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What Do You Look For in a Big Iron Review? 262

ValourX writes "We're starting to write more reviews of enterprise-class hardware and software and although we've done pretty well with our reviews, the high-end products are a lot trickier when it comes to testing and evaluation. Obviously it is not possible to build an enterprise-grade 'your neck is on the line' production environment just for writing reviews, but maybe we can do something smaller, just for testing purposes. What do you as an IT professional want to read in a review for a server OS or a high-speed switch, or a big iron server or proprietary workstation? What tests should we run? What results and feature comparisons are going to be most meaningful to you?"
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What Do You Look For in a Big Iron Review?

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  • Not Speed (Score:5, Informative)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:50PM (#10976009)
    Well the 2 main issues with Big Iron Equipment is How Well it handles Load and Scalability. For Load They should max out the system slightly above the recommended specs and see how well it handles it. Most people don't care for overall benchmark but more issues that affect the user. Say it was a WebServer We don't care how many pages/second it can handle but how well we get the webpages when the system is maxed out. Do we have to wait 5 minutes and the page just pops in. Or do we wait 5 Minutes for a page to load but we see the results of it coming in. When working above the required load how much does the system heat up (causing possible failures in the future). Secondly is how well can it scale, Can Extra Processors be added on, Can you add/hotswap processors on the system. What is the Max Ram it can hold can you add more is there room to add more. How compatible is it with competitors stuff (Say an IBM Server with a Sun Storage Array) how well do they follow the standards so you are able to use the server even if the company who produced it died.

    Speed (which a lot of people put there Big Irons to the test) is really not that important of a detail. A PC with a 3 Ghz Processor will out perform a Sun Fire15k with multiple processors, for any single task. But when it starts handling load the Sun Fire will handle it better then the PC. When companies decide to buy the Big Iron they want it to be an investment that can last them at least 3-4 years preferably 4-10 years. And all they need to do is add stuff to it so that it scales with the time.
    • Re:Not Speed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:17PM (#10976272) Homepage Journal
      For Load They should max out the system slightly above the recommended specs and see how well it handles it.

      Not a bad idea, but all I see is the manufacturer lowering the maximum specs to any tests will show it 'overachieving'.

      What I'd like rated is the support side. My AS/400s self detect hardware problems, phone IBM to report the problem, and a tech is dispatched. The IBM support centre phones me to tell me the system detected a problem, and that a tech is on the way. Usually the tech shows up with parts in hand inside an hour. Before the hardware has caused any downtime! I've never had a catastrophic failure on an AS/400.

      Good support, redundant and hot swappable hardware, like RAM, makes for the best big iron. Low to no downtime are just as important as throuput and storage.

      • Not a bad idea, but all I see is the manufacturer lowering the maximum specs to any tests will show it 'overachieving'.

        That's not a bad thing in my book. By rating the machine slightly below what they can handle, you know that if the machine is run right at the maximum specs it will perform fine, rather than being on the edge of stability.
      • all I see is the manufacturer lowering the maximum specs to any tests will show it 'overachieving'

        Look closer and you'll see Marketing ratchet the specs back up to just a bit higher than the competition. After all, when's the last time anyone asked Manufacturing (or Development, for that matter) for a spec?
      • "all I see is the manufacturer lowering the maximum specs to any tests"

        Fine, then it'll be too expensive for it's performance point, or the price will be dropped too. In the first case, the manufacturer loses out, in the second case you gain. Doesn't worry me!
    • Say it was a WebServer

      Do they even use "Big Iron" for web servers? Very much? Aren't they all mostly SPARCs or Vanila Intel? File serving and number crunching would be the standard "Big Iron" useage, right?

      • Re:"WebServer"? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by orangesquid ( 79734 )
        Big Iron usually means redundancy and scalability. Like, how IBM mainframes really don't ever have processor faults or crashes, and don't lose data, even if the event of natural disasters (if you set up your system right). Plus, you can just plug whatever into the system, and it will all work with minimum configuration.

        VMS is nearly as good; some argue it's better.
    • Re:Not Speed (Score:3, Insightful)

      For Load They should max out the system slightly above the recommended specs and see how well it handles it.

      Nah, push it until it falls over and see how it degrades. Stick a line on the graph where the rated capacity is.

    • Say it was a WebServer We don't care how many pages/second it can handle but how well we get the webpages when the system is maxed out.

      Wouldn't this to a much larger degree depend on the software rather than a hardware ?
      • I imagine a lot of big iron is sold as a complete package, including software.

