundancy is good. Cheap, small, easily replaced devices are good. Snap-shotted VMs are also good. The bottom line is that you need to keep the cost of failure low, because the system is certain to fail due to environmental factors. A good motto for working in the Developing World is: If you can't beat 'em, at least don't lose too much.

        The best way to do this is to try to run on hardware that's about 3-5 years behind the curve, or to go straight to the bleeding edge of low-power tech.

        To the submitter: I have a personal interest in Bangladesh, by the way. You can reach me by leaving a comment on my website. Good luck!

        P.S. Unless money and space are no object, you'll never run full-time computing services on solar power. Especially in monsoon season. IMO, best not to try.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TJamieson (218336)

          What a very interesting post (as evidenced by the +5). Thank you!

          To boil it down, it sounds like the biggest single problem once you actually HAVE a machine is keeping juice to it consistently.

          What I'm wondering now is, how do you solve that problem? Capacitance systems? Would there not be a (potentially) larger cost involved in just keeping power to the box(es)?

          (FWIW, I've not read through your site yet, so if you've already covered this topic, my apologies... you are bookmarked though)

          • by grcumb (781340) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:39PM (#27641371) Homepage Journal

            To boil it down, it sounds like the biggest single problem once you actually HAVE a machine is keeping juice to it consistently.

            Yep. Power is the single biggest problem faced by rural ICT-related projects in my part of the world. It's dead easy to find someone to donate equipment. It's incredibly hard finding someone willing to pay you to run it.

            The answer to the power question is horses for courses [wiktionary.org], I'm afraid. Some places have great power generation possibilities, either through solar, small-scale hydro or wind. Some projects just find the cash to keep a generator running. Most don't.

            In every case, reducing your power footprint only makes sense. Batteries are hugely expensive and difficult to transport, so the less power storage you need, the better. Running off low-voltage DC is great, because it's much more efficient over short distances.

            Solid-state is your friend. It's more resistant to heat, dust and other environmental factors. Small form factors also help, because buildings are often rudimentary at best. Being able to stick everything in a seal-able, easily transported box makes everyone's life easier.

            In many cases, the right answer is actually to reduce the amount of automation in your work. Human labour is cheap and time is plentiful, whereas power and equipment are not. Building the right amount of inefficiency into your system is a counter-intuitive but often rewarding approach.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DrgnDancer (137700)

          As a thought (I'm replying to you since you're apparently somewhat expert at this), how does a cluster of ruggedized laptops sound? I worked with these thing in Iraq, and I was quite impressed with their ability to resist the elements. On the plus side, the machines are very rugged, very portable, and when combined make for a fair amount of processing power. They're more resistant to power outages than even a good UPS setup would allow and with a clustered file system they have a good amount of storage.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Goodness, if possible, forget VM's. Use multiple OLPC systems, which are fiscally sensible, extremely low power, and startingly robust. Salt air and water is a problem: consider machines exposed to that for a year or so to be due for replacement.

            If Windows or a UNIX system are necessary for basic software compatibility reasons, life is rather different.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by grcumb (781340)

              Goodness, if possible, forget VM's. Use multiple OLPC systems, which are fiscally sensible, extremely low power, and startingly robust. Salt air and water is a problem: consider machines exposed to that for a year or so to be due for replacement.

              [In reply to both you and GP]

              I like the XO a lot, but as a personal computing system, not a server. Frankly, the CPU's a little lightweight for anything non-trivial. Keyboard input is difficult for adults - that's by design, of course - and while I agree that the machine is remarkably robust, the form factor isn't ideal for adult use.

              As for a cluster of anything... while I agree that ruggedised laptops are a good solution for general computing needs, adding pieces to this particular puzzle isn't necessarily

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Having also worked in IT in the developing world, under very similar physical conditions described by the OP, my reaction is that the parent's points are all excellent.

          I would add this:

          MANAGE EXPECTATIONS.

          It is particular important in this kind of setting to manage both your own expectations and those of the people to whom you're providing service.

          In my experience, people to whom you're providing service don't appreciate how much more can and does go wrong with a computer than say a phone or a dryer - let a

    • by Viv (54519) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:37PM (#27638561)

      To give you some sense of what I'm getting at:

      I pay about $1500 for a ruggedized setup like you're talking about -- except it's a pentium class processor with 128MB of RAM and 256MB of flash.

