Server Buying Guide


Purchasing a server is an important decision to make, and whether your buying 1 server or many, the below will provide you with some tips and tricks to keep your purchasing decisions focused on price and purpose.


    1. 1 - Form Factor- Think carefully about whether you want a tower form factor or a rack form factor, because although you can convert towers into rack form factors afterwards, it’s a few hundred pounds that you didn’t need to spend, and if you get it wrong the other way around… then you’re stuck as you can’t convert rack to tower form factor… and will end up doing what many people do which is find any table top surface to put the server on. Plan early and get a rack, even if it is a small 14 cabinet rack, as this will secure your servers from prying hands as well as give them the adequate air flow which they need. 


    1. 2 - Server Role - What role will the server play in your organisation, for small organisations the answer to this is sometimes “every role” , and then based on this role choose a server range that is designed and best suited to this role. You should not be surprised to find that manufacturers like HP and DELL try to position server ranges into usage scenarios, or with specific applications in mind. This makes the task of choosing servers far easier than in days gone by.


    1. 3 - Server Specs – When choosing a specification for your server, look carefully at the requirements of the applications that you will be using. These requirements will help you to pick the right processors and memory etc. for the server so that when you deploy your server or application you get the best performance possible. This process also allows you to ensure that you do not over spec the server, as additional unused memory, processing power, cache, hard disk space etc. is wasted and sits redundant in the server. The over specification of servers is the most common mistake made when purchasing servers. You should always allow for an overhead of about 15 – 20% with memory and hard disk space but more than that is a waste. Now, at the start of 2013, the price of memory and hard disk space is currently on a downward spiral hence upgrading at a later point is a cheap and easy option.


    1. 4 - Upgradability – A server always has a certain amount of upgradability built in, so there are nearly always spare PCI-E slots, memory bays, hard drive slots etc. which allow you to upgrade when you need to. However a good strategy when choosing your server is to make sure that you pick a server which will have enough internal space to upgrade. If we take HP for example, the DL360 and DL380 servers are much the same except that the DL380 is a 2U server as compared to the 1U DL360. So in this scenario a customer needing a DL360 might want to consider purchasing a DL380 server because it will perform everything that the DL360 would do, but also provide extra disk and PCI-E slots for upgradability.


    1. 5 - Redundancy – When purchasing your server you will have the option to purchase redundant options such as power supplies and memory, and without question you should take these options as they are an absolute godsend if something goes wrong. The simple task of having to power a server down to swap disks if one disk dies will cause such havoc that it should be avoided if at all possible, and the small price uplift to have a hot swappable disk is a small price to pay.


    1. 6 - Warranty – I always tell our customers that warranty support is one of the most important but also most overlooked elements of purchasing a server. Consider for a moment that you are going to spend a significant amount of money on a server, and you will expect that server to perform 24/7 without any issues, it will never be turned off and unless something serious happens will not even be rebooted. Most likely you will run some business software on the server, CRM, Email, Sage etc. all of which will undoubtedly be critical and when they fail will cause many an employee to tug at their hair.It’s for these reasons that I suggest that you take into consideration the cost of an adequate support contract in addition to your manufacturer hardware warranty. Remember that a hardware warranty will only cover you for hardware failure, and considering that most tier 1 hardware manufacturers and especially HP make servers that are super resilient, it’s more likely that you will need some form of software or software maintenance contract to ensure that you have continual uptime and support in your moment of crisis.


    1. 7 - Brand power -  There is always the argument that brand is not important these days because ultimately the chipsets are made by Intel or AMD , the memory is made by one of a handful of memory manufacturers and hard drives are made by Seagate, Fujitsu or one of the other players in the hard drive game. Advocates of this school of thinking argue that big brands like HP and DELL do not create anything; they simply rebadge it for the sale. On the contrary I would argue that brand is massively important because this is the element which determines how your server and all its myriad individually manufactured products are going to be managed under one support contract and one point of contact. Over the years I have worked with all the major tier 1 manufacturers and experienced some of the best and worst support, and without naming and shaming, the best of the bunch in terms of warranty support as measured by ease of call logging, escalation and time to resolution is by far HP.


    1. 8 - Virtualisation – Virtualisation is a topic of its own, but in a nutshell, it’s one of the most important factors to consider when buying a server. Virtualisation solves so many issues that it requires a blog of its own, but it does require a stronger technical skillset, and therefore is often avoided by IT Managers. In many scenarios it also solves the resource utilisation issue. More on this in another blog.


    1. 9 - Pricing – Server pricing varies depending on how you approach the process, if you decide to go online there are many great server shops that will provide you with good pricing, but with varying levels of presales and post-sales support. If you go out to one of the larger resellers in the market, you will not necessarily get the best service, but you may get good pricing. The trade-off is that often you will get good pricing at the expense of a knowledgeable account manager and therefore your chances of ordering the wrong hardware and then having to go through returns and RMA’s etc. is greater.   

    2. 10 - Supplier Relationship - I would recommend the best method is to work with one of the good VAR resellers out there. Make sure that you build a relationship and get an account manager that is technical but also takes on the responsibility of making sure that you get the best advice and purchase the right hardware at the right prices. This may seem daunting to all those that want to purchase by clicking the mouse, but I assure you that the rewards of working with intelligent humans are far greater, so go and build some real relationships.