        Assuming that's the case, trying to separate a software review from a hardware review would be a bit like separating a review of Apple computers from a review of their OS.
        • Good point. However I'd assume that even pre-packaged software would allow certain amount tweaking to accomodate it to specific usage scenarios. If so, then its default installation will be rather generic and thus not produce realistic numbers when tested.

          All this performance testing is a very tricky business. Easy money though :-)
    • Reliability (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sulka ( 4250 ) <sulka AT iki DOT fi> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @03:15PM (#10976963) Homepage Journal
      Overload the hardware as badly as you can, see how it copes (Experience: practically all OS's have a "breaking point" after which you need to restart the machine to recover fully).

      Try to install faulty components, see what happens (Experience: even if the manufacturer claims failure tolerance, this is seldom the case).

      Check if the iron really runs in the manufacturer's reported maximum temperature and what happens at the temperature plus couple degrees (Experience: Sun boxes keep running, HP/UX boxes immediately shut down).

      Check if the system runs itself down gracefully when UPS reports power is out. Cut power entirely, see what happens.

      Check if you can administer everything without touching the iron, including shutting the box down and starting it (Lights Out Management).
    • Re:Not Speed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by euphline ( 308359 )
      Your reference of "system heat up" is more important than you may think. It's important to know:

      - How well does the system react to overheating?
      - How well does the system react to unexpected shutdown?
      - How well does the system react in general?

      While big iron often goes into controlled environments (generators, air conditioners, etc.), those systems sometimes fails. Whether their failure causes an inconvenience or a catastrophic problem is a significant question.

      For example- does the system detect the h
  • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:51PM (#10976014)
    If you knew our operations guy, you would test resistance to physical attacks.
  • Mostly... (Score:5, Funny)

    by mr_z_beeblebrox ( 591077 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:51PM (#10976017) Journal
    Pictures. I like hot chicks standing next to big servers. Big servers in action shots are good too.
    • by lucabrasi999 ( 585141 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:53PM (#10976038) Journal
      I like hot chicks standing next to big servers

      I just love that this has been moderated as "Insightful".

    • I'd be interested in how well it works after the following:

      Coffee spilt in one of the CPU PSUs.
      Coffee spilt on the keyboard (if present).
      Coffee spilt in one of the disk system PSUs.
      Swapping two of the disks in an pack... ...while the system is on. ...while the system is off.

      More seriously, it would be handy to know the ratio of workload handled to watts consumed. Workload:cooling required would also be handy.

      • by harrkev ( 623093 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:47PM (#10976618) Homepage
        And also don't forget such things as:

        1) How many men and what type of equipment are needed to move this for the next lan party.
        2) HL2 and Doom 3 benchmarks.
        3) Case nods. Do any come with lights and lighted fans? If the 19" rack is not entirely filled, you could put a REAL AQUARIUM in there (but this makes it harder to move for LAN parties.
        4) Most big iron does not have much in the way of quality sound, so you should test this out.
        5) Does the 19" rack come with handles for easy portability to/from the lan parties.
        6) Heat production. Should the host of the lan party install additional air conditioning capacity?
        7) How expandable are the graphics? Some blades do not have room for a full-size graphics card.
    • Hmm. Cray used to light up its supercomputers in dramatic fashion, and they may have stooped to using a fog machine. Their ad copy had certain similarities to Italian "supercar" photography. No hot chicks, though.
    • You're confused. He doesn't work for Tom's Hardware [] (PG-13).
  • Real numbers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WillerZ ( 814133 )
    Real-world numbers from some inductry-standard benchmarks would be good. You can get TPC-C and SPECint from most vendors, but those are run after weeks of tuning by their internal experts.

    I would like to see what they get in a regular user's hands.

  • by Skyshadow ( 508 ) * on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:52PM (#10976027) Homepage
    Useful Tests:

