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DIY converged server software defined storage on a budget using Lenovo TS140

DIY converged server software defined storage on a budget using Lenovo TS140

By Greg Schulz

Attention DIY Converged Server Storage Bargain Shoppers

Software defined storage on a budget with Lenovo TS140

server storage I/O trends

Recently I put together a two-part series of some server storage I/O items to get a geek for a gift (read part I here and part II here) that also contain items that can be used for accessorizing servers such as the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140.

Lenovo thinkserver ts140
Image via Lenovo.com

Likewise I have done reviews of the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 in the past which included me liking them and buying some (read the reviews here and here), along with a review of the larger TD340 here.

Why is this of interest

Do you need or want to do a Do It Yourself (DIY) build of a small server compute cluster, or a software defined storage cluster (e.g. scale-out), or perhaps a converged storage for VMware VSAN, Microsoft SOFS or something else?

Do you need a new server, second or third server, or expand a cluster, create a lab or similar and want the ability to tailor your system without shopping or a motherboard, enclosure, power supply and so forth?

Are you a virtualization or software defined person looking to create a small VMware Virtual SAN (VSAN) needing three or more servers to build a proof of concept or personal lab system?

Then the TS140 could be a fit for you.

storage I/O Lenovo TS140
Image via StorageIOlabs, click to see review

Why the Lenovo TS140 now?

Recently I have seen a lot of site traffic on my site with people viewing my reviews of the Lenovo TS140 of which I have a few. In addition have got questions from people via comments section as well as elsewhere about the TS140 and while shopping at Amazon.com for some other things, noticed that there were some good value deals on different TS140 models.

I tend to buy the TS140 models that are bare bones having power supply, enclosure, CD/DVD, USB ports, power supply and fan, processor and minimal amount of DRAM memory. For processors mine have the Intel E3-1225 v3 which are quad-core and that have various virtualization assist features (e.g. good for VMware and other hypervisors).

What I saw on Amazon the other day (also elsewhere) were some Intel i3-4130 dual core based systems (these do not have all the virtualization features, just the basics) in a bare configuration (e.g. no Hard Disk Drive (HDD), 4GB DRAM, processor, mother board, power supply and fan, LAN port and USB with a price of around $220 USD (your price may vary depending on timing, venue, prime or other membership and other factors). Not bad for a system that you can tailor to your needs. However what also caught my eye were the TS140 models that have the Intel E3-1225 v3 (e.g. quad core, 3.2Ghz) processor matching the others I have with a price of around $330 USD including shipping (your price will vary depending on venue and other factors).

What are some things to be aware of?

Some caveats of this solution approach include:
  • There are probably other similar types of servers, either by price, performance, or similar
  • Compare apples to apples, e.g. same or better processor, memory, OS, PCIe speed and type of slots, LAN ports
  • Not as robust of a solution as those you can find costing tens of thousands of dollars (or more)
  • A DIY system which means you select the other hardware pieces and handle the service and support of them
  • Hardware platform approach where you choose and supply your software of choice
  • For entry-level environments who have floor-space or rack-space to accommodate towers vs. rack-space or other alternatives
  • Software agnostic Based on basically an empty server chassis (with power supplies, motherboard, power supplies, PCIe slots and other things)
  • Possible candidate for smaller SMB (Small Medium Business), ROBO (Remote Office Branch Office), SOHO (Small Office Home Office) or labs that are looking for DIY
  • A starting place and stimulus for thinking about doing different things

What could you do with this building block (e.g. server)

Create a single or multi-server based system for

  • Virtual Server Infrastructure (VSI) including KVM, Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware ESXi, Xen among others
  • Object storage
  • Software Defined Storage including Datacore, Microsoft SOFS, Openstack, Starwind, VMware VSAN, various XFS and ZFS among others
  • Private or hybrid cloud including using Openstack among other software tools
  • Create a hadoop big data analytics cluster or grid
  • Establish a video or media server, use for gaming or a backup (data protection) server
  • Update or expand your lab and test environment
  • General purpose SMB, ROBO or SOHO single or clustered server
VMware VSAN server storageIO example

What you need to know

Like some other servers in this class, you need to pay attention to what it is that you are ordering, check out the various reviews, comments and questions as well as verify the make, model along with configuration. For example what is included and what is not included, warranty, return policy among other things. In the case of some of the TS140 models, they do not have a HDD, OS, keyboard, monitor, mouse along with different types of processors and memory. Not all the processors are the same, pay attention, visit the Intel Ark site to look up a specific processor configuration to see if it fits your needs as well as visit the hardware compatibility list (HCL) for the software that you are planning to use. Note that these should be best practices regardless of make, model, type or vendor for server, storage, I/O networking hardware and software.

