[Dovecot] Better to use a single large storage server or multiple smaller for mdbox?

Stan Hoeppner stan at hardwarefreak.com
Tue Apr 10 08:00:19 EEST 2012

On 4/9/2012 2:15 PM, Emmanuel Noobadmin wrote:

> Unfortunately, the usual kind of customers we have here, spending that
> kind of budget isn't justifiable. The only reason we're providing
> email services is because customers wanted freebies and they felt
> there was no reason why we can't give them emails on our servers, they
> are all "servers" after all.
> So I have to make do with OTS commodity parts and free software for
> the most parts.

OTS meaning you build your own systems from components?  Too few in the
business realm do so today. :(

It sounds like budget overrides redundancy then.  You can do an NFS
cluster with SAN and GFS2, or two servers with their own storage and
DRBD mirroring.  Here's how to do the latter:

The total cost is about the same for each solution as an iSCSI SAN array
of drive count X is about the same cost as two JBOD disk arrays of count
X*2.  Redundancy in this case is expensive no matter the method.  Given
how infrequent host failures are, and the fact your storage is
redundant, it may make more sense to simply keep spare components on
hand and swap what fails--PSU, mobo, etc.

Interestingly, I designed a COTS server back in January to handle at
least 5k concurrent IMAP users, using best of breed components.  If you
or someone there has the necessary hardware skills, you could assemble
this system and simply use it for NFS instead of Dovecot.  The parts list:

In case the link doesn't work, the core components are:

SuperMicro H8SGL G34 mobo w/dual Intel GbE, 2GHz 8-core Opteron
32GB Kingston REG ECC DDR3, LSI 9280-4i4e, Intel 24 port SAS expander
20 x 1TB WD RE4 Enterprise 7.2K SATA2 drives
NORCO RPC-4220 4U 20 Hot-Swap Bays, SuperMicro 865W PSU
All other required parts are in the Wish List.  I've not written
assembly instructions.  I figure anyone who would build this knows what
s/he is doing.

Price today:  $5,376.62

Configuring all 20 drives as a RAID10 LUN in the MegaRAID HBA would give
you a 10TB net Linux device and 10 stripe spindles of IOPS and
bandwidth.  Using RAID6 would yield 18TB net and 18 spindles of read
throughput, however parallel write throughput will be at least 3-6x
slower than RAID10, which is why nobody uses RAID6 for transactional

If you need more transactional throughput you could use 20 WD6000HLHX
600GB 10K RPM WD Raptor drives.  You'll get 40% more throughput and 6TB
net space with RAID10.  They'll cost you $1200 more, or $6,576.62 total.
 Well worth the $1200 for 40% more throughput, if 6TB is enough.

Both of the drives I've mentioned here are enterprise class drives,
feature TLER, and are on the LSI MegaRAID SAS hardware compatibility
list.  The price of the 600GB Raptor has come down considerably since I
designed this system, or I'd have used them instead.

Anyway, lots of option out there.  But $6,500 is pretty damn cheap for a
quality box with 32GB RAM, enterprise RAID card, and 20x10K RPM 600GB

The MegaRAID 9280-4i4e has an external SFF8088 port  For an additional
$6,410 you could add an external Norco SAS expander JBOD chassis and 24
more 600GB 10K RPM Raptors, for 13.2TB of total net RAID10 space, and 22
10k spindles of IOPS performance from 44 total drives.  That's $13K for
a 5K random IOPS, 13TB, 44 drive NFS RAID COTS server solution,
$1000/TB, $2.60/IOPS.  Significantly cheaper than an HP, Dell, IBM
solution of similar specs, each of which will set you back at least 20

Note the chassis I've spec'd have single PSUs, not the dual or triple
redundant supplies you'll see on branded hardware.  With a relatively
stable climate controlled environment and a good UPS with filtering,
quality single supplies are fine.  In fact, in the 4U form factor single
supplies are usually more reliable due to superior IC packaging and
airflow through the heatsinks, not to mention much quieter.


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