    Bossman Compatibility: Verifies that the hardware vendor has taken my boss's boss out to dinner and purchased suitably expensive drinks. Rating based on the number of stars the restaurant recieved, although points may be docked if the filet mignon was a little overdone. This one is related to the...
    CYA Verification: Vendor must have a name recognizable to people who read periodicals such as "CTO Magazine" so, when it breaks down, I can say "who ever hear of XVY Company's gear being bad?" If the vendor is a company like Dell which also sells home PCs, this metric should also include going to my boss's boss's house and verifying that his Dell is running okay so I don't have to hear shit like "I don't know why we got Dell, my desktop at home has problems all the time, too, and it's only six years old!"
    Sweetness Factor: Not as much of a factor as it once was, depending on how big of iron we're talking about. But it the thing has, say, requires a cooling tower that happens to have a waterfall built into it, that's point right there. May conflict with....
    The Under-Desk Operation Profile: Since it'd take at least a month and a dozen SRs and books of useless paperwork just to get the beastie screwed into a rack at our NOC, the server must both fit nicely under the desk in my cube with all the other machines and not be too loud. Generation of excess heat is a plus since the facilities people have set 61 degrees as a reasonable temperature for my office in the winter.
    Extra-App Capacity Testing: For when some moron in another department comes in and convinces my boss's boss that "all that server is doing is running the backend for our entire operation, so can we put our incredibly messy half-working app on it too and treat it like QA?" If this server can alert a Terminator unit to go to the aforementioned coworker's home in the middle of the night and slay him and his family, this requirement can be waived (oh, I wait for the day this will be waived....)

    I'm sure there are a few other benchmarks you could run, but honestly these are the Big Five that I decide on.

  • by theanonymousbrit ( 768697 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:52PM (#10976029)
    Make sure it has a good number of phaser arrays and photon torpedo banks.
  • big iron? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Frogg ( 27033 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:53PM (#10976046)
    when i'm choosing a big iron, i try to find one which can get the big creases out of my big pants
  • IBM (Score:3, Funny)

    by mdf356 ( 774923 ) <> on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:54PM (#10976050) Homepage
    As an IBM employee, I want to see brain-washingly favorable reviews of IBM hardware. Especially the ones that will make me money. :-)

  • Fool-proof uptime (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:54PM (#10976051)
    Can the system be expanded without rebooting, can you manage it using computer operators that wouldn't trust to determine which end of a mop should be applied to the floor.
  • Vendor-Specifics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vengie ( 533896 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:54PM (#10976053)
    In many a large setting, a big concern is "does it play nice with XYZ." [Insert cliche about certain-hardware manufacturer that set the "random" retry ethernet window to minimum, rather than minimum+random, to achieve better performance for its cards, intentionally mucking with interframe spacing....] XYZ is going to be: Specific app or other (hardware) product. If the apps are internal (as some of ours are) then you can't help us -- but there are some fairly customizeable out-of-the-box apps that you could test against....

    Basically, none of these purchases happen in a vacuum. The merits of the technology matter, but "playing nice" is a dealbreaker. If this causes ANYTHING to break, forget it for now. et cetera.

  • Load Test (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chucklz ( 695313 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:57PM (#10976075)
    Can it survive a good /. ing ?
  • Please tell us if there are any stupidities in installing, running or backing up the software (or software components) related to copy protection. If the company does not respect the paying user, then I have no respect for the company and won't buy their product.
  • Who paid for it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:59PM (#10976095) Homepage
    First on the list needs to be a clear no nonsense statement how this "review" came about.

    Who asked for it and more importantly did anyone pay for it either directly or indirectly.

  • True costs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChiaBen ( 160517 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @01:59PM (#10976104) Homepage
    I have had problems in the past looking at various hardware and comparing the true costs of it, especially support. With the third party support companies out there (we use Terix, amongst others), there are so many options, and with yearly support contracts in excess of $100,000, for our relatively small company, mis-calculating these in a recommendation can be a very big deal.

    Just my $.02... oh, also just plain reviews of support companies on different hardware would be good also.
  • Cost Analysis (Score:2, Insightful)

    A good cost analysis is worth a lot. Say you look at a new and shiney server system, it has the latest OS, servers, and features. But what is that worth?

    If the cost of this "new" server is 5X more expensive (as a package) than another system that gives you the same functionality and comparable performance then knowing that this alternative exists and what the performance / price difference is would be valuable.
  • by akad0nric0 ( 398141 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:00PM (#10976111)
    I've worked with too many companies whose products *do not* scale the way they claim, or whose products will techincally scale, but are at that point virtually useless. Use bogus data, who cares, but test the data volume, throughput, storage, archival, etc. to the limits and make sure the product is still useful. This is the single biggest problem I've had with enterprise installations, and the problem as an architect is that it's difficult to test on a very tight timeline for product evaluation. I've had egg on my face more than once because I had to take the vendor's word for it.