      • It really depends how rugged he needs it. Some of those laptops can be driven over by tanks or be used to diffuse land mines, but I really think he's looking for something inbetween.

        Unfortunately, low power doesn't go very well with 4-core, 8GB RAM, 2-4 HDD system.

        And in a laptop formfactor? Easily $10k!

        I'm sure someone knows of a company that makes computers like this.

        • Buy 2 laptops? It means if one dies you can still keep things moving if poorly. Run all of the drives externally through USB makes for easy plug and play (HDD speeds usually aren't needed to be TOO fast on server applications depending what it is needed for. This allows for cheap compartmentalized replaceable parts and very flexible. You could probably build a case for the whole thing to make it easier to carry around. It also has the advantage of having batteries already in case of power outages. Run a pow
          • by timeOday (582209)
            Quad core laptops [superwarehouse.com] do exist, Lenovo no less. Up to 8 GB RAM. This thing also comes with 2 hard drives plus an optical drive bay (which you can presumably remove to add another drive). Three of these [engadget.com] gives you 3TB without spindles or external drives. Three of these [newegg.com] would give you 1.5 TB internally, which isn't too shabby, for much less $$$.
      • by hackstraw (262471)

        I pay about $1500 for a ruggedized setup like you're talking about -- except it's a pentium class processor with 128MB of RAM and 256MB of flash.

        Sounds reasonable. I'm not sure if what the poster is asking is reasonable or necessary. The guy goes from a VM on a laptop, to wanting 100x+ of storage and 2x+ the CPU power with the ability to run on little power and no climate control and quasi portable? Like the tag says, goodluckwiththat.

        The closest thing I could think of would be a laptop with external harddrives. Good cost point (COTS), built in UPS, quadcore capable, mobile, low power, disks I guess firewire bus powered??? If not, bus powered,

      • by griffjon (14945)

        You might try lowering some of your requirements; the OLPC XO-1 is built to withstand those conditions, but is low-powered computationally (and has almost no storage capacity). Putting a few of those together for different purposes, or see what hardware the OLPC folks are putting together for their "school server" . You might also contact the folks at Inveneo for some ideas, but at the end of the day it's probably easier and more cost-effective to buy a good power-conditioning UPS and an AC unit with a go

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jonbryce (703250)

      A beowulf cluster of laptops should do it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by sometimel8r (1536345)
      Ok...here is a real world solution for you. I have been to some of the worst areas of the world with all the gear I needed to deploy some exotic solutions. Part of the solution is high tech but all the most important components are low tech. Traveling Enclosures - I use 2 AV Road cases which are used by sound engineers. Reason - the front and back come off, have racking built in and they are rugged. Paint the exterior with an enamel based paint and let it cure. Road case 1 is for the gear. Road case
  • Silicon (Score:2, Funny)

    by amclay (1356377)
    You might try (if it's too humid) putting some silicon packets in the box. They should help absorb the moisture.
    • Re:Silicon (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:31PM (#27639067) Homepage

      I would actually go for a sealed box with cooling fins and then some water cooling with an external radiator and fans.

      Sealed box - mostly to keep any kind of bugs out of the box and also to try to keep the humidity down. Add some silica gel inside to keep it dry.

      Remember that silica gel can be re-used, you just have to dry it in some way.

      I'm assuming that the box doesn't have to be deluge-proof, so just make it reasonably sealed. Add thermometers and possibly a small radiator/fan inside for general cooling of the PSU air.

      With water cooling you will get a stable temperature and be able to get rid of a lot of heat - and be able to vent the heat outdoors.

      Also select the most power-efficient PSU you can get your hands on to avoid unnecessary heat.

      And for UPS - that shall be located in a separate compartment to avoid catastrophic problems in case you get a battery leak.

      Mounting the whole box on inflatable rubber wheels would be a good idea - not only for moving it, but the rubber wheels can also provide vibration dampening when transporting.

      Rugged things get heavy.

      And don't forget - mount the hard drives using extra shock-proofing in some way. Mirrored drives is also a good idea since it may save you from some agony.

    • That's "Silica", not silicon.

