Uses for Servers

So my team recently came into possession of 2 Dell Poweredge 2950 rack mount servers.

What could we use these for?

My first instinct is some kind of simulation server. But I’m looking for suggestions (preferably with a link that explains how to set it up like I’m a 5 year old).

You could use them as storage servers for photos and videos.

You can definitely use it for simulations, if you have some that are heavy enough to need to offload to a server. I’m not sure what computational heavy stuff you’d need for FRC, but I’m sure there are use cases.

Our team uses a server for SVN, so you can set that up if you’d like your team to use a private SVN / Git / Mercurial server.

You can setup some NAS so that when students are in the shop or VPNed into the network, they can access files easily.

Another use case which I’ll explore once better internet options are available would be creating VMs for development. That gives team members a system that they can just leave running, all with a similar configuration which you can deploy basically by copying/pasting images.

I recently built a pretty beefy home server with a 22-core Xeon processor (thanks Intel!) and 32GB of RAM. I would like to expand the RAM some more for VMs, but RAM prices have shot up to double of what I purchased 32GB of RAM back in 2016. I have 4 VMs running, Ubuntu, Ubuntu Server, Windows 10, and Windows Server 2012. I use the Windows 10 VM all the time, and have actually switched to use it, rather than my work laptop, for on-the-go development. I can VPN into my home network, run Remote Desktop, and get work done there. Did I mention I can just leave this VM up and running, so it’s always available and ready?

Beyond that, I’m using my server for home automation using Home Assistant. If you have 3D printers, you can setup OctoPrint or similar. One of my coworkers has a server setup for this and NAS. He can queue up prints and watch the prints at home while at work.

I don’t know… servers are pretty useful for a lot of things. I’d be interested to hear what other teams and people in the community use servers for as well.

What are the specs of those servers?

Some things I’ve done/have considered doing:

  • Rankings simulations
  • Running Windows VMs for CAD
  • CAD shared file repo (Autodesk Vault et. al.)
  • Continuous Integration servers

I don’t have specifics on which of the available options are in these ones right handy.
Hard drives were removed, but as part of the same surplus lot, we got 7 500GB drives we can put in them.

From having first hand experience trying to use Windows Server and trying to run FEAs, I would say that it is almost not worth the effort at all.

That is if you have access to decent desktops to do the simulations instead.

If you do not plan on running FEAs but rather other simulations (like robot code simulations) I would say go ahead and set up a linux environment. But, with servers like those, you are better off just setting them up as file servers and forgetting about them. Having a server which is not maintained by IT staff in your school is just going to end up being a headache for anything more than that.

As far as VMs for CAD goes, I would also not suggest this. Using VMs with SolidWorks and most other CAD programs is finicky. You will ultimately lose productivity which is frustrating especially for students who are still learning to use the programs.

I hesitate to suggest a Workgroup PDM feature (like the one in SolidWork Premium) as these servers do not provide the kind of redundancy needed to ensure you will not lose thousands of hours worth of data.

So, my final verdict is just to leave pictures and media on them and not much more. Also, if you plan on investing in the servers, DON’T. Invest in AWS or something else similar.

Experience: I own this exact server and I work for and IT Company which specializes in small business and school infrastructure.

Website hosting
Streaming server
Virtual machines
Home automation server (I’m running OPC and Wonderware scada on a virtual machine)
NAS/SAN - Network attaches storage/Storage area Network (SAN alows a remote disk to be seen as a disk in your computer, allowing formatting partitioning etc)
VOIP - Voice over IP
E-mail server
Firewall & Router
Remote access server (connect to the servers home network from anywhere using VPN, Direct Access)
Cryptocurrency Mining
Processing data (SETI maybe)

If you’re interested in using deep learning for vision processing, you can use the servers to train your classifiers. It won’t be quite as fast as a gaming desktop with a high-end graphics card, but it’ll still get the job done.

I would look up how much money it’s going to cost in electricity per year to run these servers and question if it’s not better spent on cloud-based services.

With that said, first step would be install the drives, setup a RAID, and install a hypervisor (the most common are Hyper-V, VMware, and KVM) so you can run multiple VM’s. From there you can create multiple Windows or Linux VM’s to do whatever you want.

Some ideas:
Setup a Nextcloud server (an open source self hosted version of Dropbox) for your team.

Setup a Team Wiki using Media Wiki.

Create a home lab for learning networking or virtualization or server administration.

Ultimately, you need to be careful on what you do because running a server that people rely on requires monitoring and maintenance, especially if it’s internet accessible. At some point you may not be around, and if the team is relying on them and the hard drives die and backups haven’t worked in months, you can really hurt your team. There is a reason most organizations IT ban servers they do not control or procured outside of their process.

This is why I would recommend use them for testing or learning and not for any critical purpose.

One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is use as a scouting database during competition season. You’d have to figure out a different use for it for the other 10 months of the year, though…

While we have broken Excel with scouting data before, I think these would be massive overkill from a size, weight, and power perspective for scouting.

The lot did include 3 HP Elitebooks with touch screens and swivel screens which are going to become our go-to scouting and alliance selection computers.

I am kind of swimming in computers over here. Its a good problem to have.

Play with them for a bit and then recycle them. The CPUs in these will suck down energy and provide little performance in return based on the spec sheet you posted. These are not modern systems and will be slow for much of what has been proposed for them in this thread. Not to mention, these will be loud and take up a fair amount of space because of the fans in them and what they were designed for.

Stick them up on Craigslist and you might be able to make a few bucks that you can spend on Digital Ocean or AWS or elsewhere as your team needs it.

BitCoin Mining?

Actually though maybe use it for teaching your students about how to set up and run a server network with a file server or something?

If you don’t pay the power bill at your build space, this may be a net positive. You may not make your build space owners happy though.

One word: Minecraft. 'Nuff said.

Alternatively you could use it to store team history data, I don’t know how well team history is kept among other teams but I’ve found that the history can be foggy for teams and it’s always cool to look back on.

I mostly agree. You could build a desktop that’s way better for less now. This is less than $400 and would probably destroy that server at nearly any task as long as it doesn’t need a lot of RAM.

However, since the team already has the server, doing something like self hosting a website or something that doesn’t require too much power could still work. I doubt they pay their own electric bills, although I also don’t know if there’s a good place to put the server where it’ll be out of the way and be accessible by team members.

If your team does advanced data visualization, you can host your own Tablea server.

Space heater, it can get cold in PA.

Alternatively for those Texas teams that work during the summer, you can use it as an excuse to get better AC in your work space.

I have a couple of these too an I was thinking of bringing one in for a talk on features to handle failure and cover the redundancies that make it a server. The other part of the talk might cover assembly techniques with minimal fasteners. With a little practice you could remove all major components in a few minutes without any tools.

Any teams to check out in Detroit that have taken design for repair to the next level?