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Building A Better Web Server

What should you focus on when building a Web server? In one word: uptime. Nothing turns visitors off to your clients' Web sites more than downtime. Focus on top-quality parts (within your budget, of course), resiliency and redundancy where it will do the most good. Here's what you'll need.

An airtight case: If the Web server is to be placed at a co-location site, opt for a deep, low-profile (preferably 1U) rackmount case. Get the best model, even if it costs a few hundred bucks extra; the same is true if you're doing a tower design. And in all cases, look for a model with good ventilation and filtration. Nothing kills a server more quickly than overheating, and dust bunnies aren't good for reliability.

Mother of all boards: Get a board that accepts--and uses--error-correcting RAM (ECC); switch on the ECC in the BIOS before shipping the unit. Base the amount of RAM on the type of work the server will be doing. For example, if it will be running Unix and mostly serving static pages, 256 MB is plenty.

In addition, minimize the number of connectors--especially bus connectors--that stand between the board and its peripherals; connectors are another common point of failure. Choose a motherboard that integrates the peripherals you need. A built-in network interface is a must, and built-in video is a good idea, too.

Disk storage: As a rule, SCSI drives are a disk manufacturer's most conservatively designed and carefully manufactured products. So if there's room in your budget, go for SCSI rather than IDE. However, if you must use IDE, scan the Internet forums to discover whether users are reporting problems with your intended model. Also, make sure that each IDE drive is on a separate cable; no doubling up allowed.

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