Speed-assembling servers

At SXSW (where my two of the games my wife commissioned just won Best Game and Best Edugame!), the trade-floor booth for hosting company The Planet is holding competitions to speed-assemble rack-mounted servers. It's like watching latter-day Marines field-strip and assemble their weapons.

How Fast Can You Build A Server? (via Hack the Planet)


  1. I once watched a competition at a computer service company’s yearly company picnic where about a half-dozen technicians raced to assemble a desktop PC from scratch with blindfolds on.

    It was impressive enough that most of them managed to do it in a few minutes, but all of them also managed to successfully boot the systems afterward.

    I struggle to accomplish that task with full vision and a friend holding a flashlight for me.

    Kind of makes you feel useless to watch that kind of thing :P

  2. Pfft. A system “build” where the hard drive and the optical drive are already installed for you, but you get timed on installing a fan? And with PATA drives? Not to mention, if that MB was set up for dual channel RAM, he put the second stick in the wrong slot.

    A meaningless test. There’s a lot more to “building” a system than plugging in RAM and attaching a couple of cables. Let’s see how fast he could do it if it was really from scratch, starting with an empty case and a bare motherboard.

  3. That’s not a rack mount server, and it’s only the final few mindless steps of assembling a roughly ten year old computer.

    I had been looking forward to a competition involving assembling and tearing down an entire rack of servers, plus wiring network and power. THAT would have looked a lot more like a Marine field-stripping and reassembling a weapon, and it would be a really impressive skill. How fast can YOU build a mobile datacenter!

  4. Pretty disappointing… I was expecting a full build of an actual rack-mount machine.

    Vid does not deliver at all.

    1. I had to read your comment and go back and look again to realize that it did not say “Herpes without Capes.” I’m disappointed now.

  5. Talk about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Not on a rack, looks just like a run of the mill desktop Dell to me, and he didn’t even test to see if the thing would POST. Oh and he dropped that second stick of RAM.

  6. The back of a 4U rackmount case looks shockingly similar to a full size AT(X) tower case. Hell, there’s even rackmount kits for G5s and MacPros (they get flipped on their sides).

  7. As already mentioned by my fellow commenters: not a rackmount, motherboard, disks, case usb/speaker/lights cables are all already installed.

    Basically all he did was click in the cpu+fan, case-fan and memory. Meh… I’m not usually a hater but this is full of fail he he.

  8. I wouldn’t have thought dropping the ram, let alone not using anti-static protection would be a good idea. Build it from scratch! Carefully!

  9. Whether or not their actions met your definition of ‘building a server’, one of them still one a netbook, and you didn’t.

  10. In addition to the current objections… you’re gonna fry that processor (a blast furnace Pentium 4) if you don’t have heatsink compound on the heatsink… which was sitting compound side down on the case cover before the competition began.

    One has to wonder why a company that’s advertising their servers demonstrates how really slapdash their server assembly is. I’d rather have someone building my server with neurosurgeon-like finesse and attention to detail rather than flailing around. If this is how they build servers, I’d steer away from them.

  11. As people have noted, that isn’t a real server, just a random(and fairly antique looking) whitebox tower. However, in addition to making the competition substantially cheaper, it probably makes it more interesting.

    Since contemporary rackmount servers are so heavily designed with service in mind, pretty much every part in them is either a modular, toolless FRU that can be popped out in 10 seconds by anybody who can read the sticker on the cover, or an embedded-good-and-hard-in-the-custom-chassis-please-return-for-warranty-repair-in-fedex-overnight-box-provided component.

    Crusty old whiteboxes, on the other hand, weren’t designed with nearly the same care, so virtually every component falls into the “replaceable, if you can avoid the razor sharp edges and tangle of IDE cables” category.

  12. I also expected to see three people assemble and mount 19″ rackmount blade enclosures, somehow ;)

  13. No offense, but this is hardly “building a server”, no matter how far the definition is stretched. He’s plugging in a few parts, nothing more, nothing less. This is like filling your gas tank, adjusting the mirrors, and then claiming you “built the car”. As someone who has actually built servers, I found this ridiculous and completely misleading. Yes, one of them won a netbook, good for him. It still isn’t remotely close to “building a server” no matter how you slice it.

  14. Maybe they use an abbreviated version of “assembling” the machine so the competition doesn’t take too long.

    They didn’t include the most grueling step of figuring out where to plug wiring for all the front panel switches, LEDs, and pc speaker in the header on the motherboard using only the unclear instructions that came with the board. Or plugging in the little audio cable from the sound card into the jack on the cd drive when it’s inside the case where you can’t see it.

    It would be better to start with an empty case, a tray of
    screws and standoffs, a motherboard, etc. and work from
    there. And then install Gentoo on it and get it on the network when you’ve got it assembled.

  15. Good luck getting the floppy drive to work.

    Having worked on a Dell server line I’ve seen people fully assemble similar systems in 5 minutes from the ground up. They were then taken around the back and shot by normal non-hypercaffinated builders.

  16. Not only this is way easier than starting to assemble from scratch, the guy is quite sloppy. I´d do that in half the time.

  17. Hate to pile on, but somebody should also mention that he pawed those ram modules like a 5 year old without any visible static strap, so I’m sure that server has many BSOD in it’s future.

  18. “It’s like watching latter-day Marines…”

    The phrase has been rattling around in my head all day. I’m still not sure what this means.

    Marines in 2010 are adept at field stripping computers and their rifles? Present-day Marines are are pudgy, near-sighted nerds? In the future Marines will eschew the Rifleman’s Creed for a Bitsliner’s Manifesto?

    This is my laptop. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My computer is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life. My data, without me, is useless. Without my crypto, I am useless. I must enter my code true. I will….

  19. If one isn’t moving about, especially on carpet, and discharges to a metal body (such as the computer case) first, static is not a serious issue.

    I’ve never used a wrist strap to install ram or CPU, and I’ve never lost either.

    (Because I don’t shuffle around while building things, and I ground to chassis when I’m in-process.)

  20. To be fair, this is a game to appeal to passerbys, many of which probably never built a computer before. They’re not looking for someone to spend 10 minutes building a server from scratch and loading up linux and getting the network up, while everyone waits for their turn for a shot at the notebook. It’s designed to get the most people involved in a short amount of time. I’m sure there’s a lot of things to do at that event.

  21. Hmmm. This explains a lot. The company I work for hosts at The Planet. Well, *will be* hosting at The Planet for *only a little while longer*, that is. I hope.

  22. I’ve never used a wrist strap to install ram or CPU, and I’ve never lost either.

    Shops that have done actual studies of equipment handled with correct anti-static procedures show lower rates of failure over the lifetime of the equipment.

    The damage that you’re doing by not properly grounding is sneaky – it doesn’t kill components dead right then and there but downstream.

    If this is your own gear – fine. If you’re handling someone else’s stuff, please stop.

  23. Don’t they have to spooge in some thermal conductor stuff between the processor and the heat sink? Or maybe I’m so old, all that stuff’s no longer applicable.

  24. Definite tee-shirt fail. I, too, spent the first moments trying to unpack their “Herpes without Capes” tees. I thought we were watching another Tim and Eric short.

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