    Second, install the application yourself. Don't let the vendor do it for you. And when you install it, install it as an enterprise would. That is, if it's an n-tier application, or has multiple components, don't take the "default" installation and put all of the components on one system. Of course this will work. Try distributing the components over multiple systems like an enterprise would. Often this is where the complexity comes in and products falter.

    One company I worked for purchased some software from Tivoli. After 6 months, and a team of engineers onsite from the vendor, they still couldn't get the components to talk for more than a day without problems (after weeks of installation), and still couldn't get useful data out of the database due to its size, so we took our $500mil back and bought something else. Having an evaluation that would've tested this would've saved us a bundle.
    • This reminds me of another thing that should be checked, I remember from my RAID card days that if you dealt with small files like text documents all the time, and had cache on the controller you could see significant speed increases and at the same time, using cache for something like CAD drawings was just sill because each file would fill the cache and make everything feel slower, so maybe an extended test of large and small file would be inorder also, because what works for a documentation company will p

    • I had a similar experience with that vendor. I'm curious to know about which product, but don't want to discuss it on slashdot.
  • As someone who has to build, integrate, then deliver systems to other peoples' server floors I have some things that would be nice to know. How much power does the thing ACTUALLY use, not what the manual says, but real world usage (all you need is a clamp annmeter and a split extension cord) This test helps us determine power requirements if we deliver 100 of these, and cooling requirements.
  • ** For a server OS

    How easy is it to install? How easy is it upgrade? How easy is it, if its a different architecture (ie, Windows, Linux, Mac), to migrate big programs (Exchange, databases) from one to another? How well does it gel with existing servers? Do they recognize one another? Do they acknowledge? Can they fit into existing Active Directory-type listings effectively?

    Most to all shops are not created overnight. They are built on mistakes or tried-and-true methods that are (usually) quickly outdated. The problems arise when you try to "fix" the existing problems by bringing in more robust OS's and capabilities. It is the meshing of these that is more important to Network Admins that tales of how well this server did on a single machine in a non-network environment.

    ** High-speed switch

    Does it scale (how easy is it add one to five or more on a single chain?)? How is the admin interface? Is it web-based? Console (ie, serial port) based? Does it have both in case console is all that's available? Can you break it or overrun it with traffic?

    ** Big iron server or proprietary workstation?

    Someone else has mentioned scale so let me throw in something different: How easy is it to recover? Does it have Raid? (Well, it should obviously) Break it, remove a disk and see if you can recover from it easily. "Lose" a driver and see how quickly you can recover.

    Something I'd love to see is a review that includes a call to the tech support of that server. Don't tell them you're a reviewer, just tell them you got a problem. See how quick they respond, how informative they may be, how far does it have to go before they call in reinforcements? (ie, higher level support)? Will they call on-site repair? If so, how long did you have to troubleshoot before they determined it? Sometimes a card or piece will break and front line support will make you bleed through their ignorant manuals step-by-step when its clear that Piece A is broken and need a on-site tech with experience with that hardware to come and replace it.

    ** What tests should we run?

    Stress, along with installing/upgrading hardware.

    ** What results and feature comparisons are going to be most meaningful to you?

    I believe that over the course of this comment writing and thinking back over my dealings on big iron hardware, that comparisons in regards to tech support, informativeness, and responsiveness are something that can immediatley be added to the review process.

    Something more long-term would be how long did the server run before downtime, problems, burnouts, or hardware failures.
    • Well... Obi

      You aren't even in the ballpark here.

      -- "Installing OS" as a criteria? Um.. As you will see, this is almost the LEAST of the issues. Anyway, all enterprise class OSs have "kickstart" or "jumpstart" installation (and usually dedicate two servers to the task). Try installing on 2000 servers sometime...

      The issue may be "RHEL 3 vs Solaris 10", and that one is based on things like vertical stacking.

      "High speed switch" -- WTF? Are you dealing with big iron, or a small cluster. Big iron means big bo
  • by spectrokid ( 660550 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:04PM (#10976143) Homepage
    + doom fps
    + Gentoo compile time
    + Overclocking possibilities
    + Case mods, preferably with blue neon lights
    • and

      • ESR lameness rating for the vendor
      • Cmdr Taco ditto
      • Open and complete hardware specs so that all the teenage big iron owning programmer whiz-kids can make it boot linux
      • Whether the system cabinet will easily hold a beer cooler, MAME system and RAID pr0n fileserver when the time comes
  • Large SMP systems (Score:3, Informative)

    by jamesdood ( 468240 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:04PM (#10976144)
    Reviews for this sort of equipment are pretty much meaningless. I might buy a 16-way server to run Oracle, you might buy the same system to run large scale data analysis. PCs are easy to review and evaluate, they are commodity; can be used for any of multiple purposes. When I buy a large SMP system, I am buying it for a specific purpose, and the chances are it will never be re-purposed. So before spending uberbucks on a system I want to talk to the vendors other customers who are running similar workloads on the same tin. If the vendor gives me a long list of folks who use their systems for similar applications that is usually a good sign, if they can't then I move on.

