Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

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Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Dec 26, 2011 7:04 pm

I would like to run Windows Small Business Server 2011 on the following hardware:

ASUS P8H67-M Pro CSM Mobo
Intel Core i3-2100 CPU
2x 4Gb DDR3 RAM
4x 2Tb Seagate 7200RPM SATA HDDs

This is for a small business with 6 workstations using the server as a file server, Quickbooks database server, and possibly an Exchange server in the future.

I've been getting conflicting advice on whether this Server OS will run on standard desktop hardware. Some say I must have a server mobo with XEON class cpu and ECC ram, others say Win7 drivers will work fine in 2008+ server OS.

Anyone with any experience/advice on this?
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Dec 26, 2011 7:48 pm

It'll probably run fine on that hardware; but you really need to ask yourself if that is really what you want to do. If this is a mission critical business server, you really *should* be using ECC RAM, and probably ought to consider some sort of redundant disk (RAID-1 or RAID-5) as well.

Yes, with Intel this means going with a server platform (Xeons), and possibly registered DIMMs as well. This drives the cost up quite a bit.

Just a thought: You can do some pretty decent near-server-class stuff with AMD for significantly less money. AFAIK all of AMD's product line except for the Fusion APUs and Semprons support ECC RAM; you just need to find a desktop motherboard which will cooperate (Asus, generally). You can also do some very cost-effective servers with the low-end Opterons.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Dec 26, 2011 8:57 pm

This is the hardware they currently have. It was put in place with Windows Home Server installed. WHS is not supported by Quickbooks, so that is the main motivation for a OS change. They'd like to minimize the cost by sticking with the current hardware.

I was planning on recommending RAID-5. But it sounds like RAID drivers are the toughest thing to get working right with desktop hardware. Hmmmm.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Dec 26, 2011 8:59 pm

Windows Server offers a software RAID-5 option.

You can't use it on the boot volume though.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 01, 2012 5:51 pm

Windows 7 drivers will generally work, since Win7/2008R2/SBS2011 are all the same OS.

Check this link:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/libr ... 91249.aspx

It lists a quad-core CPU as a requirement, an i3 doesn't meet that requirement.

Although it seems like you wouldn't need much for a small business, once you start using things like Exchange, you really need some decent hardware to keep up with it. A good hardware RAID card and 16GB of RAM (or more) are a must. Not to mention if something fails, unless you have a backup part, you're in a pretty bad spot with desktop hardware.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 01, 2012 6:42 pm

You could get EEC support on the cheap with an AMD cpu, IIRC all ASUS AMD mobos support ECC, though I'd still be tempted by a hardware raid card (gets round AMD's not-so-hot drive controllers) and a pcie intel nic (though you'd probably get along fine without this).

SBS loves ram so I'd go for 16GB unless it's only going to run a few users.

I also believe a fast cpu is recommended for 2011 as the version of Exchange in it is said to be a bit "heavy".

I've got a customer who's been running SBS2011 on a Phenom II 965 with 16GB of EEC for the past 6 months and it's been performing nicely though it only has about 10 users so I'd expect it to on that hardware.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 01, 2012 8:44 pm

I wouldn't run Exchange on that.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 01, 2012 8:50 pm

5150 wrote:I wouldn't run Exchange on that.

Any specific reasons, or just "it's not *real* server hardware"?
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 01, 2012 9:32 pm

cheesyking wrote:You could get EEC support on the cheap with an AMD cpu, IIRC all ASUS AMD mobos support ECC,

JBI recommended that and JJCDAD said why they won't be doing that, back on the 26th. Good experience info on your uses, though.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:33 am

Forge wrote:
cheesyking wrote:You could get EEC support on the cheap with an AMD cpu, IIRC all ASUS AMD mobos support ECC,

JBI recommended that and JJCDAD said why they won't be doing that, back on the 26th. Good experience info on your uses, though.

sorry. don't know how i missed that
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:18 am

I'm sorry, but I see a lot of issues with your plan. Not insurmountable, but just issues. The fact that you are asking questions here, implies that you really don't know what you are doing. Not knowing what you are doing means that you shouldn't be trying to cut corners because you don't know enough about those risks. So my suggestion is to be very conservative and have your customer spend the money to eliminate all the risk you can because the risk you are avoiding will come back and haunt you if you take it.

