Review: Silicon Mechanics

November 11th, 2008

After some hilariously frightening reactions from Dell support to simple problems, and HP becoming aggressively competitive on price, we’ve been using HP servers for a few years now. The hardware is good, and the support, while reasonable, always… pauses… when I mention that we’re running Debian. I try not to let it slip if I don’t have to.

We put in some HP blades a couple of years ago, and I was annoyed to discover that they have discontinued that enclosure and all the blades in it. I decided this was a good time to look at their newer options, as well as at other companies.

Back in July, I had noticed a Silicon Mechanics booth at OSCon. I noticed their slogan “experts included.” That sounds great; we’ve got software experts here, but not hardware experts, and I’d enjoy dealing with a company that knows more about their hardware than I do. I went up to their booth and asked what they’d say about us running Debian on their hardware. “That would be just fine.” “So you’d fully support it when I’m running Debian?” “Sure.” “What about management software – do you have any of that which I’d find annoying to port to Debian?” “Our servers don’t need any management software other than what comes with your kernel.” Good answers.

So, when it came time for us to decide what to do about getting a new server in here, I figured I’d call up Silicon Mechanics and see what they’d recommend. They put me on a conference call with a sales rep and an IT engineer, and wound up recommending a 1U server for us to start with, and an iSCSI storage device to address some of the storage needs we have (both for that server and others). I had heard of iSCSI only vaguely, and asked how it worked, and what the performance would be like compared to our 2Gb FC SAN. I got back intelligent (and correct) answers.

They probably spent 2 hours with me on the phone before we placed an order. I was incredibly happy with their service, level of expertise, and helpfulness. They even did a webinar to demo the management interface on the storage unit for me.

Today, the 1U server arrived. I unboxed it and set it on my desk to configure. First item: set an IP address for the IPMI card. That’s the device that lets me connect to it over a web browser and interact with the console, power cycle it, etc. as if I was there. I set an IP, but somehow couldn’t seem to figure out the username and password for the web interface.

So I called Silicon Mechanics support at the number that was included on the fridge magnet (!) that came with the shipment. Phone rang once. Then a live, capable American answered. No menus, no fuss. I asked my question. He apologized, saying, “I should know that, but I’ll have to look it up… hold on just a bit.” I had my answer about 90 seconds later. He offered to send me the full docs for the IPMI card if I wanted as well.

So I’ve been very impressed with them so far. From what I’ve heard, their iSCSI enclosure ought to be quite something as well. They even helped us spec out a switch that supports trunking for use with it.

I’ll give them a “highly recommended”.

Categories: Hardware, Reviews

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  1. Barry Cohen

    I’ve used them for years. Good price, and more than once they have bailed me out when I couldn’t figure out what configuration I wanted off the Dell site. I also echo their willingness to work in any environment. Their value add is on behalf of the CUSTOMER, not their company (as opposed to APM add-ons from the other OEMs.)

    Reply

  2. Yaroslav Halchenko

    what a shameless ad!!!
    I guess I will call them next week — I’ve been postponing making decisions on my own for a while — may be those dudes would help me out ;-)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    I didn’t expect anything from then in exchange for the post. I just write about my experiences. I didn’t hesitate to compliment HP when they did well, or to call out both HP and Dell when they didn’t.

    Reply

  3. BigCountry

    So far, I support the Silicon Mechanics folks as well. I emailed their tech support on a 4 year old box I picked up off ebay. They quickly responded with all the spec information I needed as well as answering other inter-operability questions I had.

    Server arrived yesterday… tonight is the config.

    As I said, so far… two thumbs up.

    Reply

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