What Is Commodity Hardware?

You may have heard the term “commodity hardware” thrown around when describing solutions like Redis, Elasticsearch, or kCura’s new Data Grid.

Commodity hardware refers to cheap, standardized servers that are easy to buy off the shelf from any vendor. Here’s a typical example of a 2u, 2CPU commodity hardware server:

SYS-1028R-TDWSay we buy a few parts to get ‘er started:

  • Two Intel Xeon E5-2623 v3’s (quad core) – $900 total
  • 128GB RAM (using 8GB DIMMs) – $1,920
  • Two 512GB SSDs for fast storage – $450
  • Six 4TB hard drives for slow storage – $900
  • Grand total: $5,070

Not bad. Want a little more power? Here’s a faster config:

  • Two Intel Xeon E5-2623 v3’s (quad core) – $900 total
  • 256GB RAM (using 16GB DIMMs) – $3,500
  • 8 1TB SSDs – $2,600
  • Grand total: $7,900.

The term “commodity hardware” used to mean really crappy gear, but when you look at these numbers, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. You can build yourself quite the army of pizza boxes.

When vendors say, “You can deploy our solution on commodity hardware,” they’re not saying you’re going to get amazing performance with 16GB of RAM and a couple of spinning rusty frisbees. It’s time to reset your expectations about what commodity means.

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8 Comments. Leave new

  • jameslupolt@gmail.com
    December 11, 2014 11:40 am

    I just read it as ‘you don’t need Exadata/fast-track/PDW/whatever’.

    Instead you need 50 servers that together cost more than Exadata/fast-track/PDW/whatever.

  • 15 years in IT.
    2 hats. Sys Admin, SQL DBA.

    I have to say that what I pay upfront is not important. What I get after when the hardware goes down. it will go down, is of greater concern.

    Will stick with brand names with good support, thank you.


    • Robbe Goetmaeckers
      December 14, 2014 9:48 am

      True, if you’re managing hardware you want the best support plan you can get.
      However, if you’re looking at commodity hardware, cost is probably your primary concern.
      And let’s face it, support is expensive, as it should be.

      A large amount of infrastructure is not really as critical, when taking cost into account. Some parts of your company web can go down with little to no impact on the working day. Maybe reporting will be delayed for a few weeks, perhaps your meeting room reservation tool goes offline.
      Regardless, if you show your customer the comparison between commodity hardware with no support, and an infrastructure investment with support costs. You’d be suprised how many of them are willing to short on availability in favor of cost saving.

      My point is, you can’t really take a definitive stance, unless you’re the person responsible for ordering / maintaining and budgeting the hardware. Knowing about the commodity hardware is a must when trying to get your budget approved / giving your client all the available options.

    • Prakash – That’s totally fair. The great thing about commodity hardware is that it’s not a requirement. If you want to save money and use automatic/instant redundancy features built into the application layer, you can do that – or you can buy hardware with better support, and when the hardware fails, you can wait for the support folks to show up. Either way – whatever works for you is the right thing. Thanks for stopping by!

  • The thing is, industry standard hardware, AKA ‘commodity hardware’ is a ‘good thing’. West texas crude is also a commodity but the world runs on it..

    Industry standard hardware puts you in control, and the lower costs provides you options. You need to be wise about how you spend the difference.

  • 1U servers aren’t considered pizza boxes since they don’t really look like one (they’re too long). A SparcStation 20 is more akin to the pizza box style.


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