The first big issue is redundancy. You will have a business running off this HW. What happens to the business, if something fails. Can it even be allowed to fail and if it can, how long; what are those costs; and what are the plans to recover from the failure. ECC ram that others are talking about is only one small part of the failure solution for there are all sorts of potential failures and solutions to those failures. You may need to actually stock an entire spare machine, that can quickly take over just in case. that's in addition to the normal backups and any raid redundancy. When a home machine goes down, typically not a big problem the household still runs fine but when a business server stops typically the business totally stops too and that is potentially a very big problem.

When you are dealing with a server, A big part of what you are paying for is that the manufacturers have considered failure in their solutions. A good server level component will have had significantly more testing for continuous usage. Consumer level components typically don't put a priority in reliability and are not designed for continuous duty. Good examples are that Intel server processors typically ship a full speed grade lower than their consumer counterparts and are not overclocked like consumers like so much to do. Put a consumer-grade HD in continuous usage (not idling, but actual reads and writes) and it will not last very long at all but server oriented HD's are designed for continuous usage. ECC RAM can detect and repair RAM errors that consumer level RAM never even notices.

The next big issue is the capability of the box. An I3 is not a very powerful processor which is not a problem if all you are doing is file sharing but the customer is potentially thinking of other applications for that box that will potentially start straining the HW such as databases and exchange. You need to be doing a worst case scenario of what the customer intends and making sure that whatever is used can handle it. that customer will not be happy if they start adding work and finding that the box starts running like a dog as the drive system gets over-taxed as a potential example. What happens to performance if you need to run a backup simultaneously with exchange and/or a database running concurrently? What performance is necessary if you have to run exchange or a database while reconstructing an array from a failed drive? Do you have enough ram to run a database and exchange at the same time (how big do their data stores need to be)? do you need separate dedicated drive systems to maintain performance? There are a lot of potential details that can trip you up here and your inexperience implies that you are probably guessing rather than knowing which is not a good thing. Another argument for being conservative and over-buying the HW rather than taking the risk of an unhappy customer who will expect it all to work no matter what. If it doesn't, it is your fault because you are the expert and the customer is relying on you...

When you are using customer supplied parts, are you considering that in the end, you will be responsible for supporting it if it does fail. My point is that there are reasons to buy server-level equipment for server usage even though the price seems ridiculous. A six+ person business is small but the owner will still be very unhappy if a bunch of people are twiddling their fingers just waiting for the server to get back running or isn't suitable to do the job intended.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:32 am

Tangent:

I'd consider outsourcing email, etc. to Google before I'd run Exchange, unless you're really confident that you can administer it. Email administration is a gigantic pain in the ass, largely because of spam, and Exchange is fairly expensive as email servers go.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:36 am

Cheesy king - I felt like a bum mentioning it, but wanted to let you know it was mentioned.

Jjcdad - p5-133xl makes a number of good points. I've often worked on a shoestring budget like you describe, but I think it's one of my untouted strengths that I could make a scenario like that work. Even then, I'd make it painfully clear to all and sundry that this is a 'band aid', a temporary fix meant to work only until a proper solution (which I'd document and present) could be acquired.

Perhaps you could roll out what they have, doing what they want, but also price and present a turnkey version from Dell/HP/etc as an alternate. Once it's up and running, the calls for more performance will make the sale for you, and the current machine can be the ready standby for the 'proper' setup.

With any server like you describe, backups are VITAL. Be sure multiple people have realized what a disk failure could do, and that everyone is ready, just in case the machine barfs one day and corrupts or deletes some, or even ALL of the data on it.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:42 am

bthylafh wrote:Tangent:

I'd consider outsourcing email, etc. to Google before I'd run Exchange, unless you're really confident that you can administer it. Email administration is a gigantic pain in the ass, largely because of spam, and Exchange is fairly expensive as email servers go.