    • Re:Silicon (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EdZ (755139) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @05:59PM (#27640215)
      Forget air cooling entirely. Look up oil-immersed PCs. Immersing all but the HDDs in oil entirely removes the problems of dust and humidity. All you then need is to cool the oil, which can be done with either a pump and a passive radiator, or an immersed cooler which can be easily replaced when/if it breaks down. It would also provide a small amount of protection of shocks and vibration if the components were isolation mounted. It also has the benefit of being surprisingly when custom made (compared to commercial ultra-rugged servers). Unfortunately, it will still need some creative thinking to handle poorly regulated power supplies, and can be unpleasent to work on if a component fails. And it's nowhere near an elegant, low power solution, but as the article specifically mentions a quad-core with a terabyte drive array, I doubt power efficiency is high on the list of priorities.
  • by PyroMosh (287149) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:40PM (#27638599) Homepage

    Ever heard the expression "Fast, reliable, cheap (pick two)"?

    It applies here.

    Of course, you were fairly specific with the processing specs you need, but not your budget. So it's hard to say what "breaking the bank" is for you. also, you called it a UPS, but you also called it an "Interruptible Power Supply". I'm assuming a brain-fart, but the "U" stands for Uninterruptible.

    Just picking nits.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mr. Freeman (933986)

      No, the power he is supplied with is Interruptable.
      Therefore, he needs an UNinterruptible power supply.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by travalas (853279)
      We have both interruptible and uninterruptible power supplies here. The difference is that IPS's take about a second to switch over to the batteries
  • Not gonna happen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AnonGCB (1398517) <7spams AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:43PM (#27638611)
    Low power consumption, quad core, 8 gigs of ram, a UPS and a few TB of storage? 1. Not gonna be cheap, though I'm not sure what your budget is, this will be somewhat pricey. 2. You might want to get a few UPS's, because I doubt, unless you get a very large solar array, that you will be able to run it on that. Expect power loss, disable write caching on the disks, etc. Also, a UPS isn't meant to be used as a constant power source, just as a way to keep you from losing work if power goes out, and if you're lucky, hold you over till it flickers back on. 3. This will NOT be portable, those UPS's will be a pain to move. Good luck, I certainly don't mean to be so negative, but this is a somewhat unreasonable thing to look for.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by xous (1009057)

      Actually,

      There are several types of UPS and the better ones you ARE running off the batteries of the UPS all the time.

      Offline/Standby: cheap as hell, not something you want to use in a bad power environment for anything important.

      Line-Interactive: better but still wouldn't use it for anything important

      Double-conversion / online: this is the probably the best solution for the OP. OP should get one with weather protection for his intended usage.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uninterruptible_power_supply [wikipedia.org]

  • Laptop (Score:5, Informative)

    by B5_geek (638928) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:44PM (#27638623)

    Get a laptop or 3.
    Portable - check
    UPS - check
    Able to handle no climate control - check
    4 cores & 8GB - check
    4TB of storage - Get an external drive bay. (Do you really need that much storage? really?)

    Some of the XPS line from Dell or other 'Gaming' laptops should do the trick.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by glennpratt (1230636)

      I agree, this is probably the best suggestion without knowing more of your budget.

      Laptops are the closest thing you will get without breaking the bank - you could probably buy a few + storage with for what a truly ruggedized server system would cost. They will be infinitely more portable and easy to run on DC; plus they will run for years on DC while most UPSs wont.

      If it must be real servers - I'd build them in something like this:

      http://www.racksolutions.com/transport-case.shtml [racksolutions.com]

      Heck, you could fit a prett

    • by subreality (157447) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @10:35PM (#27641679)

      I don't know any off the shelf solution that meets all the requester's needs, but with a little backwoods / third world ingenuity, I think it can be done.

      Seconded, start with a laptop. It's already met a whole bunch of your needs. The big missing piece is environmental hardening. Since it only needs to be moderately portable, there are a few things you can do.

      #1, put the whole setup in a small refrigerator. Seriously. It's an airtight, watertight box. It'll keep out dust, rain and bugs, in addition to obviously keeping everything cool. Set the temperature as high as it'll go, there's no advantage to keeping the system any cooler than 20-25C, but the cooler you make it, the more problems you'll have with condensation on the evaporator coils. Deal with condensation by keeping down the number of times you open the fridge, and have some microfiber towels under the coils to catch the occasional drips. Loosely wrapping might work, but be careful not to over insulate the coils.

