June 17, 2003

Review: Pogo Linux StorageWare S212 Server

- by Russell Pavlicek -
Earlier this month Pogo Linux released what it says is the first Serial ATA server available for Linux. The new Pogo Linux StorageWare S212 Server, a beefy, rackmount box sporting Red Hat Linux, is one impressive machine.

Weighing in at around 75 pounds, the unit is anything but lightweight. Dual
Intel Xeon processors running at 2.8GHz with a 533MHz front-side bus power
the ServerWare S212. A Supermicro X5DPE motherboard stacked with 2GB of DDR ECC
memory give the system some personality. And a 3Ware 8500-12 Serial ATA
RAID adapter populated with 12 Seagate 160GB 7200RPM hard drives make it
ready for some serious storage. That's more than 1.75
terabytes of RAID-capable storage in one 2U chassis.

The sleek black case sports slots
for 2 PCI cards available from the rear of the machine. There are also a
number of fans in the box, which are definitely designed with a datacenter
in mind. They seem to do a good job at cooling the unit, but they are
several times louder than a standard desktop machine's fans.

On the front panel, vertical windows display small blue
lights corresponding to each drive. The panel can be removed easily via two thumb screws
to access the disk array. Each of the 12 hot-swappable drives can be removed
by simply pulling a lever atop the drive. That's a degree
of convenience that makes good sense in a busy datacenter.

The S212 lacks a diskette drive, which is hardly surprising, but there is no CD-ROM drive either.
The only removable media are the hard drives themselves. From a practical standpoint, this means any additional software must be loaded over the network, and a cold
rebuild of the system from virgin disks becomes tricky.

The server comes with Red Hat Linux 9's
three-CD set, plus a Pogo Linux Recovery CD, which contains all
the post-install scripts required to bring the box back into factory
condition. It includes kits for the 2.4.20-9 kernel, official update RPMs
to Red Hat 9 (very handy), and other Pogo Linux personality items like wallpaper and splash screens.

Starting up

The unit is preloaded and preconfigured with Red Hat 9, so startup is
painless. Simply power it on and less than 90 seconds later the
machine is working. Of course, it still needs a network personality,
since there are no IP addresses associated with its two Gigabit/100/10
Ethernet devices. An experienced system manager can have these
configured in a couple minutes.

Unfortunately, my preview unit had no printed documentation about the Red Hat
installation options used on the box. I checked the online Pogo Linux FAQ to
discover the root password used by the stock installation. Pogo's Web site indicates that
production models come with a Pogo Linux manual, which was absent from
this demo box. I later found that the manual is available from the Web server on the machine.

Because the unit is expected to be used as a server, XFree86 is not
started by default. However, it is installed and can be started at will
using the usual startx command. In my case, the default XFree86
configuration would not work with my old Dell Ultrascan monitor connected
to the ATI Rage XL video port. A quick run of redhat-config-xfree86
--reconfig
fixed the problem in short order. (Forget the advice in
the Pogo Linux FAQ which says to use Xconfigurator; that utility is no
longer used in Red Hat 9.)

From a user's point of view, the system looks and acts like a standard Red
Hat system. It is extremely fast, of course, given its twin 2.8GHz
processors. But the first major difference over most desktop systems
appears when checking disk space. The default partitions are set up as
follows:

/ 2.0G
/boot 99M
/tmp 1012M
/usr 6.5G
/var 2.0G
/home 1.6T

These look rather common until you notice that the /home partition is 1.6
terabytes. That's a lot of room to roam. And, thanks to the 3ware
7000-series ATA RAID controller, the disk space across the 12 physical
volumes is by default combined into a single logical volume using RAID 5.

The server includes the PogoConf Web-based administration utility. Based
on Webmin, it allows for simple and easy configuration of the server. Of
particular note is its ability to easily create file shares for both
Windows and Linux clients.

Also available is the 3ware 3DM Web-based RAID controller management tool.
This tool allows the administrator to modify and create logical volumes
from the available disks and monitor the
status of the drives for problems. It includes an automated email
service to inform the administrator if noteworthy events occur in the RAID
array.

The need for speed

As one would hope, the machine seemed extremely fast doing both
calculations and disk I/O. I didn't have a terabyte-sized
database hanging around to fully exercise this behemoth, but everything I
asked it to do, it did with gusto.

Using PostgreSQL, I built a simple database of more than 700,000 records.
Doing an SQL SELECT statement on the entire relation ordered by a non-key
field directing the text output to a file took a grand total of 20 seconds
to complete. Actual user CPU time was well under 2 seconds -- not too
shabby for an untuned database.

Unfortunately, not everything on the machine was as impressive. For some reason, the preloaded version of Mozilla refused to do anything useful. Mozilla was the only browser I could
find on the machine, so I downloaded and installed Galeon. It worked, but
the page scroll bars were non-existent, mandating that I use the Page Up
and Page Down keys just to scroll through a page. Finally, I downloaded
the Mozilla RPMs from a Red Hat 9 CD set and did a forced upgrade to the
same version that was preinstalled. The reinstalled browser worked
just fine and Galeon's problem was magically corrected as well.

Curiously, the 3ware Web-based RAID management tool uses port 1080, which is
normally the SOCKS port, for its Web interface. On Mozilla and Galeon, this port is blocked by default because
the Mozilla engineers don't believe a Web browser should
access ports normally reserved by other Internet protocols. So you either have to unblock the port, or use an alternative browser like Opera, Konqueror, or even lynx or Internet Explorer.

After running the server through its paces, I found the Pogo Linux StorageWare S212 Server successfully packs a lot of horsepower and storage into a manageable footprint. It seems rugged and well-designed for datacenter use. All in all, it is a noteworthy machine.

Russell Pavlicek is a consultant and author dealing with Linux in business. He is a panelist on The Linux Show weekly webcast, and is a contributor to a number of Linux Web sites. He formerly wrote the Open Source column for InfoWorld magazine.

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