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In the comments on my post about the Dell PowerEdge T105 server  there is some discussion of the internal USB port (which allows the use of a USB flash device for booting which is connected inside the case).
This is a really nice feature of the Dell server and something that would be useful if it was in more machines. However I believe that it would be better to have flash storage with a SATA interface on the motherboard. The cost of medium size flash storage (eg 4G) in the USB format is not overly great, if soldered to the motherboard or connected to a daughter-board the incremental price for the server would be very small. Dell servers shipped with a minimum of an 80G SATA disk last time I checked, it seems quite likely to me that Dell could reduce the prices of their servers by providing flash storage on the motherboard and having no hard disk.
It seems likely to me that there is a significant number of people who don’t want the default hard drive that ships with a Dell server. The 80G disk that came with my PowerEdge is currently gathering dust on a shelf, it was far to small to be of any use in that machine and Dell’s prices for bigger disks were outrageous so I replaced the default disk with a pair of big disks as soon as the server had passed some basic burn-in tests. Most servers that I run fall into one of two categories, machines which primarily do computation tasks and need little storage space or IO capacity (in which case 4G of flash would do nicely) and machines which have databases, backups, virtual machine images, and other big things (in which case anything less than 160G is silly and less than 500G makes no economic sense in today’s market). Note that for a machine with small storage requirements I would rather have a 4G flash device than an 80G disk, I am inclined to trust flash to not die but not trust a single disk, two 80G disks means more noise, heat dissipation, and expense.
According to comments on my previous post VMWare ESX requires a USB boot device, so if VMWare could be booted with a motherboard based flash device then that would be an ideal configuration for VMWare. In some mailing list discussions I’ve seen concern raised about the reliability of permanently connected USB devices, while I’ve only encountered USB problems related to buggy hardware and drivers other people have had problems with the electrical connection. So it seems that motherboard based flash could be expected to increase the reliability of VMWare servers.
The down-side to having flash permanently attached to the motherboard is of course the impossibility of moving the boot device to different hardware. In terms of recovering from failure restoring a few gig of flash storage from backup is easy enough. The common debugging option of connecting a hard drive to another machine to fix boot problems would be missed, but I think that the positive aspects of this idea outweigh the negative – and it would of course be an option to not boot from flash.
If anyone knows of a tower server that is reasonably quiet, has ECC RAM and a usable amount of flash storage on the motherboard (2G would be a bare minimum, 4G or 8G would be preferred) then please let me know.Most Popular