This. I've run a fifty-seat small business comfortably from a small Rackspace account, and was making pitches to transition to Google for retention and search reasons. Exchange really does not make sense for SOHO IMO. Database may also be overkill and drag your hardware down for no gain.

Unless there's a reason you're going to use SBS, I'd pitch server 2008 r2 standard instead. It'll run lighter and offer a simple upgrade/growth path.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 8:58 am

Forge wrote:With any server like you describe, backups are VITAL. Be sure multiple people have realized what a disk failure could do, and that everyone is ready, just in case the machine barfs one day and corrupts or deletes some, or even ALL of the data on it.


Absofragginlutely. You must have daily backups, and you must have offsite backups as well. The longer you can stretch out the backup window, the better - a month or more is good. You must test your backups periodically to make sure your backup device isn't silently failing and leaving you with corrupt backups.

Ideally your offsite backups should be hundreds of miles away to guard against natural disaster like a tornado or flood, or at least one of your offsite locations should be; it'd be more convenient to have a second offsite backup in the same city, in a bank safety-deposit box or the like.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:40 am

It's not a real server without the following:

1. ECC Memory
2. Redundant Drives
3. Backups
4. Disaster Recovery Plan.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:28 am

prb123 wrote:It's not a real server without the following:

1. ECC Memory
2. Redundant Drives
3. Backups
4. Disaster Recovery Plan.


BS alert!

Servers are not defined by the HW but by a single function with a one (server) to many (client) relationship. Examples -- A file server is one that supplies files to many machines; An Exchange Server distributes mail to many machines; A Database server stores data and gives that out to many database clients.

The characteristics that are defined by you are simply factors that may be incorporated into the suitability of function, but they certainly do not define what a "real" server is.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:13 pm

just brew it! wrote:
5150 wrote:I wouldn't run Exchange on that.

Any specific reasons, or just "it's not *real* server hardware"?


Exchange 2010 is better, but I still envision Exchange as a tempermental brat and I would give her everything she needs to keep her happy. Many fast disks, lots of cores, lots of GHz, and lots of RAM. You can still do it on the cheap, especially if you don't have a lot of users, but I would be running at least RAID 10, at least four cores, and at least 8GB RAM. People get pretty pissy when e-mail is down, and unfortunately Exchange/Outlook tells users right away when it's down. At least with POP/SMTP you can get away with it for a while.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:38 pm

I can't speak for Exchange, but I know that a QuickBooks database server is not all that demanding. I (had to) install one on our Xeon 2.4 Ghz (Pentium 4!) and it worked just fine, albeit with an office of only 7 people. The other server stats were equally unimpressive (2 GB RAM, slooooow 250 GB hdd, etc.). The server also ran Exchange 2003, but again only 7 people and I have no idea how much more demanding the later versions are.

The server was, as mentioned, server-class hardware and did have RAID 1 and a decent external sata drive backup system. I can't speak from experience on ECC RAM, but others have covered that quite well. The redundant RAID is definitely a huge issue.

It seems if they are already running their office off that server and your only question is if it will handle the workload, I think it will with aplomb. Extra RAM never hurt, especially at these prices.

Jason

Edit: meant RAID 1
Last edited by Jason181 on Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:28 pm

/facepalm

Please tell me you didn't mean to type "RAID 0" when you're talking about a server. Please? It's too early to start drinking.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 2:38 pm

bthylafh wrote:/facepalm

Please tell me you didn't mean to type "RAID 0" when you're talking about a server. Please? It's too early to start drinking.


I'm sure he meant 0+1 or 10. Just a typo. *pats back* No need for a drink, let's just go talk somewhere else for a bit.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:23 pm

Everyone's comments on using Google Apps for Domains rather than Exchange is spot-on. The ten bucks a year you spend on a domain (the Google Apps part is free unless you go Premier, but that can be worth it too) takes a huge headache off your hands. Admittedly, Exchange can be a useful tool, but for six workstations, running Exchange is like trying to exterminate ants with an M1 Abrams.