    Large scale SMP systems require a slightly different mentallity than PC systems, as anyone who has managed a P690 or E10k will attest. You expect performance, you expect reliablity, you expect service, and for what you pay you better get it!

  • by loony ( 37622 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:05PM (#10976156)
    I work at a fortune 5 and my team supports things like E10K, F15K, Regatta, Superdome... The most important part is if you can trust the vendor. If you buy a $5mil frame, you want to make sure that not only will it be supported and the company will be around - but you also have to believe that the vendor will in the future be able to provide adequate patches and updates.

    Nothing is more annoying than if you buy a big frame and then you find out that a silly little piece of software is no longer maintained. Or like HP announced today, that they are once again changing their HP-UX roadmap and once again proved that they can't be taken seriously if they predict anything further out than 3 months.

    It all comes down to the simple fact that in the end, almost all of the big boxes are the same to the application. Sure, some have hard and some softpartitioning. Sure, you have different cpus, memory latencies and whatever - to the app it is just a bunch of system calls. But in the end, if you can't run your app on it, its useless, no matter how fast, redundant or whatever it is. We have completely moved away from selecting the box by its hardware properties. They are all sufficiently redundant and whatever. We go purely by how well the software we need to run is supported on the OS and if they have a roadmap that can be trusted.


  • Break it. Call support. See if you can understand what they are saying. See if they can understand what you are saying. See if they can understand what is wrong, or if they lead you through meaningless troubleshooting steps. See how long it takes for someone to show up to fix it. See whether they can actually get it fixed.

    The rest of it is not all that important, really.
    • "Break it. Call support"

      How inane. EG. MasterCard in Australia was (probably still is). using 2 E10K for M/C transactions.

      How do you break it? Remove a power supply? Sledgehammer the cabinet? Ok, blow one of them up... its fine.

      Oh -- you probably meant software. Been architected, tested, before deployment, run on another server (this one in the US). M/C wants warantees. THEN its deployed. Mere mortals will not TOUCH the production box, which is fully N+1.

      If it breaks, we are talking MILLIONS of dollars
  • Do this one last. Pour a gallon of steamy coffee on the appliance while it's operating. If it survives the procedure, give them props in the review. Otherwise, attempt to get technical support for the symptoms. This is not so much to evaluate the potential synergy of electronics and coffe but rather to gauge the support. Mind you, I don't get to deal with a lot of "big iron" things, but the question of support seems to be a very important as well as a very intangible one. All you can go on is testimonials
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:07PM (#10976171)

    This is going to be harsh, but you need to hear it.

    Obviously it is not possible to build an enterprise-grade 'your neck is on the line' production environment just for writing reviews

    In order for the review to be accurate, that's how it has to be tested. Evaluating enterprise equipment in a non-enterprise environment with people who have no enterprise experience is pretty much worthless...and you're not going to fool anyone.

    There's also no market for this sort of thing. Equipment on that level is bought because of high level executive briefings, price negotiations, migration options, and politics. Why? Because the market is so cutthroat and all the features that matter are there. The decisions are not made on whether or not a power cord was included, it was easy to unpack, the manuals were clear, how well built it looks, and how it did on SysMark SuperServerSimulator 2005...which is about the only thing all you 2-guys-with-a-webserver "hardware review" sites know how to do.

    Further- often when a hardware vendor wants to get a contract, they provide a unit for evaluation.

    On top of that, the major analyst firms already fill what little niche there is, and they have really big names 90% of the important people with Nice Shoes will recognize, which means even if that analyst is wrong, the decision to go with their recommendation is justifiable and won't get the Nice Shoes person fired. You'd be lucky if .01% recognized your name, much less trusted it. "Jones! Why does our website keep crashing?" "Well, we're having a lot of hardware problems." "Why did we go with ABC for our servers?" "Oh, said they were the best." "Jones, clean out your desk."

    So...sorry, there's no market for what you're trying to do, and you don't have the means to do it.