      The downside: You'll take a hit on power efficiency, but I'm willing to bet that a decked out laptop and a small fridge pull less power than even the best servers will. Very small fridges based on peltier coolers are even less efficient, but their small size may make up for it. Also plan for what happens when the power goes out: The laptop keeps running, so make sure to have a UPS for the fridge, or that the laptop's battery will die before it gets too hot, or better yet, monitor a temperature sensor, and shut down gracefully when it starts getting too hot.

      It's also a good solution because a fridge is relatively easily serviceable or replaceable compared to server parts. You'll need to carry spares for the laptop, of course.

      Idea #2: Similar to above, but build your own peltier fridge. The main advantage is that you can make a custom enclosure to hold everything, which will keep the size and weight down.

      Idea #3: Just build a hushbox for the laptop. Basically, you build a box around it, with some cooling fans, and furnace filters on the inlets. It'll take care of dust. You might have to shut down in extreme heat, and extreme humidity won't be handled.

      Idea #4: Rugged laptops, like the ToughBook. They're ready to handle dust, moisture, physical abuse, etc, and with upgrades, can get near to the specs you're looking for. These might work well in combination with the suggestions above.

  • Not enough info (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rix (54095) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:46PM (#27638639)

    What exactly are you doing, and why does your server need to be on site?

    If you really need to be lugging all that around the wilderness, it's not going to be cheap.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:50PM (#27638665) Journal
    While, unfortunately, any "real" solution to dealing with hot, dusty, humid, and otherwise unpleasant environments is going to cost a bloody fortune; the relatively modest specs that you are looking for should help.

    4 cores, 8GB of RAM, and 3-4 TB of HDD is, these days, a slightly nicer than average; but hardly exotic, desktop computer. The nice thing about desktops is that, unlike servers, they are designed to deal with human environments, rather than datacenter ones. No AC, cat hair, cigarette smoke, that sort of thing. Plus, they are cheap and almost exactly the shape of a small rolling suitcase.

    Since the environment is nasty, you'll want to make sure that the system has enough fans to keep things cool even if one conks out when you aren't there, and you'll want to have at least one spare drive in your RAID.

    There is a good solution to your problem, probably manufactured to mil-spec by General Dynamics, that costs 50 times as much as you can afford; but, in this case, you might well be able to get away with doing it the cheap way, since your computational requirements are actually fairly modest.
    • by L7_ (645377)

      Exaclty.

      Just purchase a top of the line desktop workstation and run your linux flavor of choice on it. You can get a dell workstation to fit those exact specs for $4000. Then get yourself a UPS and call it a day.

      People always try to overthink their server setup.

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Build your own.

      Like the post I'm replying to said, those specs are int he realm of 'nice desktop PC' rather than 'server-grade PC' but don't let that fool you. A nice desktop PC can double as an effective Linux server quite easily.

      There are many case mods made for dusty/dirty/gritty places. You can build your own (or buy) a long-term battery power system..but it might have to involve fuel cells and/or gas/diesel motors. It will take a LOT of solar panels with decent efficiency and immaculate setup to ens

  • by fwice (841569) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:52PM (#27638683)

    get a toughbook, a satellite uplink, and colo a server somewhere controlled.

    seriously. finding the computational strength you want with the power restrictions is not going to happen.

    my company just shipped some units to a desert in the middle east (can't mention where). we bought an entire trailer and powering units (generators, solar, etc) to provide the juice to run the servers and air conditioning. it was _not_ cheap. you can do that or you can remote to a controlled area.

  • by Britz (170620) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:55PM (#27638715) Homepage

    I don't think there are any servers for those requirements:
    portable, rugged, low power (incl. UPS)

    But those are the exact specs of the rugged laptop. Laptops have built-in UPS units (called batteries) and are low in power consumption.