Pros of using your current box for a server:
-Uses inexpensive, existing hardware
-Performance will probably be good enough

Cons of using your existing hardware
-Extremely limited if the server is a mission critical part

At minimum, you'd be wanting a PCIe hardware RAID card, but that still only buys you one thing. Even a basic purpose-built server, done properly through a vendor like Dell, can get you the following:

-Customizable warranty support for 1-5 years, including 24-hour part replacement times (or less) to reduce downtime - Note: This is HUGE, unless you'd like to have a spare ASUS mainboard on hand in case your current proposed server dies, since reloading your server OS and apps/files on different hardware bites hard
-ECC Memory (the alternative is keeping spare RAM around for your already-built box in case something happens, but ECC = better from an uptime perspective)
-Built-in RAID controller and enterprise-level hard drives
-Option for dual-redundant power supplies (in case your server is really mission critical)
-Built-in hardware-based remote access (What if the server freezes and no-one is there to restart it? Or, how do you know when a drive fails in your RAID array? a remote access controller can e-mail you in the event of a fault)

Either way, you'll also want an Uninterruptable Power Supply as well. Not a pro or a con to either side, just an observation. Also, either an offline backup service (e.g., Carbonite, Mozy, etc.) or minimally an external backup drive is a must, as RAID only provides data redundancy --it helps nothing if your client deletes a file which is simultaneously removed from all RAID-member disks.

In the end, your customer needs to decide what acceptable down-time is in case of a hardware fault, and that can drive your decision. I've run Server on desktop hardware successfully, but it is a real compromise, and your customer needs to know that and decide what is worth more: their time, or their data, so they can sign off on their decision knowing you've explained every available option.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 4:47 pm

P5-133XL wrote:I'm sorry, but I see a lot of issues with your plan. Not insurmountable, but just issues. The fact that you are asking questions here, implies that you really don't know what you are doing. Not knowing what you are doing means that you shouldn't be trying to cut corners because you don't know enough about those risks. So my suggestion is to be very conservative and have your customer spend the money to eliminate all the risk you can because the risk you are avoiding will come back and haunt you if you take it.


Lets be honest, most small business can afford 1 day of downtime and loose 2 weeks of data without any issues. Under such circumstances you just walk to the nearest grocery shop, buy a 150$ replacement with single Green-HDD, reinstall Windows in under 2 hours, copy paste the backup from thumb drive, and business is back to business.

There is a religion that servers have to be super fault tolerant and super stable, but in 75% of cases P4-hot edition, WD Green, 4 GB of nonname RAM, 150W noname PSU and a cheapo white tower case will do the job.

See: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/0 ... -1999.html That's how one of the most successful IT companies in the world started.

With investments in Xenon's/ECC RAM/20 disk SSD RAID 10 solutions and redundant PSUs they would have been left in the dust.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Mon Jan 02, 2012 6:09 pm

Madman wrote:Lets be honest, most small business can afford 1 day of downtime and loose 2 weeks of data without any issues. Under such circumstances you just walk to the nearest grocery shop, buy a 150$ replacement with single Green-HDD, reinstall Windows in under 2 hours, copy paste the backup from thumb drive, and business is back to business.


That's a ridiculous statement. No business small or large can afford to lose two weeks worth of data and for many businesses losing a day can be significant. Small businesses come in great variety. While a small retail shop can probably withstand such loses, other small businesses that deal with constant cash flow would be devastated. Even worse is that you're putting out this statement with zero idea of the type of business the OP working with. This type of reckless behavior ends up costing people far more trouble than you guess, probably because you also walk away before your plan goes off the rails when the cheap PSU blows up and takes down everything with it.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:13 pm

Madman wrote:See: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/0 ... -1999.html That's how one of the most successful IT companies in the world started.

With investments in Xenon's/ECC RAM/20 disk SSD RAID 10 solutions and redundant PSUs they would have been left in the dust.


Ok, your point is totally destroyed. Those boxes are all dual or quad CPUs, with much ecc ram, SCSI hard disks, and likely redundant or high quality PSUs.