    • I agree with the above post for all the reasons he mentioned. You don't drop $1M on a product because it got "5 thumbs up" in some magazine.

      However, to offer some constructive criticism--what you could do is do extensive technical and performance analysis of a working system in a production environment. Instead of being able to sit at your desk and run pretty little tests, you would have to interview customers of a product, and ask them:
      • why did you choose this product?
      • did the hype live up to the deliver
  • I have very specific requirements when it comes
    to big dog servers and I just bought two more today.

    1. Does the hardware vendor support linux or just pay lip service to it.

    2. Can I get it without a os loaded or can I get it
    preloaded. If it so much as comes with a oem windows
    cd in the box I will ship it back.

    3. Have they pissed off the community lately.

    I just bought over 40k in servers today and guess who did not see a penny of that? DELL

  • With the advent of TCP-level load balancing and what-not, the speed is less of an issue so much as keeping the damn thing up in the first place. So, as a result, I like to see, hot-swappable everything. Not just power supplies, not just hard drives, but VME cards, bus cards, and even CPUs in symmetric systems would be a big plus.
  • by iBod ( 534920 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:11PM (#10976197)
    When I hear "Big Iron" I think mainframes.

    In particular, big IBM mainframes (s/3x0) running something like MVS (maybe VM at a push).

    Anyone else think the term "Big Iron" is used innapropriately to describe a bunch of piddling little boxes that don't even need an air-conditioned datacenter equipped with an automatic Halon fire extinguishing system?
    • by cakefool ( 801210 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:19PM (#10976285) Journal
      If it wouldn't make a good sci-fi set, or look like a CRAY, it ain't big iron. I recently relaxed the requirement that it has tape reels and men with clipboards wandering through it. They can now be women...
    • Big Iron = > $250,000.00

    • by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @03:49PM (#10977413) Journal
      I 100% agree!

      Once you work for an organisation that has had an IT department longer than the mid-1990s (say, a bank where it goes back 40+ years), you'll realise this article about "Big Iron" is a joke.

      Where I work, we have several designations for breaking down inventory. Destkop/Wintel (including stand-alone WinOS servers), Mid-Range (Unix, cluster windows, linux), and Transactional ("Big Iron").

      E15ks are big, powerful, and excellent enterprise servers. But...even then they're just servers. Their workload is managed differently (e.g. no batch) and their failure/recovery modes are completely different.

      Aside from DEC, I mean Compaq, I mean HP Tandems, MVS (Z/OS, aka OS/390) would be the only thing we consider "Big Iron". Calling an E10k "Big Iron" is equivalent to noob-speak in senior IT corporate circles. If we had Crays, that would be in scope of this definition too.

  • by HogGeek ( 456673 )
    All of the vendors that sell big iron use the RAS acronymn: Reliability, Availability, and Servicablility.

    So they claim it, but does it work?

    Reliabilty: The quality or state of being reliable
    Is the system built using good design methodologies, and practices?
    Quality components?

    Availability: The quality or state of being available
    Does the system have many single points of failure?
    Are those points truly supseptible?

    Servicability: The quality or state of being serviceable
    Can I change broken parts w

    • by iBod ( 534920 )
      I thought RAS was specifically an IBM term.

      Maybe some of the plug-compatible mainframe manufacturers used it too (Amdahl/Fujitsu/Hitachi)?

      Anyway - RAS is still a good concept, but hard to measure without years-worth of in-the-field data.
  • Simple one-day, weekend, or even weeklong reviews are meaningless in the corporate IT environment. Hell, the merits of any particular vendor's gear isn't truly relevant either. I've worked in an institutional IT environment and a corporate one, and this is how purchasing works:

    1. Requirements solicitation - figure out what needs we need to fill, be it wifi net access, a file server, etc
    2. Vendor research - contact the usual suspects in the field (networking, big iron servers, etc) and arrange for consultation and formal bids to be made. NOTE: this step is skipped ENTIRELY if the company/institution already has a corporate account with a vendor that provides the appropriate services that you require.
    3. Formal bidding process - pit the vendors against eachother, it's fun when you get them onsite to demo their gear. Generally vendors will lower prices to sweeten their bid.
    4. Award the contract to one of the vendors, or (more likely) have funding denied to you by the beancounters and end up doing a half-assed implementation of what any of the vendors was going to do.

