How much the tinderbox is worth

After some of the comments on the previous post explaining the tinderbox I’ve been thinking more about the idea of moving it to a dedicated server, or even better making it an ensemble of dedicated servers, maybe trying to tackle more than just one architecture, as user99 suggested.

This brings up the problem of costs, and the worth of the effort itself. Let’s start from the specifics: right now the tinderbox is running on Yamato, which is my main workstation, it’s a bi-quad Opteron, total 8×2.0GHz CPUs, 16GB of registered ECC RAM, and over 2TB of storage, connected to the net from my own DSL line which is not that stable nor fast. As I said the main bottleneck is the I/O, rather than the CPUs, although when packages have proper parallel build systems, the multiple CPUs work quite well. Not all resources are dedicated to the tinderbox effort as they are: storage space especially is just partially given to the tinderbox as it doesn’t need it that much. I use this box for other things beside Tinderboxing, some related to Gentoo, other to Free Software in general, and others finally related to my work or my leisure.

That said, looking through the offers of OVH (which is what Mauro suggested me before, and seem to have most friendly staff and good prices), a dedicated server that has more or less the same specifics as Yamato costs around €1800/year. It’s definitely too much for me to invest to the sole Tinderbox project, but it’s not definitely too much (getting the hardware would cost me more, and this is outsourcing all the hardware maintenance problems). Considering two boxes, so the out-of-tinderbox resources could also be shared (one box to hold the distfiles and tree, the other to deal with the logs), it would be €3600/year, and the ability to deal with both x86 and amd64 problems. Again, too much for me alone, but not absolutely too much.

Let me consider how resources are actually used right now, one by one.

The disk on-disk space used by the Tinderbox is relatively difficult to properly evaluate: I use separated but shared partitions for the distfiles, the build directories and the installed system. For what concerns the distfiles, and the tree, I could get some partial result from the mirrors’ statistics; right now I can tell you that 127GB is the size of the distfiles directory on Yamato. The installed system is instead 73GB (right now) while the space needed for the build directories never went over 80GB (which is the maximum size of the partition I use), with the nasty exception of qemu, as it fills the directory entirely. So in general, it doesn’t need that much hard disk space.

Network traffic is not much of a problem either I’d say: beside the first round of fetching all the needed distfiles, I don’t usually fetch more than 1GB/sync (unless big stuff like a new KDE4 release is handled). This would also be vastly made moot if the internal network had its own Gentoo mirror (not sure if that’s the case for OVH, but I’ll get to that later).

So the only problem is CPU and I/O usage, which is what a dedicated server is all about, no problem there I guess at all, so whoever would end up hosting the (let’s assume) two tinderboxes would only have to mind the inter-box traffic, which is usually also not a problem if they are physically on the same network. I looked into OVH because that’s what I was suggested; I also checked out the prices for Bytemark which is already a Gentoo sponsor, but at least the price to the public is entirely another league. Ideally, given it’s going to be me to invest the man-hours to run the tinderbox, I’d like for the boxes to be located in Europe rather than in America, where as far as I know most of Gentoo’s current infrastructure is; if you have any other possible option you can share, I’d very much like to compare first of all the prices to the public for various providers, given a configuration in this range: LXC-compatible kernel, bi-quad CPU, with large cache, 16G RAM minimum, 500GB RAID1 storage (backup is not necessary).

Now, I said that I cannot afford even to pay for one single dedicated server for the tinderbox, why am I pondering about this? Well, as many asked before “Why is this not on official Gentoo infra?“ is a question I’m not sure how to answer, last I knew infra wasn’t interested in this kind of work. On the other hand even if it’s not proper infra, I’d very much like to have some numbers, to propose the Gentoo Foundation for paying for the efforts. This would allow to extend the reach of the tinderbox, without having me praying for help every other day (I would most likely not stop using Yamato for tinderboxing, but two more instances would probably help).

Also, even if the Foundation wouldn’t have directly the kind of money to sustain this for a long period, it might still be better to have them to pay for it sustained by users’ donations. I cannot get that kind of money clearing through my books directly, but the Gentoo Foundation might help for that.

So it is important, in my opinion, to have a clear figure, and objective, on the kind of money that it’d be costing. It would also help to have some kind of status “Tinderboxes covered to run for X months, keep them running”.

And before somebody wonders: this is all my crazy idea, I haven’t even tried to talk with the Foundation yet, I’ll do so once I can at least present some data to them.