Buying physical hardware was a new step for WonderProxy, it’s hard to say that we rushed into it, this being our third year, but it sort of feels that way. We’re operating around 100 servers around the world right now, but all of them are either virtual servers, or dedicated machines we’re renting from providers. Having a UPS guy drop off a rather large box one day was a big change.

Everything has worked out well, but there was a few steps that could have gone more smoothly, this post is half note to myself on what to do better next time, and half for you.

Buying Hardware

  • As far as I can tell the Dell & HP websites have been largely designed to be horrible, in hopes of routing you to a sales person. I tried to fight this, but it was pointless. Phone someone at one of those companies and save yourself several hours.
  • Watch for extras on the quote, your sales person will likely work your specifications, then insert the most expensive options around it, things like 24/7 hardware replacement with a 4hr SLA, fancy cable management systems, etc.
  • Your data centre will have power requirements. Your phone rep may be able to help you there, Dell’s UPS website is also capable of turning your server specifications into amperage.
  • Remote management cards are helpful, but you’ll either need to set up pass-through on the NIC (if your card supports it) or have multiple drops to reach it.
  • Check each component for compatibility with your operating system if it doesn’t ship installed. We’re using Debian, and had a mild panic attack before we found drivers for our Raid controller in Debian testing.

Hosting

  • Your hosting provider will sell you bandwidth as a 95th percentile. That means they’ll sample how much bandwidth you’re using on regular increments (say every 15 minutes), sort those results biggest to smallest, delete the top 5% then charge you the next one. Unless you’re buying a lot of bandwidth you’ll probably end up paying more here than you would on a dedicated box by the GB.
  • Hosting space comes in either U increments (1U, 2U, 4U, etc) or rack portions (full rack, half rack, quarter rack, eighth rack (octal). If you’re buying directly from a provider you’re likely going to need to over-buy if you’re only racking one server.
  • Providers also care about power usage they will likely tell you something like 8 AMPS. You’ll need to spec your server out appropriately.
  • The number of network cables and power ports inside your unit will also matter, there’s no point in having a redundant power supply if you’re only going to be able to plug one in.
  • You will need to plan your move in date, your provider may need a lot of paper work signed and then a few more days before this happens. Talk to your sales rep about dates, and SLA for setting up new space. It may be as long as a week between getting your paper work in order and being able to move in.
  • Find out how your server will be mounted, there appears to be both round and square holes. As we learned when we were four, you need to match the right peg to the right hole. If you’re renting a very small fraction of space (like an octal) you may not have any mounting brackets at all, instead just letting things rest on the sheet metal between clients.
  • Your sales guy may not manage things once you’ve signed up, you may be handed off to the network team. Try to keep track of who knows what, if you’re racking your server and have a problem sales guy can’t help (and probably doesn’t answer the phone after hours).

Visiting the Data Centre

  • You’ll need ID, your network guy should be able to describe the requirements
  • Depending on how many servers you’re bringing in, you may be able to use the front door, or the loading dock.
  • Ours had a nice man-trap on the way in, first door needed to close before the second would open
  • It will be loud in the server room, ear plugs would be prudent
  • A flash light might help see things, there’s decent lighting but you’ll likely have stuff on top and below you
  • There should be a monitor, keyboard, and mouse on a trolley somewhere for configuring things
  • There may not be wifi, or even 3g inside
  • Pre-configuring your IP details stuff would be prudent, there will not be DHCP

That in hand, hopefully your server buying and racking experience will go smoothly.


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Hi, I’m Paul Reinheimer, a developer working on the web.

I wrote a book titled Professional Web APIs with PHP back in 2006, and am currently working in Biomedical Informatics for a major public health company.

I’m working on a project to help developers called WonderProxy which has proxies all over the world. Working on GeoIP development? Now you can finally test properly! We've also released Global Ping Statistics for expected ping times between cities, as well as a Load Testing Tool to measure your site's ability to handle load. Our most recent site checking tool is Where's it Up? which checks your sites availability globally, returning HTTP, DNS, and Traceroute details

My hobbies are cycling, photography, travel, and engaging Allison Moore in intelligent discourse. I frequently write about PHP and other related technologies.

I co-founded:

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