    Individual machine or software reviews are a *tiny* part of the process for securing enterprise level hardware/software services.
  • Okay, I'm mainly saying this because we've had so many server failures at work in the last month. What features does the machine have to make it fault tolerant? Can they actually be demonstrated as part of the review. Do the automatic failovers actually operate. Will they operate properly if the server crashes under a full load.
  • by robocord ( 15497 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:14PM (#10976235)
    1. How much redundancy is available
    a. Are there multiple fans or fan trays?
    b. Are there multiple power supplies?
    i. How many are needed to power the system?
    ii. Can they be powered on and off individually?
    b. Are there multiple CPUs?
    i. Can they fail independantly, without outage?
    ii. Can they be partitioned or dedicated?
    c. How about multiple storage controllers?
    2. How maintainable is it?
    a. Hot-swapability
    i. CPUs?
    ii. Fans?
    iii. Power supplies?
    b. Manufacturer longevity
    c. Product line stability
    d. Off-the-shelf parts?
    3. Physical specs
    a. It's gotta be rack-mountable, right?
    b. How many U high?
    c. How deep?
    d. Are there pluggy bits on the front, back, both?
    e. How much does it weigh?
    f. How bloody annoying are the rack rails?
    g. Can you open and close it with things mounted directly above and below?
    h. Can you swap out any and all parts without unracking?
    i. How much heat does it generate?
    j. How much power does it require?
    k. Is there a maximum rack density specified?
    l. Is it loud enough for OSHA to require ear plugs?
    4. Expandability
    a. How many net ports minimum/maximum?
    b. What kind of net ports can it have?
    c. How many storage thingies (hard drives, etc)?
    d. Is there an upgrade path for the CPU(s)?
    5. Servicability?
    a. Is there a "lights out" managment board available?
    b. Does it require dedicated management software?
    c. Does it support SNMP?
    i. Standard MIBs?
    ii. Custom MIB(s)?
    iii. Can it send traps?
    d. Are you forced to connect a monitor/keyboard?
    e. Is it supported by the obnoxious management/monitoring software of my choice?
    F. Miscellaneous
    a. Can it run Linux?
    b. Does it force me to run Microsoft software?
    c. Ok then, what the hell O/S does it run?
    d. Can I have the source?
    e. Please?
    f. There's no SCO crap in there, right?
    g. If I fill a whole rack with them, will it impress the chicks?
    h. Ok, then how do I impress chicks?
    i. What the hell's a chick, anyway?

    I'm sure I've left out a ton of stuff, but those are some quick thoughts.
  • I learned something about hardware from a simple worm.. I wrote an article on it and I'll re-post it here. Additional comments are at the bottom:

    Blaster was a worm, and of worms in general I would say that there is little new to be learned from them. They simply exploit holes that haven't been patched in vulnerable software from Microsoft. The security community continues to lambaste Microsoft regarding their alleged push toward making security their #1 priority, which actually comes in second plac
    • his usually wouldn't be a problem for the router, except for each packet was destined for a unique IP address. What started happening is that each route was looked up, routed, and stored in its cache for future packets - only there weren't any future packets. What happened next was the memory space allocated for caching CEF routes filled up, and once full, the router simply purged its cache so that every packet had to then go to the CPU to be routed. Once this happened, all hell broke loose.

      One solution:

    • Isn't that just a bug in Cisco's IOS software? CEF should, IMO, start replacing lease-used routes(replacing the previously made blaster-inspired 1 use routes) with the new routes when it maxes its memory.
  • FMEA (Score:3, Informative)

    by WeirdKid ( 260577 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @02:20PM (#10976302)
    I always ask for an FMEA - Failure Mode and Effects Analysis - for typical and HA deployments. Big, expensive equipment tends to fail in big, expensive ways, and I want to know all the ways it can fail, all the potential effects of those failures, and what impact they have on my enterprise. Then, I want to know the recommended mechanisms and patterns that can be employed to minimize failure impact.
  • When features are the same or similar from vendor to vendor their support organiztion can be a deciding factor. When reviewing big iron break something on purpose and make a call to the support line. The review should definitely include the response from that process.

    Testing the support system simulates the "your neck is on the line" environment without much infrastructure cost expenditure. It is definitely very valuable information for those trying to narrow down the field. I know I wouldn't consider
  • Here's something I'd like to see in a big iron review:
    * Are the prices openly availiable
    * If not, can I get them via email, phone, fax?
    * How many phone calls to a sales guy does it take to get a price list.
    * You mean he wants to fly out to discuss pricing?
    * How much cheaper is my buddy at SavvyCorp able to buy it for since he knows the right guy to haggle with.
  • I don't know. It's always kind of good to get whatever information I can, but if I'm looking for any kind of computer equipment, whether desktop or server or anything, my concern is something I can't really imagine being tested in a simulated environment.

