Almost every small company out there needs a minimum level of IT services: file serving, document management, e-mail, and so on. Most of those services can now be found in the Cloud: Google Apps Professional, Microsoft Office 365, Dropbox, Amazon AWS, and many others can take care of nearly any IT service you can think off. Although trendy, cloud services are not without disadvantages.

One example related to our review today is that the latency involved in accessing data over the internet is much higher than on a LAN. While network latency of a well configured LAN is less than half a millisecond, the latency of accessing a cloud service is several tens of milliseconds. And although high bandwidth Internet access has become a lot cheaper over the years, a 100 mbit/s or better is still not widespread among smaller companies, where a 1Gbps LAN is easily attainable. Moreover, while renting a few Terrabytes in the cloud has become relatively affordable, you again run into speed issues, especially if you have massive amounts of data that you want to analyze -- or if you simply feel that a third party should have no control over your (sensitive) data.

So if you require high bandwidth file serving and low latency database access, or if you need massive amounts of storage capacity, a local server could still be the attractive option. Of course, as a small company you likely don't have nor want a dedicated data center (or even just a smaller data room). A decent data room can be an expensive investment (e.g. it would need CRAC and other facilities) and the energy cost can be very high. Due to the costs, some might be tempted to use what others would consider an old fashioned twentieth century option: a server somewhere on a shelf or under a desk. But there are some 21st century requirements that are needed, so a noisy, power hungry tower server is out of the question. Density isn't generally an issue, but it would be great if the server is able to cool it's components in an office environment without being louder than the ambient office noise -- local whirlwinds are generally frowned upon.

The desire for a quiet, low energy server underneath your desk can still make sense: you are in control of your data, the capex investment is limited, and with a little help from a good service provider, it is workable even for those who don’t have an IT department. Sometimes, old and tried methods beat the newest hype. Advatronix felt that it could do better than the current tower server offerings and designed a proprietary chassis that resembles a cube shaped desktop.

The reason behind this rather bulky chassis with 18 (!) drivebays is that most companies that need an in-house server usually have high storage demands: they need low latency, high capacity, or both. Thus there must be enough room for plenty of magnetic disks and some space for an SSD caching tier. And of course, a large chassis also allows large fans and thus relatively quiet operation. In a nutshell, Advatronix feels the Cirrus 1200 sets itself apart from the competition for the following reasons:

  • Quiet (enough) operation
  • Low Power, able to keep to cool in an office environment (no need for a CRAC)
  • Magnetic filter to cope with the fact that this server will be in dusty office instead of a clean data center
  • A good mix of components with a focus on storage performance

As the IT services of small companies are typically bottlenecked by storage and not by CPU performance, the Cirrus 1200 uses a low power quad-core Xeon E3 with up to 32GB of RAM. It's certainly nothing earth shattering, but the combination of all points mentioned above might make the Cirrrus 1200 very attractive for a certain market niche.

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  • Kevin G - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    Actually I have such a Gator case. It is sold as a portable case for AV hardware but conforms to standard 19" rack mount widths and hole mounts. There is one main gotcha with my unit: it does't provide as much depth as a full rack. I have to use shorter server cases and they tend to be a bit taller. It works out as the cooling systems of taller rack cases tend to be quieter and an advantage when bring them to other locations An more of a personal preference thing but I don't use sliding rails in a portable case as I don't see that as wise for a unit that's going to be frequently moved around and traveling. Reply
  • martixy - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    Someone explain something to me please.

    So this is specifically low-power - 500W on spec. Let's say then that it's a non-low-power(e.g. twice - 1kW). I'm gonna assume we're threading on CRAC territory at that point. So why exactly? Why would a high powered gaming rig be able to easily handle that load, even under air cooling, but a server with the same power factor require special cooling equipment with fancy acronyms like CRAC?
    Reply
  • alaricljs - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    A gaming rig isn't going to be pushing that much wattage 24x7. A server is considered a constant load and proper AC calculations even go so far as to consider # of people expected in a room consistently, so a high wattage computer is definitely part of the equation. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    I suspect it's mostly marketing BS. One box even a high power one that's at a constant 100% load doesn't need special cooling. A CRAC is needed when you've got a data center packed full of servers because they collectively put out enough heat to overwhelm general purpose AC units. (With the rise of virtualization many older data centers capacity has become a thermal limit instead of being limited by the number of racks there's room for.)