What you will need

This list assumes that you have obtained a model without a HDD, keyboard, video, mouse or operating system (OS) installed

  • Update your BIOS if applicable, check the Lenovo site
  • Enable virtualization and other advanced features via your BIOS
  • Software such as an Operating System (OS), hypervisor or other distribution (load via USB or CD/DVD if present)
  • SSD, SSHD/HHDD, HDD or USB flash drive for installing OS or other software
  • Keyboard, video, mouse (or a KVM switch)

What you might want to add (have it your way)

  • Keyboard, video mouse or a KVM switch (See gifts for a geek here)
  • Additional memory
  • Graphics card, GPU or PCIe riser
  • Additional SSD, SSHD/HHDD or HDD for storage
  • Extra storage I/O and networking ports

Extra networking ports

You can easily add some GbE (or faster ports) including use the PCIe x1 slot, or use one of the other slots for a quad port GbE (or faster), not to mention get some InfiniBand single or dual port cards such as the Mellanox Connectx II or Connect III that support QDR and can run in IBA or 10GbE modes. If you only have two or three servers in a cluster, grid, ring configuration you can run point to point topologies using InfiniBand (and some other network interfaces) without using a switch, however you decide if you need or want switched or non-switched (I have a switch). Note that with VMware (and perhaps other hypervisors or OS) you may need to update the drives for the Realtek GbE LAN on Motherboard port (see links below).

Extra storage ports

For extra storage space capacity (and performance) you can easily add PCIe G2 or G3 HBAs (SAS, SATA, FC, FCoE, CNA, UTA, IBA for SRP, etc) or RAID cards among others. Depending on your choice of cards, you can then attach to more internal storage, external storage or some combination with different adapters, cables, interposers and connectivity options. For example I have used TS140s with PCIe Gen 3 12Gbs SAS HBAs attached to 12Gbs SAS SSDs (and HDDs) with the ability to drive performance to see what those devices are capable of doing.

TS140 Hardware Defined My Way

As an example of how a TS140 can be configured, using one of the base E3-1224 v3 models with 4GB RAM, no HDD (e.g around $330 USD, your price will vary), add a 4TB Seagate HDD (or two or three) for around $140 USD each (your price will vary), add a 480GB SATA SSD for around $340 USD (your price will vary) with those attached to the internal SATA ports. To bump up network performance, how about a Mellanox Connectx II dual port QDR IBA/10GbE card for around $140 USD (your price will vary), plus around $65 USD for QSFP cable (you your price will vary), and some extra memory (use what you have or shop around) and you have a platform ready to go for around or under $1,000 USD. Add some more internal or external disks, bump up the memory, put in some extra network adapters and your price will go up a bit, however think about what you can have for a robust not so little system. For you VMware vgeeks, think about the proof of concept VSAN that you can put together, granted you will have to do some DIY items.

Some TS140 resources

Lenovo TS140 resources include

Lenovo thinkserver ts140
Image via Lenovo.com

What this all means

Like many servers in its category (price, capabilities, abilities, packaging) you can do a lot of different things with them, as well as hardware define with accessories, or use your own software. Depending on how you end how hardware defining the TS140 with extra memory, HDDs, SSDs, adapters or other accessories and software your cost will vary. However you can also put together a pretty robust system without breaking your budget while meeting different needs.

Is this for everybody? Nope

Is this for more than a lab, experimental, hobbyist, gamer? Sure, with some caveats Is this apples to apples comparison vs. some other solutions including VSANs? Nope, not even close, maybe apples to oranges.

Do I like the TS140? Yup, starting with a review I did about a year ago, I liked it so much I bought one, then another, then some more.

Are these the only servers I have, use or like? Nope, I also have systems from HP and Dell as well as test drive and review others

Why do I like the TS140? It's a value for some things which means that while affordable (not to be confused with cheap) it has features, salability and ability to be both hardware defined for what I want or need to use them as, along with software define them to be different things. Key for me is the PCIe Gen 3 support with multiple slots (and types of slots), reasonable amount of memory, internal housing for 3.5" and 2.5" drives that can attach to on-board SATA ports, media device (CD/DVD) if needed, or remove to use for more HDDs and SSDs. In other words, it's a platform that instead of shopping for the motherboard, an enclosure, power supply, processor and related things I get the basics, then configure, and reconfigure as needed.

Another reason I like the TS140 is that I get to have the server basically my way, in that I do not have to order it with a smallest number of HDDs, or that it comes with an OS, more memory than needed or other things that I may or may not be able to use. Granted I need to supply the extra memory, HDDs, SSDs, PCIe adapters and network ports along with software, however for me that's not too much of an issue.

What don't I like about the TS140? You can read more about my thoughts on the TS140 in my review here, or its bigger sibling the TD340 here, however I would like to see more memory slots for scaling up. Granted for what these cost, it's just as easy to scale-out and after all, that's what a lot of software defined storage prefers these days (e.g. scale-out).

The TS140 is a good platform for many things, granted not for everything, that's why like storage, networking and other technologies there are different server options for various needs. Exercise caution when doing apples to oranges comparison on price alone, compare what you are getting in terms of processor type (and its functionality), expandable memory, PCIe speed, type and number of slots, LAN connectivity and other features to meet your needs or requirements. Also keep in mind that some systems might be more expensive that include a keyboard, HDD with an OS installed that if you can use those components, then they have value and should be factored into your cost, benefit, return on investment.

And yes, I just added a few more TS140s that join other recent additions to the server storageIO lab resources...

Anybody want to guess what I will be playing with among other things during the up coming holiday season?

Ok, nuff said, for now...

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz - Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

All Comments, (C) and (TM) belong to their owners/posters, Other content (C) Copyright 2006-2014 StorageIO All Rights Reserved

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.