    Panasonic Toughbooks, or Toshiba Tecra ruggedized come to mind. Dell also has some new offerings in that segment:
    http://www.dell.com/content/products/productdetails.aspx/latit_xfr_d630?c=us&cs=04&l=en&s=bsd [dell.com]

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:57PM (#27638733)
    You sound like you want a high power server (multiple VM's) with significant storage (multiple TB's) to run on no power in an unconditioned environment. And you want it affordable. Those are rather contradictory requirements, rather like having cake and eating it too.
  • Rugged Laptops? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jaker29902 (926208) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:58PM (#27638741)
    http://www.dell.com/xfr [dell.com] Apparently this is dells solution to your problem, has ballistic armor and is apparently able to be drop kicked into a pool with rabid sharks who have chainsaws for teeth.

    You could get an external drive and possible cluster them together for the enhanced processor power? Dont know but this taptop seems to be able to handle the enviroment you want it to. Also UPS plus Solar Panels = headache so be prepared!

  • Two Options (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday April 19, 2009 @02:59PM (#27638749) Homepage

    I can think of two options.

    Option one:

    1. Buy a really beefy server
    2. Stick it in a hosting service
    3. SSH into it from a Dell Mini 9, possibly connected to a sat-phone type thing

    That would do most of what you want. No graphics, but it would work well. You can have all the storage and CPU power you can use. You could even set it up like a batch processing cluster.

    Option two:

    1. Buy 5 Dell Mini 9s
    2. Buy/make some charger circuits
    3. Get some lead-acid batteries, maybe solar panels, and a ton of SD cards
    4. Thank your lucky stars computers as cheap, rugged, and powerful as the Mini 9 are so easily available

    You will not get what you want for a reasonable price, you want too much. High powered computers can't be put everywhere on Earth regardless of infrastructure. They really need some basic environment controls and good power.

  • Dehumidifier (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moniker127 (1290002) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:01PM (#27638783)
    Wouldn't it be easier to just hook up a dehumidifier and use normal (non-rugged) parts?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:01PM (#27638785)

    ... in rural Bangladesh that requires 4 cores, 8GB Ram, and 4 TB of storage? I can understand if you're in the city and involved in some company, but you make it sound like you want some serious number crunching to occur in the middle of the jungle.

    How about offloading all of your processing requirements to a co-located server and just getting a cheap rugged laptop to access and control the processing.

  • by religious freak (1005821) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:13PM (#27638897)
    Choose two
  • I've long thought that in general we putting the UPS on wrong side of the power supply... So I was intrigued by Google's solution.

    • by rcw-home (122017)

      I've long thought that in general we putting the UPS on wrong side of the power supply... So I was intrigued by Google's solution.

      FWIW, Google's solution puts power supplies on both sides of the UPS.

  • In looking at your specs I think your storage is going to be the hardest to deal with. Todays 1TB drives are quite fragile. Drop them from a table and 90% of the time they are goners. In addition without serious cooling they can get very hot (I am looking at you segate) and once you get upwards of 55 Celsius they start to break down fast. Even worse would the temperature cycling due to the fact the server is not online 24/7. Seeing as you are power constrained its probably not going to feasible to go with a
  • I work in a tropical humid environment, a good deal of my work taking me away from "civilization" out into the jungle where the only power available may be that which I carry with me. I carry a very cheap Acer throw-away laptop into the jungle with me. It runs Xubuntu and Windows XP, dual boot. Pretty much handles everything I need in the jungle. Includes WiFi, but where am I going to find a WiFi hotspot 120 miles from the nearest road? In fact, I can not always count on a sattelite connection, so ofte
  • don't go for one big system running VMs that is expensive, hot and power hungry and you can't vary the power to it. Pick a nice mini-ITX case with good fans and stick an Atom based board in it that takes a 12V DC input. Count the number of VMs you think you need, multiply by 2 and build that many. Stick half in a cupboard and fire up all the others. If you don't have enough power, don't turn them all on. I can't quite see what you need that much CPU for anyhow. How many clients will these servers be support
  • by arrenlex (994824) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:23PM (#27638987)

    Let me summarize your requirements
    -> Runs cool and quiet
    -> Heat, humidity, dust resistant
    -> Portable
    -> Low power requirements
    -> Integrated UPS
    -> Very beefy server
    -> Cheap

    If you find one drop me an email, I want to install Duke Nukem Forever on it.