    At the margin they may be saying it was designed with enough cooling to keep temps reasonable in air on the warm side of room temperature instead of only when it's being blasted with chilled air. OTOH a number of companies that have experimented with running their data centers 10 or 20F hotter than traditional have found the cost savings from cooling didn't have any major impact on longevity so...
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    It really comes down to scale. A single system, regardless if it is a 4U server or a gaming rig can be run in a home environment and not have to worry too much about cooling. Sure, putting them in a closet with the door closet will cause them to bake but that'd be true of any high power piece of electronics.

    For a single server, a CRAC is overkill. When dealing with a room with hundreds of racks, each full of servers, a CRAC is necessary to deal with the heat output. CRAC's are also designed with datacenter RAS methodology. They're highly modular to ease service, typically fit into standard rack row and have monitoring capabilities. Multiple CRAC's can also load balance the cooling needs of a room or act has a 'hot spare' in case another unit fails. These are features you don't find in home air conditioning units.

    There is also another thing to factor in comparing a gaming rig with server: size. Common servers are either 1U or 2U in height which means they'll use small high RPM fans internally. This means they're loud and there are a lot of them. Cooling for rack servers is done in one direction: front to back. A gaming rig tends to have plenty of room. Larger, lower RPM fans *can* move more air than several smaller 80 mm fans. In addition, the typical gamer case has more area to draw into it as well as for exhaust. In otherwords, a gaming case is less restrict in terms of airflow for cooling.
    Reply
  • sciencegey - Saturday, June 07, 2014 - link

    It isn't to do with power draw, it's the fact that your PC isn't running 24/7 with loads of HDDs (which create a lot of heat) and the fact that they will be running at around about 60% load constantly. Also, CRAC is just a fancy way of saying air conditioning. Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    Ummmmm. If your business relies on this data then it shouldn't be "under your desk".

    And don't forget your UPS and your offsite backups either. Another issue I see is that a company of a size that might be looking at something like this probably doesn't have any IT support in house to manage those backups and disaster recovery procedures. Unfortunately that's just the sort of situation where I find businesses doing this sort of thing. An amateur sets something up "under his desk" but when it fails they are screwed. Or when that person leaves the company they are screwed.

    So there are probably certain niches where this sort of system could be useful but if a company doesn't either have IT staff or at least a support contract to manage things, it's very likely they would be better off in the cloud - if only for disaster recovery purposes.
    Reply
  • npz - Friday, June 06, 2014 - link

    As I mentioned above:
    Also, businesses that deal with lots of TB of data don't have to be big businesses at all. Many small to tiny businesses and individuals can EASILY generate and/or work with many TBs of data if they deal with multimedia.

    I know of small tech startups that also handle their own IT, and competently I might add. They'd cobble something like this out of spare parts with a tower and hotplug backplanes -- like I do for myself, sans the redundant PSU. Furthermore, the cloud is terrible for primary storage and in fact for many, hosting many TBs of storage is out of the question for most people.

    Aside from speed, which can be an issue even for backup, it is simply not affordable at all.
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Monday, June 09, 2014 - link

    My points still stand. What happens when it fails? "Cobble together" isn't something you want for anything that's actually important to the business. The people I find cobbling things together are also usually the ones without backups and without any disaster recovery plan. Not saying that applies to you (how would I know?) but I've seen it happen too many times. At least have those redundant PSU's and an UPS and at least do your backup to the cloud as a bare minimum. Reply
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - link

    Excellent post. Most people associate "big data" with massive companies. But in fact, the most innovative IT services can be found inside many SMEs. Reply

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