I’m going to solve this age-old question once and for all. Is it better to buy a whitebox or a branded box for your VMware server? Alright, you caught me. There’s no way I’m going to solve that question, but I am going to pit two or thee configs against each other and see how it comes out. Maybe we’ll all learn something.
What’s the backup angle? I need to build a VMware/Hyper-V lab again, and I wanted to do it right this time. I’m thinking about buying 2-3 servers, so cost is very important. But I also want everything to be fully supported in VMware/Hyper-V land.
So it was with great interest that I read Philip Jaenke’s blog post about his VMware whitebox config he calls the Baby Dragon. I started discussing this on Twitter last night, and next thing I know I was in way over my head as a third party watching Philip Jaenke and Eric Siebert argue why their config was the best. (I wish I knew a better way of capturing a three-way convo like this so I could put it in this blog entry.) Philip was, of course, arguing on behalf of the Baby Dragon, and Eric was arguing for the HP ML110. I thought both of them made really good points, so I thought I would summarize them here.
The Baby Dragon is a pretty sweet setup based on a SuperMicro X8SIL-F motherboard (that includes a dual-ported Intel 82574L GbE controller), an Intel Xeon X3450 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, and a 300 GB 10K RPM SATA drive. He buys best-of-breed components from the cheapest place (with good customer service) he can find, and puts them together himself. He says that his config is fully supported within VMware, and can do anything you need VMware to do, including a lot of the advanced stuff I’ve never even heard of. And, he says, it’s really quiet (32dBA) and not too power hungry (300 watts). The total price for the Baby Dragon is $1388.
Enter Eric Siebert and his favorite branded box, the HP ML110. The base system comes with a Xeon X3440 CPU and 2 GB of RAM, and a 250 GB 7500 RPM SATA drive, and you can have that for $599 on Amazon, Newegg, and some other sources. He can then add up to 16 GB of RAM, but chooses instead to put 8 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD drive on which he places the vswp files. He also adds an Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC. He gets all that for $1096.
Let me put these side-by-side. The Baby Dragon is as Philip described it in his blog with links to the various parts and where he buys them. Note that it has 16 GB of RAM, a 300 GB 10K drive, and a 2.66 GHz CPU. The first HP ML110 is how Eric would configure things, with the included 250 GB 7500 RPM SATA drive, 8 GB of RAM (2 GB included, 6 GB extra), then using a 64 GB SSD drive and an extra dual GbE NIC. The third config is to try and match the Baby Dragon’s specs as close as possible with HP branded hardware by going ahead and buying the 16 GB of RAM (throwing away the included 2 GB), adding the 300 GB 10K RPM drive, and a 1 yr HP Lights-Our license that matches functionality that Philip mentioned is included in the Baby Dragon. (Eric said he really didn’t need this functionality, but felt that if he wanted it, he could get a complimentary blogger license from HP. Philip didn’t think that was fair and neither did I, so I left that out of the comparison below.)
|Part||Baby Dragon||Cost||HP ML110 w/SSD||Cost||HP ML110 Closer to Baby Dragon||Cost|
|Case||Lian-Li V351B MicroATX||$100||HP Unknown||Inc||HP Unknown||Inc|
|MBD||Supermicro X8SIL-F||$190||HP Unknown||Inc||HP Unknown||Inc|
|CPU||Intel Xeon X3450 (2.66GHz)||$245||Xeon X3440 (2.53GHz)||Inc||Xeon X3440 (2.53 GHz)||Inc|
|Pwr||Seasonic M12II Bronze (520W)||$91||HP Unknown (300W)||Inc||HP Unknown (300W)||Inc|
|Fan||2x Gelid Silent 12 PWM||$24||1 HP Unknown||Inc||1 HP Unknown||Inc|
|RAM||16 GB Hynix (Supermicro) 4GB DDR3-1066||$568||2 GB DDR3-1066||Inc||2 GB DDR3-1066||Inc|
|Disk||WD VelociRaptor (300GB,10K,SATA2)||$170||Unknown (250 GB, 7500, SATA2)||Inc||Unknown (250 GB, 7500, SATA2)||Inc|
|CD-ROM||None (Could have 16X CD-RW for $18)||N/A||16X SATA DVD-RW||Inc||16X SATA DVD-RW||Inc|
|NIC||Imbedded Dual Intel 82574L GbE NICs||Inc||Imbedded NC107i PCI-X GbE||Inc||Imbedded NC107i PCI-X GbE||Inc|
|System||N/A||N/A||HP ProLiant ML110 G6 Intel X3440||$599||HP ProLiant ML110 G6 Intel X3440||$599|
|RAM||N/A||N/A||4 GB DDR3-1066||$141||16 GB Hynix (Supermicro) 4GB DDR3-1066||$568|
|RAM||N/A||N/A||2 GB DDR3-1066||$100||N/A||N/A|
|SSD||None||N/A||Kingston SSDNow SNV425-S2/64GB||$125||N/A||N/A|
|NIC||N/A||N/A||Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC||$131||Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC||$131|
|Disk||None||N/A||N/A||N/A||WD VelociRaptor (300GB,10K,SATA2)||$170|
|iLO||N/A||Inc||None||N/A||HP Lights-Out 100i (LO100i) 1 yr||$229|
|Onsite||Not Available||N/A||1 yr free onsite parts replacement||$0||1 yr free onsite parts replacement||$0|
It seems to me that a big part of this comes down to whatever functionality is provided by the HP Lights-Out program and whether that’s important to you or not. Eric says for his lab of a few servers it’s a lot of money for something he rarely uses and really doesn’t need when he might need. He said he’s “not that lazy,” and that all he had to do when he rebuilt his box was swap a cable or two. If you want that functionality (I’m still not sure what it is), then it would seem that the Baby Dragon would be the cheapest way to get that. If you don’t want it, and you took the cost of it out of the third column, you have two systems that are almost identical and cost almost exactly the same: one with a name brand supported by a major vendor and one that is not.
Eric makes a pretty compelling argument about having one vendor to call (or a vendor to call at all), and that said vendor (HP) provides onsite support for a year for free. That is a really nice thing to have, and you can buy additional years for $110 each if you want to.
Eric points out what he feels is a danger in going down the whitebox route. He feels that VMware has a rep of making changes, and making sure that their fully supported vendors are OK, but that they don’t really care about whitebox vendors. Philip feels that this is nonsense and FUD, and points out that the important parts of his config are indeed on the supported list. (The numbers don’t quite match up, but he says there’s an explanation for that.)
Philip’s main argument is that he gets much more “bang for the buck.” He says he gets more functionality and power for his $1388 than Eric does for his $1096. But then Eric says that the 10K RPM drive really doesn’t help much because any serious lab has their VMDK file stored externally and the ESX boot drive really isn’t used that much.
Philip has done a phenomenal job building the Baby Dragon box. It’s a best-of-breed box (compared with all the no-name components of the HP box) and it probably really screams. I also think Eric’s config (if you don’t need the Lights Out stuff like he says he doesn’t) is indeed cheaper by almost $300, is fully supported by HP, and could actually be faster if you have more than several GB of vswp files.
Like I said, I solved this argument once and for all. 😉
What do you think?
----- Signature and Disclaimer -----
Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.