[buug] Low end web server

C. Sullivan feedle at feedle.net
Thu Dec 6 11:27:31 PST 2001

On Fri, 30 Nov 2001, Rick Moen wrote:

> > Hardware-wise how low should we go, in your opinion?
> If you go under a 486 with 64MB RAM and a 2.1 GB hard drive, you'll
> probably regret it.  But maybe not.  

A well tuned 486 should have more than enough performance.   Any
Pentium-class machine should be more than enough.

As a point of reference, here I run an MP3 streamer box on a Pentium 200
machine with 64 megs of RAM.  It gets a couple of hundred web hits per day
by housemates requesting music for the stream.  It has no trouble handling
the webhits AND dishing out a single mp3 stream.

Similarly, I have a moderate volume (300+ inbound messages per
day) mailing list machine that's a Pentium 133.  It barely breaks a sweat.

> I assume that puts your hardware picture in a bit better perspective?  
> People new to Linux -- especially servers -- usually make the mistake of
> vastly overestimating the need for CPU power, while slightly
> shortchanging I/O and in particular the disk subsystem.   

This cannot be overstated.  People seem to forget how lousy performace
really is on IDE, especially if you're talking an older box that might
only support a 33MHz IDE bus.  Running two disks as master/slave only
increases the suckyness.  Heavy disk usage on a low-end Pentium box can
really bring things to a full and complete stop.

This is why it's also important to get as much RAM as you can.  Reduce
disk paging, especially if you are using IDE.  Apache can be a memory hog
(especially if you load lots of modules).  Smaller, thinner HTTP servers
(like boa) can also help here, especially if you don't need fancy shiznat 
like PHP.  

A 486 with 64 megs of RAM and a lean Linux install using Boa as a
webserver should perform nicely, with enough room to spare.

> Better have a backup strategy.  Using software RAID-1 (mirroring) will
> make you feel clever right up until you realise that something's gone
> from _both_ drives.  

Also keep in mind that RAID recovery on Linux can be a scary
experience.  It WILL work, but the warnings that raidtools gives you will
(and should, really) make you want to change your pants.

Better to not depend on the RAID to save your butt:  there's no excuse for
good backup strategy.  Also, RAID will also cause performance issues.

> And it'd be nice if there were a nice, safe choice in reliable,
> well-supported PCI ethernet chipsets.  It's difficult to say what's your 
> safe bet, these days.  Intel is playing variation-du-jour with its
> EthernetExpressPro 100 chipset, and the glory days of the DEC
> 1040/21041/21140 "Tulip" chipset ended shortly after Intel bought and
> discontinued the production line.  Someone might be able to recommend a
> reliable Tulip clone used by somebody.  (NetGear?  Samsung?  LinkSys?
> ADMtek? ASIX?  LiteOn?  MXIC?  STmicro?  Kingston?  D-Link?)

Although the driver is still a bit sketchy, I've noticed a trend to the
RTL8139 chips.  YMMV.  The Macronix versions of this chip were poorly
supported, but that may have improved recently (I had nothing but trouble
with 2.2.19 and a Macronix chipset)

Linksys is making a good Tulip clone card.  There are still a small number
of Netgear 310TX cards available, but the newer ones have a slightly buggy
Tulip clone (LiteOn) chipset.  Check Fry's (ick).. the Fry's here in
Phoenix AZ has a good quantity of the "new" Netgear 310 cards.

The common trend on the new good (that is to say, usable) Tulip clone
cards is they are LiteOn chipsets.  

> You see, the other mistake newcomers to hardware for Linux keep making
> is to assume that newer is better.  Older, standard components are
> likely to have mature, well-tested drivers.  If you stick to quality
> parts, you can do very well indeed.  (This is why a lot of people 
> stocked up on $24 NetGear cards that had genuine DEC Tulip chips on
> them, before supply ran out.  They're still good.)

Even the LiteOn clone Netgear 310TX cards didn't suck.  

I couldn't agree more that newer isn't always better in the Linux
world.  Don't get me started on VIA 686 motherboards.   Argh.

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