Sean McGrath's Weblog.
For almost all the reasons listed that one might want a rack of computers, a collection of VMs would work just as well. I have a "rack" of VMs that I can use for every purpose, except I can take them with me, moving them onto a portable drive, or my notebook, or between any of a couple of server machines. Aside from the CPU power you'd get from a physical cluster, it really is the best of both worlds.
sounds like what you want is a low end cheap blade server. There are some out there that have blades in the $500 US range, but it isn't cheap. But you still have to by a proprietary chassis that will be at least a couple of grand. There are also some PCI "server on a card" systems as well, but they still require a chassis in most cases and still suffer from all the cons of a blade server. You can get last couple of years generation of blade servers for cheap on used on ebay.I agree with the other posters, one powerful Dual Quad core machine with gobs of memory with multiple VM instances is the way to go, especially for a development environment.Blade servers are falling out of favor because of all the things you mentioned. They are power hungry, they generate tonnes of heat, the heat density is like 5 times a normal 1U rack mount server case, they take up expensive rack space in hosting facilities.Don't laugh, but one option is to pick up a bunch of first generation Mac Mini's and rack them all together. They pull very little power and produce very little heat compared to Intel chips of the same power.
Let me know if the noise gets to you, I will see if I can offer you a deal on one of our noise reducing racks
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