    What I mean is, when I have home stuff or testing equipment or generally anything that's "for play", my requirements are erratic, and usually any single requirement can be overcome if the product has a certain "coolness" factor. But that's not what you're

  • A lot of studios and production houses shop around for render servers. Distributed rendering would be a great benchmark.. There are free renderman compliant renderes that people could benchmark with, not to mention many open source renderers out there.
  • When reading reviews of a big iron, here are some of the things I want to know:
    • Just how big is this big iron? Is it too big to fit on my ironing board? The device's physical footprint in its facility matters.
    • What is its heat dissipation? Ironing boards aren't data centers, people: we want a high heat dissipation, to get the job done quickly.
    • Does it have the industry's latest features? I want my big iron to have power management, in case I accidentally leave it plugged in.

    These are just a few things I a

  • For example, their tests for the Cisco CRS-1 are available here [] and their results here []. The beast qualifies as both big iron and very fast switch to me... Watch and learn ;)
  • With a computer like that, you want clients to think that their machine, if unleashed, would start trying to take over the world, it is so powerful. If the mainframe you bought has loads of blinking lights and make ominous noises, its a win. Also, DOD terminology also helps, along with a speech synthesizer that randomly says, of "pentagon uplink complete", "retarget it in progress", etc.
  • When it comes to enterprise class computing, these are the crucial factors:

    1. Service: A good system vendor will support their product for as long as the customer uses it. I know of a certain company (*cough* Microsoft *cough*) which arbitrarily decided to stop supporting products older than 6 years, and requiring customers to upgrade after 2 just to maintain support contracts. This approach has hastened many a business to convert to Linux.
    2. Stability: You cannot patch a production system at the drop of a
  • Honestly, when it comes to purchasing very expensive machines, I don't think IT departments should be looking at a journalist's review. They need to be doing the research and testing themselves.

    Vendors will bend over backwards to get you to buy their big-ticket items. They will generally give you test machines and allow your engineers to hammer away. Those making the purchasing decisions will talk to their engineers, and value their opinions much higher than those of a magazine.

    At least thats how it sh
  • I thought this was a requirement for pretty much any hardware review. I don't believe we should limit this to computer hardware either. My dishwasher currently has 0 fps. I'm looking to upgrade that for sure.
  • I am not in the IT field. But I find it interesting and impressive to hear about how large operations run. I'd be really like to hear about different methods for laying out datacenters. What rackmounts do they use, what types of airconditioning, what types of power conditioning? How do they organize all their cables. What procedures work for figuring out which server failed, how do you take it offline and fix it. I know these questions might be really basic to a lot of IT people, but not to me. I als
  • ...Performance statistics.

    One of the biggest reasons companies even think of spending lots of money on High-end hardware is because of the capabilities during error/failure states. For instance, on the IBM Regata, you can lose processors, memory sticks, bus paths, etc, and it has "self" healing technology by which the system stays up. This is a high dollar item for P-series though, it is possible to take advantage of some of this in their non-RS6000 line pSeries stuff as well.

    Compaq Non-stop has similar t
  • are the manufacturers specifications.

    Product cross comparison of specifications using iedntical test suite rather than manufacturers 'tuned' suites.

    Real world test comparison. How well does the box do it's job when it's doing everything it will do in deployment at once.

    Clear breakdown of cost so that all the 'gotchas' like proprietary cards or code that is not included, warranty, spare parts turnaround, ease of diagnosis, actual electric consumption, etc.

  • It's easy (Score:3, Funny)

    by upsidedown_duck ( 788782 ) on Thursday December 02, 2004 @03:38PM (#10977247)

    To capture the essence of the enterprise, you need to hire four newly graduated students and have them write the worst program possible in Java. Don't worry, the "worst" part comes automatically. Then, apply this program to several brands of servers and see which one actually survives. That is the one you recommend in the review.
  • Get whatever webserver the vendor recommends, throw /. on it, find the biggest firehose you can and throw the IP of the test system on the /. homepage. Measure the amount of sweat from the marketoids foreheads.
  • The Ultimate Test (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kris ( 824 ) <> on Friday December 03, 2004 @02:45AM (#10983602) Homepage
    Dismantle the system. Without powering it down. How many components can you remove, following all procedures, before the system becomes unavailable?

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant