A Tale of Two Servers

While you might think that working with cloud computing means I don’t deal with hardware, really the opposite is true. True, there’s the public cloud like Amazon EC2 or Rackspace. But then there are private, on-premise “clouds” — VMware vSphere, Red Hat’s RHEV-M, OpenStack, etc. And you can’t exactly run a virtualization environment inside of a virtual machine, so suddenly there’s a whole bunch of hardware needed.

While I have access to setups for my “real” work, it’s a lot harder to say, “I’d like to tinker with setting up RHEV” or “I want to play around with Gluster” and grab a couple of machines to do it on when they’re shared work resources. Used server hardware can be absurdly cheap on eBay, so I decided to pick up a few machines. The other thing I like about buying things on eBay and not needing them in any particular hurry is that you can only buy things when they are legitimately great deals. So today the second of two servers arrived. Here they are:

(Obviously, I need to get a rack/cabinet in which to mount these next.)

What’s interesting to me is how insanely different the two boxes are.

The top server is a Cobalt RaQ 2, sporting a 250 MHz MIPS processor and 128 MB RAM. It takes a single ATA drive, though none came with the unit I bought.

The bottom server, which doesn’t look nearly as cool, is a Supermicro machine. I picked it up for $230, shipped, on eBay. It’s got dual sockets, each a quad-core Xeon, and 16GB RAM. The four hot-swap SATA bays are empty, but not for long.

The Cobalt was more of a collector’s item. I’m having a hard time pinning down the actual history/timeline, but based on the owner’s manual’s copyright date, it was released towards the end of the 90’s, possibly 1999. And back then, I thought the RaQ was the coolest thing ever. It looked incredibly awesome, but it was also this amazing appliance — a total web-hosting setup in one little pizza-box enclosure. It got me intrigued. But being a kid, there was no way I could have bought a cutting-edge server appliance, much less paid to host it somewhere.

But today, it’s something else about it that intrigues me — the advertised power draw is 35 Watts. The 250 MHz MIPS CPU and 128 MB memory don’t exactly qualify this thing as a powerhouse, but I’d like to throw one of a handful of the Linux distros with MIPS support on it and use it as a random always-on Linux box, for things like a DNS cache, ssh bastion host into my home network, NTP server, etc.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

One thought on “A Tale of Two Servers

  1. Only after posting this does it occur to me that a Raspberry Pi would beat this thing in every way, except for looks. The Model B costs $35, has a 700 MHz ARM processor, 256 MB RAM, and uses 3.5 Watts. That’s about the price I paid for this used, 2-3x the clock speed, twice the RAM, and a tenth the power. And still a single Ethernet port, but the Pi has USB and video ports, unlike the RaQ 2.

    Someone, please, make a slick rackmount chassis for the Pi with a 16×2-character display. You could easily fit several in one 1U enclosure…

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