With the exception of the ugly beige cases, EVERYTHING from that link is quality. Nothing cheap, nothing old, nothing shoestring. You just scored on the wrong goal.

Do remember that those specs and pics are from 1998.

http://backrub.tjtech.org/May1998/hardware.htm
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 5:29 pm

Not to mention that nobody is saying that he needs Xenons or 20 SSDs. He just needs enough to reasonably avoid outages. Dell and I'm sure the other OEMs offer reasonably priced, well engineered server solutions with good tech support for situations like this. I've seen firsthand where a company thought desktop hardware for servers was a good idea and they were bit several times by things like failing power supplies and inadequate cooling causing hard drive failures, which resulted in outages, big performance hits, all which in the end affected productivity. Do you have any idea how much money is lost by a company when most people can't do any meaningful work for an entire day? The only way to make it up is work on a Saturday or Sunday, which nobody likes.

That google equipment is top notch as well, 512MB of RAM was pretty outlandish in '98.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Fri Jan 13, 2012 4:34 pm

SBS adds a lot of features outside of email so you need to look at those before you follow the advice to ditch it and go with STD 2008 R2. Who is going to be managing it? SBS makes things a lot easier for day to day management that you won't get with STD and a lot of things work out of the box that either require additional licensing or setup to make work on the STD server.

We really need to be asking what the projected growth will be for this company, if there is no foreseeable growth in the near future you could skate along with a Windows 7 file server and forget the server all together. It would play better with the hardware too. Save up cash and do it the right way, real hardware, real software. Can you run a server OS on that hardware? Absolutely, you might not be able to install drivers for specific things but it wouldn't be a show stopper. The great thing about server now days is that they are based on the same OS as the consumer ones so drivers work pretty well, so long as the manufacturer isn't doing any in depth system checks. I do this at home, I just install win7 x64 drivers on my R2/SBS2011 boxes.

Things to consider: SBS 2011 Essentials, half the cost, no Exchange and no Sharepoint, has the ability to back up client workstations. You can upgrade to the full version of SBS in the future if needed. You can also use Microsoft's cloud offerings and integrate it all together instead of jumping to the full version. Office 365 isn't a bad offering, I suggest you take a look at it as Exchange (hosted or not) will give you functionality not found with Google.

Something else to consider: Click me! $900 and you have a ready to go box with SBS Essentials preinstalled.

Something to check into: SBS and QB compatibility. Back in the day there were issues with both of these running on the same box (SBS 2003 and QB 2008 IIRC).
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:46 pm

For Quickbooks, you don't actually need to install the full-blown software package on the server - there's a small app you can install from the CD that'll just share the directory with the database, and make sure multiple people can open it at the same time.

And yeah, SBS 2011 Essentials is a good place to look, for a place that small.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Sun Jan 15, 2012 2:43 pm

P5-133XL wrote:
prb123 wrote:It's not a real server without the following:

1. ECC Memory
2. Redundant Drives
3. Backups
4. Disaster Recovery Plan.


BS alert!

Servers are not defined by the HW but by a single function with a one (server) to many (client) relationship. Examples -- A file server is one that supplies files to many machines; An Exchange Server distributes mail to many machines; A Database server stores data and gives that out to many database clients.

The characteristics that are defined by you are simply factors that may be incorporated into the suitability of function, but they certainly do not define what a "real" server is.


Read the title and first post! I would not deploy a Small Business Server for production use without the features and planning I suggested.
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Re: Windows Server on Desktop Hardware?

Postposted on Tue Jan 17, 2012 11:24 pm

spitfire650 wrote:For Quickbooks, you don't actually need to install the full-blown software package on the server - there's a small app you can install from the CD that'll just share the directory with the database, and make sure multiple people can open it at the same time.

And yeah, SBS 2011 Essentials is a good place to look, for a place that small.

Correct, QB installs a QuickBooksDB## service to facilitate multi user mode. For whatever reason though, back in the day, this wasn't a supported install on a SBS box. Kind of odd considering it was just a service.
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