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Samba up-tempo performer
But updated app can't make SGI servers a match for 4-way Xeon power
By Pankaj Chowdhry, PC Week
March 14, 1999

Samba 2.0 for the Irix platform pushes Silicon Graphics Inc.'s Origin servers out of the pixel-pushing realm of three-dimensional animation and into the byte-busting world of heavy-duty file servers.

PC Week Labs tested the new Samba 2.0, an open-source, freeware application that's basically a CIFS (Common Internet File System) gateway to foreign file systems, on a four-processor Origin 200. The Origin/Samba combo kicked up astounding performance numbers, clocking 165M-bps throughput using 115 Windows clients and the Ziff-Davis Benchmark Operation's NetBench 5.01 benchmark suite (see chart).

Benchmark Chart

These numbers compare well with other dedicated servers such as Network Appliance Inc.'s F760 Filer but they do fall a little behind servers equipped with four top-of-the-line Intel Corp. Xeon processors, which we have seen break 200M bps in similar tests.

The Origin servers that we used are two-processor SGI boxes connected via CrayLink, a ccNUMA (cache-coherent Non- Uniform Memory Access) technology SGI acquired when it purchased Cray Research Inc. The file system on top of this ccNUMA architecture is XFS, a distributed journaling system that provides high levels of redundancy coupled with top-of-the-line performance.

In tests, we integrated the SGI-based Samba servers with a Windows NT-based domain controller to provide a seamless security environment for all of the CIFS-based clients. Samba fully supports the newer features of Windows 95 Release 2 and NT, which both use encrypted passwords.

In fact, after putting a Wandel & Goltermann Inc. Domino protocol analyzer on the wire to decode some of the CIFS traffic, we found that Samba supports some aspects of Microsoft Corp.'s CIFS protocol better than Microsoft does.

Configuring Samba, although not as easy as point-and-click NT server configuration, is much better than previous versions, thanks to its new SWAT (Samba Web Administration Tool). Through the SWAT utility, we easily configured shares and security while monitoring the status of the Samba server.

Our test configuration for the SGI/Samba and Network Appliance servers used 115 Windows 95 clients connected to four Nortel Networks 28115 switches. These switches were then linked to an eight-port Alteon Networks Inc. AceSwitch 110, which was uplinked via Gigabit Ethernet into the Origin 200.

Neither server configuration experienced throughput bottlenecks in tests, but the F760 was running RAID 4 across almost 40 disks, whereas the SGI boxes used only two disks, one for the operating system and journaling and the other for data--no doubt it was caching the entire data set in its gigabyte of RAM.

Although Samba is free, SGI charges $1,500 for a maintenance contract that ensures enterprise-level support for any SGI-Samba installation. This is a low price when compared with NetWare and NT, and Samba doesn't skimp on features, offering such advanced capabilities as opportunistic locking that are available to other Unix processes.

This means that a Samba locked file should be honored by Sun Microsystems Inc.'s NFS (Network File System), providing a level of sharing between NFS and CIFS clients connected to the same server. Thus, if Unix clients and Windows clients connect to the same server and access the same files, Samba will make sure the files are shared correctly.

Executive Summary: Samba 2.0

With the release and support of Samba on the Irix platform, Silicon Graphics has recast its traditional animation machines as hard-core file servers. Although more expensive than traditional Intel servers, SGI's CrayLink systems should prove to be a more scalable solution.

Full support for CIFS; scalable architecture.

Tricky to configure; expensive maintenance.

Scoring methodology: www.pcweek.com/reviews/meth.html

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