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Friday, September 21, 2012

Server for SharePoint Production and Development environments

There are many vendors out there who provide server hardware. However this post I will mention a specific one which I have had good experience with.
Traditionally all servers from HP / Dell / IBM have been so that it does not allow for adding PCI / PCIe cards for adding your own Video cards. Well a possible reason for that: Who will buy a workstation PC if servers allowed that? However with the new VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) scenarios things have changed. Ofcourse we always want the server to be powerful and at the same time would be nice to see the display in full HD i.e. atleast 1920 x 1080 Pixels and in 32 bit colors. So far that was not possible as mentioned above. But now it is - Here is a server (besides few other from Dell which do that) i.e. Dell R720 server. It is a 12th Generation server and there are many neat things about it:

a) Allows video cards to be added using the PCIe x16 slots. - Tested with AMD FirePro 4900 and works ok. The only thing to make it work - disable the onboard video from BIOS after adding the new card and on re-boot.
b) How about Sound card - well most of the sound cards are PCI. PCI and PCIe slots are not compatible.
However PCIe is backward compatible which means a PCIe 1x card would work ok in a PCIe X16 slot.
Hence a PCIe 1x sound card should work just fine. Have not tested this though therotically it looks feasible.
An external USB sound connection works very well - Tested and this works.
c) 10 GBPS ethernet card. Now that is fast. We can have the VMs on the server talk to each other thru 10GBps connection. Now imagine that network speed betweeb SharePoint WFE and SQL VM if they are on the same server. It has a LOM (Lan on Motherboard) module which makes traffic within VM at blazing speeds.
d) Dual Xeon 8 core processors with hyperthreading i.e. 16 physical cores however shows 32 CPU in windows because each core is hyperthreaded.
e) Noise: Really low noise i.e. less than what a Desktop PC makes
f)  Heat: Remains around 26 C to 27 C most of the time. Higher CPU usage may push that number higher.
g) Allows maximum RAM to upto 768 GB. That's pretty high a number.
h) RAID card options with 512 Mb or 1 Gb caching - a must for good I/O performance.
i) Cost: Similar config from HP would cost atleast 2K-3K more than Dell (number may vary based on configuration).
j) Plenty of disk slots. If you need xtra storage Dell has R720xd  (xd is for Xtra Drives or Disk). However xd may not support a GPU I believe (please check with Dell).

While playing video files on this server in a VM- the CPU usage percentage occasionlly jumps to 1% and most of the time remains at 0%.  Well that is a powerfull server! Ofcourse using more resources would trigger that to high number.

Dell has really outperformed with its 12th generation server and I want to kudos to the guys for the new design. Overall this server would be a good candidate for SharePoint production server as well as for SharePoint development team so that they can get the full desktop experience from VMs on this server.

With Windows Server 2012 now some things have improved i.e. RemoteFX does not require a physical GPU since it provides a s/w based Virtual GPU. Though for intensive video work, H/W card is still recommended.

I will definitely recommend this server to our clients for SharePoint installations.

That's all for now. Untill next time...

-- Mohan
Disclaimer: Am not associated with Dell and they are not involved in writing of this article in anyway. The above are personal experiences with using Dell R720 server. I liked the product and hence expressesd my opinion.

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