  • RV? (Score:4, Informative)

    by vlm (69642) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:23PM (#27638991)

    Sounds like you want plain ole standard commercial grade server hardware mounted in a tiny RV.
    Extensively shock mount a relay rack, put in somewhat bigger AC/batteries/genset than usual, and you're good to go.
    You can use the living quarters to house the armed guard, which will be required for expensive equipment in that corner of the world.

    Trying to buy super tough server hardware will simply be more expensive than a RV and much harder to replace / maintain when it breaks.

    Admittedly I'm mystified what you'd do with such immense computing power in a rural area without electricity. Maybe a really nice mythtv backend? Educate the locals using SimTractor?

    You do realize that Bangladesh is like 1 foot above sea level, so no need to engineer this to last forever when its going to get washed into the sea every couple years by storms etc. Using a RV could help in the evac, assuming there is any place safe to evac to...

    Alternately, split your workload transparently across maybe 50 smaller machines, and start purchasing replacements when attrition nears 75%.

  • That's a big ruggedized server.

    Take a look at the Logic Controls 8600. [logiccontrols.com] That's a server for fast-food restaurants and similar harsh environments. 1.6GHZ, 2GB, 40GB hard drive. Will run Linux. Fanless and ventless. Temp range 5C to 40C. Relative humidity 8 to 80%, non-condensing.

    What do you need 4 terabytes of storage for? Unless you're running a movie piracy service?

  • Dunk it in oil. (Score:5, Informative)

    by w0mprat (1317953) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:26PM (#27639011)
    I know some guys who were running some wi-fi gear on a roof with a small linux server etc andto beat the elements (many days a year of driving horizontal rain and gale force windows) they submerged some low power components in a metal tool chest filled with mineral oil. Their set up had 4gb CF and USB keyfobs for storage. There was a 12VDC input power car-PC-style supply that handles variable input (goes as low as 6v) and they ran long wires down to a small 240v/12v transformer in the building. This meant that even if moisture got in, the components were very well protected as water would sit at the bottom of the oil, and there was utterly no dangerous voltage exposed to the outdoors. They later they went with a smaller o-ring sealed aluminum box filled with proper transformer oil, but the original hack was working fine after 1 year.

    From my own experience with dunking rigs in oil, you only need to watch out for a few things, one being the mineral oil leaching plasticizers out of wire insulation - they eventually become brittle. You also need to seal your electrolytic caps with a little epoxy so the rubber seal doesn't get eaten alive. Interestingly most caps seem to survive a long time like this, but personally I'd recommend motherboards with solid aluminum caps.

    However these things don't become a problem for months, so you'd likely get away with just dunking your rig and leaving it. You also cannot dunk a HDD, as the oil will get inside it and foul things up. I haven't tried it, but it would be possible to seal up in a box or 'pot' a mechanical HDD in epoxy, but best to stick with SSD / Compactflash.
  • Cases (Score:3, Informative)

    by WTF Chuck (1369665) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:34PM (#27639093) Journal

    You might accidentally break the bank. You may want to try putting the server and a rackmount UPS into something like the cases you can find here [hardigg.com]. Take along a back-up generator. And lots of fans and filters. Spare parts for the server would also be helpful.

  • Redundancy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @03:45PM (#27639187) Homepage Journal

    Buy a used 1U rack Dell server with redundant power supplies, Pentiums, ethernets and HDs on a RAID. Then replace the HDs with Flash SSD. Then put the whole thing in a plywood box with an air conditioner mounted on top, tubes blowing cold air in and three .00 grade nylon layers over the out vents, the upper layer removable. Seal all cracks, especially around cable slots, with silicone caulk. Run the whole thing as a unit, cleaning the air conditioner filters and out vent screens twice a day (so get two sets of those filters).

    Keep spares of each redundant part. Buy two of those whole units (including air conditioners), because one unit will die anyway.

    Run them on an ethernet switch, one powered down except once a day or so to sync their RAIDs.

    Or rent a server at some global datacenter, and get WiFi/pringles antenna to an ISP somewhere.

  • So if you're willing to forgo support options, I'd build a server yourself from components. You'll be able to get the mix of horse power you want and power consumption that it seems you need. fuzzyfuzzyfungus suggested using a desktop given your modest specs, I'd concur with this, but the cases used by large PC vendors don't really lend themselves for operating in a really harsh environment. I'd start with a case like this:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129021 [newegg.com]

    While the wind
  • by F34nor (321515) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @04:02PM (#27639327)

    Tiny, portable, low power, and no moving parts.

  • All Sun servers are certified for Linux (RHAS and maybe Suse, currently) and you will find the server with the specs you require. You won't easily find sturdier hardware than what Sun makes.

  • by travellerjohn (772758) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @04:38PM (#27639607) Journal
    I managed the IT for a couple of organisations in Cambodia and then Lao for a couple of years. Environments not so different from Bangladesh I suspect.

    My experience was that it was best to buy standard mid range kit (IBM, or Dell Poweredge servers in tower cases worked just fine) and then invest in some physical infrastructure and climate control. It was generally straightforward enough to find a secure corner of an office and put install a small self contained rack with a UPS or two. Or even better get someone to wall up a corner of an office and put in an aircon. That kind of skill was in plentyful supply.

    Lugging around some serious kit in that kind of environment would give me sleepless nights. The chance of it getting dropped, rained on or stolen is just too high. (We had a couple of laptops stolen while I was there, and you aint going to be happy chap if you come back to your hotel one night and find your server has gone walkies.) I advise you try and travel with what you need, preferrably a run of the mill inconspicuous laptop and find a secure base or two for your servers.
  • by daybot (911557) * on Sunday April 19, 2009 @04:40PM (#27639629)

    Just build two commodity servers - obtain reliability through redundancy and you'll get the specs you want without ridiculous cost.

    Here are some tips.

    • Keep spares of everything, especially fans and PSUs.
    • Check out Intel's new 65W quad core chips [tomshardware.co.uk] if you really need quad core.
    • Use a simple, fanless motherboard and a CPU heatsink with a good reputation [tomshardware.co.uk].
    • Invest in good fans - like these [acoustiproducts.com].
    • For power, you just need a standard UPS and possibly a generator - Google wouldn't bother with homebrew internal designs if they only had two servers.
  • Google 5 seconds. Decent price, rugged, din rail mountable and works at 95 percent humidity non-condensing.

    http://www.emacinc.com/rugged_linux_sib [emacinc.com]

    SIB-04000 ...... Standard 400 Mhz Linux Rugged 256/256 SIB USD750.00
    SIB-04010 ...... Deluxe 650 Mhz Linux Rugged 512/512 SIB USD885.00
    PER-PWR-00061 .. External 36 Watt AC Power Adapter USD 30.00

    Hardware

    * Intel ULV Celeron Fanless 400 MHz based SBC
    * 256 MB DDR RAM Expandable to 512 MB

  • Hello,

    I have seen a few recommendations for mounting a server in a transportable case (which seems like a reasonable suggestion), but little to no mention of actual ruggedized servers. A quick search revealed a number of manufacturers:

    That's just a few companies I came across when I did a

  • I am not a server person. But what I do know is that you are entering a climate where plant life will try to take over every nook and cranny of any PC or electronic device. Just keeping plants from sprouting in a keyboard may involve using one of those solid, type keyboards. I suspect that you will need to clean the guts of a server every 48 hours or so.

  • First Off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fast turtle (1118037) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @05:34PM (#27640077) Journal

    Define Portable.

    • less then 10KG = Single Man Portage
    • less then 50KG = Two Man Portable
    • less then 250KG = Truck Portable
    • More then 500KG = Data Center Container

    That's the first thing we need to know as it defines what type of system I'd recommend. Forgoing that information, what I would suggest is dropping Windows from the equation and switch to ARM processor base systems. This gives you the advantage of replacing all of the Linux VM's with standard Hardware, providing multiple redundancies. Another advantage is that the ARM systems can be spec'd to run on as little as 1watt of power (incl HD's) and since they're full linux boxes, you can easily administer them using SSH from a Windows box such as your current laptop.

    The hardware redundancy offered by this is enormous and as the units they can easily be powered by a single Solar panel (sized correctly) combined with a large Deep Cycle 12 volt battery. Use Pico Power supplies (12volt input) and you've got your portable data center. The biggest thing you need to do is ensure that your Solar Panel has sufficient power to recharge the battery while powering the ARM systems. This means figure on at least 2x Solar Wattage over maximum demand to properly recharge the battery to handle a full run overnight. EG: 24 watts of demand means a single 55watt PV panel, though I'd look at using a pair of smaller 30 watt panels for redundancy in case you break a panel. It means you'd be able to run the system at reduced levels. One last item is provide an auxiliary power input for charging the battery bank from a vehicle or generator.

  • RENT a server, with all the specs you need, housed in climate controlled goodness... possibly in another country, possibly on another continent. Never worry aboit it again... you just rent it, who cares if it breaks?

    Get a satellite (or possibly cell?) network service. Buy 4 cheepo laptops, set up identically, but work off of, keep all your work/data on the rented server (nxserver, or vnc or remote desktop) When the 1st cheepo laptop dies, move onto the next. Live carefree.

    • by Eric Smith (4379)
      If you do that, make sure the laptops you're not yet using were put into heat-sealed bags with packages of silica gel (dessicant) in an environment with under 70% relative humidity, and don't open them before you need them. High humidity will cause corrosion and lead to equipment failure, so you can't just leave your spares exposed to ambient air.
  • need climate control (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eric Smith (4379) <eric&brouhaha,com> on Sunday April 19, 2009 @07:26PM (#27640723) Homepage Journal
    I just got back from installing a bunch of equipment in a tropical area (Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, the three inhabited islands of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands).

    If you need the equipment to have any halfway reasonable reliability, it MUST have some environmental control. You could use a NEMA class 5 enclosure if only the humidity was an issue and the equipment didn't dissipate a lot of heat. However, your hardware description indicates that you will have a lot of heat dissipation.

    The only other option I can see is having some kind of environmental chamber (i.e., an air-conditioned box) to keep the humidity and temperature under control.

    If you don't have that, the equipment WILL fail. It's a matter of WHEN, not IF.

    Almost all electronic equipment is rated for operation at a maximum of 90% relative humidity (non-condensing), and much equipment is rated even lower than that.

    In the CNMI, the _average_ of the daily high relative humidity is above 90% part of the year, and only slightly below 90% the rest of the year.

  • In Thailand... (Score:5, Informative)

    by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Sunday April 19, 2009 @09:29PM (#27641319)

    I haven't done Bangladesh, but in Thailand if I had it to do over again I would go for four low-spec machines, and a sealed enclosure with compressed air cooling. It isn't the most energy efficient approach, but having a sealed (and slightly positively-pressurized) enclosure does wonders at keeping out moisture, dust, and ants.

    The general idea is to have a couple small compressors (with check-valves) feed into a common reservoir that has adequate time to cool to ambient temperatures. Ideally, you would run at about 300 psi/20 bar, and have a pressure reducing valve inside the enclosure to drop the air to about 10 psi with a 1/16" orifice into the enclosure. (You might have to experiment on orifice and pressure.) Provide a pressure relief valve to keep the enclosure under 2 psig. (Another constrained orifice would work, but you will lose more air.)

    Keep a spare machine in a pelican box with desiccant along with two or three spare hard drives. Keep a backup external USB hard drive in a separate pelican box with dessiccant and only open it up when you are doing a backup.

    I'd also second comments about running everything in virtual machines and being willing to make compromises when one of them isn't working.

    Back in my day, getting 12V power supplies wasn't nearly as easy as Google makes it sound. (You need to have a high enough float voltage to charge the batteries, and have a regulated output that will handle the end cell voltage of the batteries.) The logical alternative is to use 48VDC power supplies which are much more expensive. They are designed to operate within the float/ECV requirements of a VRLA. Don't forget your blocking diodes! Try to stay away from car batteries if you can and find some real deep-cycle batteries. Getting through monsoon season on battery isn't realistic without a huge battery plant. Our island's phone switch was pretty well equipped, but for two months a year the phones only worked when the sun was shining.

    External connectivity was always my nemesis; when the phone switch was down, everything else crapped out. Satellite phones weren't viable from a cost perspective; the consumer satellite service was too unreliable to even be considered.

  • Netbooks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by William-Ely (875237)
    I'd get a cluster of netbooks and duct tape them at the seams to keep dust out. They are cheap, low power, compact, and they have batteries so they have a UPS built in.

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